The past few months have offered a rare opportunity to pause and “reset” business practices, and that includes the future of sustainable tourism. Fashion, agriculture and energy markets have all used the COVID-19 pandemic to reevaluate how their industries can be more sustainable moving forward.
The travel industry has also been imagining a more resilient, economically- and environmentally-friendly future. While specific dates and locations of reopening change daily, one thing is certain: Sustainable tourism in the COVID-19 era requires responsibility and restraint from all participants.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has projected a 60 to 80 percent decline in international tourism by the end of 2020.
“The virus has given us a picture, at once frightening and beautiful, of a world without tourism,” reporter Christopher de Bellaigue of the Guardian pointed out in a recent article entitled “The End of Tourism?".
De Bellaigue argued that while many environments are thriving as tourism has halted, citing the example of coastlines normally eroded by cruise ship dockings, countries relying almost entirely on tourism for their GDP are now suffering both environmentally and economically.
Several recent publications have linked the collapse of tourism to recent increases in poaching across Africa. In Uganda, for example, tourism brings in more than $1 billion and thousands of jobs each year, mostly related to wildlife parks. With travel halted, many locals are setting animal traps simply to feed their families and make up for lost wages. In addition, park admission fees are the main source of funding for anti-poaching and conservation programs.
“These places have an experience economy that supports protection of the wilderness,” said Gregory Miller, the executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), in an interview with The New York Times. “We need to restore economies built on experience, not extraction. Otherwise, you have poaching, slash and burn and the taking of resources.”
It is this protection of destinations and their resources that guides the work of the Future of Tourism Coalition, of which CREST is a founding member.
Last month, leaders from six NGOs — CREST, Destination Stewardship Center, Green Destinations, Sustainable Travel International, Tourism Cares and the Travel Foundation, under the guidance of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council — announced the combined launch of the Future of Tourism Coalition. The Coalition’s mission is “to place destination needs at the center of tourism’s new future” as international travel begins to recover post-coronavirus.
The Future of Tourism Coalition includes representatives from additional NGOs, along with governments, tourism boards, corporations, universities, media outlets and more. Member organizations commit to the Coalition’s 13 guiding principles for a “holistic approach to responsible and sustainable tourism." Here is a closer look at each principle.
See the whole picture: Tourism involves more than a destination’s businesses. It also impacts cultures, ecosystems, natural resources, aesthetics and infrastructure.
Use sustainability standards: Members should meet the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s criteria for sustainable tourism practices.
Collaborate in destination management: Tourism planning should include equal participation from public and private sectors, as well as organizations that represent a community’s diversity.
Choose quality over quantity: The quality of a visit is far more important than the quantity of visitors when it comes to maintaining a destination’s unique character.
Demand fair income distribution: Every effort should be made to retain tourism revenue within the community.
Reduce tourism’s burden: Tourism-related investments should result in net-positive impacts for the community.
Redefine economic success: Organizations often tout the benefits of tourism in terms of GDP percentage. Metrics like small business development, income distribution and sustainable local supply chains are more informative.
Mitigate climate impacts: Destinations should invest in green infrastructure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by travel-related transportation.
Close the loop on resources: Once hygienic to do so, businesses should transition out of single-use plastics and return to a more circular economy.
Contain tourism’s land use: High-occupancy resorts should be confined to a smaller, more concentrated area, so the destination' natural resources and beauty can continue to be enjoyed by and accessible to locals.
Diversify source markets: Groups should increase their domestic marketing initiatives, as domestic tourism may prove to be more resilient in future crises.
Protect sense of place: “Diversity of place is the reason for travel,” the Coalition points out. Tourism policies should protect and reflect a destination’s unique identity.
Operate business responsibly: Members should reward businesses for developing strong local supply chains that benefit the community.
“Long-term resilient social, economic, and environmental recovery and regeneration will require all sectors of industry to rethink how tourism works, who it works for, and how success is defined," the CEOs of the organizations represented in the Coalition wrote in a joint statement.
As destinations begin re-opening to foreign tourists, let’s hope that all parties involved are defining success in terms of health: Financial health, yes, but also physical, cultural, social and environmental.
Image credit: Simon Migaj/Unsplash