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Travel Should Be a Force for Good

By Julia Cosgrove

Jun 4, 2020

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The pandemic has shown us how such destinations as Amsterdam can feel when relieved of the burdens of overtourism. 

Photo by Gebhart de Koekkoek

The pandemic has shown us how such destinations as Amsterdam can feel when relieved of the burdens of overtourism. 

As the travel industry begins its recovery, AFAR’s editor in chief calls for it to come back better than it was before.

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AFAR editor in chief Julia Cosgrove made the following remarks to introduce a discussion of how travel can make the world a better place on AFAR Live, an online gathering of travel leaders. This edition of AFAR Live took place on April 30, 2020.

At AFAR we truly believe in the power of travel as a force for good, fueled by our strong, unwavering mission to inspire, guide, and enable people to have deeper, richer, and more fulfilling experiences.

We believe that every traveler is a steward of the world. And that being a good traveler means being a good guest.

Since AFAR launched in 2009, we have been committed to celebrating our core brand values of curiosity, open-mindedness, and cultural diversity.

Today, as travel has come to a standstill and our audience of the world’s best travelers is stuck at home, it’s more imperative than ever that we continue to speak to and engage with the global citizens who share our mindset and believe in the power of travel to transform communities and individual lives for the better. Because when we can travel again, they’ll be the first out the front door, the first into the car, the first into the plane, the first into the hotel.

How travel can be more sustainable

Before this pandemic, the biggest threat to travel was overtourism—too many people going to the same place, at the same time, to take the same picture, to share with the same group of people. Remember bragging rights and FOMO? That feels like a lifetime ago, right? I have a suggestion: Let’s not go back to that reality.

At AFAR, we believe the beauty of travel is that it isn’t a monoculture, and we want to keep it that way.

As we begin to emerge from our homes, it’s going to be more critical than ever that we go to places that aren’t overrun with people; that we visit in shoulder seasons or off-peak times of year; and that we commit to seeking out untrammeled destinations and lesser-known sights.

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At AFAR, we believe that by focusing on the right kind of travel—purpose-driven, conscientious, and responsible—we can help educate and inform our readers about what we can all do to travel smarter and lessen our footprint along the way.

There’s a great deal of talk right now around sustainability and travel. We don’t see those two things as mutually exclusive. Rather, when sustainability is done right, it’s good for the traveler and it’s good for the travel business.

We break down sustainability into three categories: environmental, cultural, and economic. We know that travel makes individuals more aware of their place in the world and makes the world more connected. Travel fosters empathy, which in turn leads to real economic change. We know that by supporting local economies built on travel and tourism, and by valuing experiences over things, travelers can make a huge impact on local communities and the global economy. This approach influences what AFAR covers and how we cover it.

Sustainability will be an even more critical part of the conversation as the world starts to open up again. The climate crisis is upon us, and even the anecdotal positive environmental indications to come out of this period of lockdown—the clear Himalayan skies, South Africa’s napping lions, those wandering goats in Wales—won’t be forgotten. But other stories are emerging, too—of humans considering their impact and using this crisis as an opportunity to make change.

In Milan, where congestion and pollution have plummeted, city officials are converting 22 miles of streets into dedicated bicycling spaces. Paris just announced a 400-mile network of temporary cycle routes.

Our travel should reflect our values

The pandemic has revealed a world without travel. We are learning what we had taken for granted; what we miss the most; what we long to see again. We feel connected to each other—all of us, throughout the world—in a way we never have before. As the world looks toward recovery, the AFAR team will be exploring what travel means now and looking ahead, with hope, to where travel is heading.

One thing that’s here to stay: AFAR readers want travel that reflects their values.

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Consumers are increasingly looking for companies to act with purpose and to be leaders in issues that matter to them. The right kind of travel means many things, but is based on some core ideas: transformative travel; traveling more deeply to experience a place like a local; pursuing destinations that aren’t overcrowded; and going off the beaten path in on-the-beaten-path places. This is our approach to travel, and we’ve been delivering it to audiences for more than a decade. Our brand voice isn’t preachy or earnest because we know that at its core, travel is also about delight and wonder.

Travel is also about making individuals more aware of their place in the world and making the world more connected. 

Bruce Poon Tip, the CEO of G Adventures whom we honored two years ago as part of our Travel Vanguard, put it so well at our awards show in New York: If done right, travel can be the world’s most successful form of wealth redistribution.

The lens that we see the world in is “Travel as a Force for Good”: more inclusive, more sustainable, more about leaving the world in a better place than we’ve found it. Governments, companies, and individuals can help plan for a post-coronavirus future in a more conscious way. As travelers, we can do our part with every spending decision we make.

We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to build a better travel industry and a better world. One that values people and the future of our planet. One that’s smarter and more human-centric. Shannon Stowell, the head of the ATTA, and a 2019 AFAR Vanguard honoree, was recently quoted in a piece by Forbes. He said: “I really hope that companies and professionals will not try to go back to what we considered ‘normal’ because normal was not very responsible as an overall industry. The opportunity now is for leaders to lead and do the right thing by rebuilding smarter, which may mean smaller, and demand that travelers also behave as though travel is a privilege, not a right.”

I will close by imploring all of you on the call today: Let’s think about ways to embrace a growth mindset. Let’s not squander this opportunity to rethink how we view travel. Let’s be more deliberate citizens of the world. As members of this important industry that fuels so much good, let’s all be the better travelers who lead the way.

 >>Next: What Travel in the Age of Coronavirus Will Look Like 

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