How Global Travel Can Change for the Better

Six organizations make up a new coalition calling on tourism agencies and travel companies to commit to responsible tourism in the wake of COVID-19.

How Global Travel Can Change for the Better

A summer scene in Lake Bled, Slovenia. The Slovenian Tourism Board was one of the first organizations to pledge to uphold the principles put forth by the Future of Tourism coalition.

Photo by Nadezhda Kharitonova/Shutterstock

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the travel and tourism sector hard, with international tourism numbers projected to fall by as much as 80 percent in 2020, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. But in this odd sort of interim—where travelers aren’t traveling, and destinations are waiting for visitors to return—a group of six organizations sees an opportunity to effect global change.

After all, travel, when done right, can be a vital force for good. But as we’ve seen in the past, travel can also do a great deal of damage, contributing to a warming climate and the destruction of natural and cultural sites—and it’s this detrimental action that we have a chance to correct.

Dubbed the Future of Tourism coalition, the global group consists of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), Destination Stewardship Center, Green Destinations, Sustainable Travel International, Tourism Cares, and the Travel Foundation. (The group also works under the guidance of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.)

In one of its first moves, the coalition has put forth a set of 13 guiding principles that outline a responsible path forward. Along with the principles, it is calling on “tourism agencies, travel companies, governments, investors, nongovernmental organizations, and destination communities to commit to them,” according to a press release.

The principles:

  1. See the whole picture
    • Recognize that most tourism by its nature involves the destination as a whole, not only industry businesses, but also its ecosystems, natural resources, cultural assets and traditions, communities, aesthetics, and built infrastructure.

  2. Use sustainability standards
    • Respect the publicly available, internationally approved minimum criteria for sustainable tourism practices maintained by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) for both industry and destinations.

  3. Collaborate in destination management
    • Seek to develop all tourism through a collaborative management structure with equal participation by government, the private sector, and civil society organizations that represent diversity in communities.

  4. Choose quality over quantity
    • Manage tourism development based on quality of visitation, not quantity of visitors, so as to enhance the travel experience while sustaining the character of the destination and benefiting local communities.

  5. Demand fair income distribution
    • Set policies that counter unequal tourism benefits within destination communities and that maximize retention of tourism revenues within those communities.

  6. Reduce tourism’s economic burden
    • Account for all tourism costs in terms of local tax burdens, environmental and social impacts, and objectively verifiable disruption. Ensure investments are linked to optimizing net-positive impacts for communities and the environment.

  7. Redefine economic success
    • Rather than raw contribution to growth in GDP, favor metrics that specify destination benefits such as small business development, distribution of incomes, and enhancement of sustainable and inclusive local supply chains.

  8. Mitigate climate impacts
    • Strive to follow accepted scientific consensus on needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Invest in green infrastructure and a fast reduction in transport emissions involved in tourism—air, sea, and ground.

  9. Close the loop on resources
    • When post-pandemic safety allows, turn away from use of disposable plastics by tourism businesses, and transition to circular resource use.

  10. Contain tourism’s land use
    • Limit high-occupancy resort tourism to concentrated areas. Discourage resort sprawl from taking over coasts, islands, and mountain areas, so as to retain geographical character, a diverse economy, local access, and critical ecosystems.

  11. Diversify source markets
    • In addition to international visitation, encourage robust domestic tourism, which may be more resilient in the face of crises and raise citizens’ perceived value of their own natural and cultural heritage.

  12. Protect sense of place
    • Encourage tourism policies and business practices that protect and benefit natural, scenic, and cultural assets. Retain and enhance destination identity and distinctiveness. Diversity of place is the reason for travel.

  13. Operate business responsibly
    • Incentivize and reward tourism businesses and associated enterprises that support these principles through their actions and develop strong local supply chains that allow for higher quality products and experiences.

More than 20 founding signatories have pledged to uphold these principles. So far, in alphabetical order, the list includes:

  1. Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA)
  2. Ecotourism Australia
  3. G Adventures
  4. Global Ecotourism Network
  5. Government of the Azores
  6. Government of Colombia
  7. Hilton
  8. Innovation Norway
  9. Intrepid Travel
  10. Jordan Tourism Board
  11. Lindblad Expeditions
  12. MT Sobek
  13. Palau Bureau of Tourism
  14. Riverwind Foundation of Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  15. Seychelles Ministry of Tourism
  16. Slovenian Tourist Board
  17. Swiss Contact
  18. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
  19. Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association
  20. Tourism Council of Bhutan
  21. The Travel Corporation
  22. The World Wildlife Fund

In a statement to AFAR, Gregory Miller, Executive Director of CREST, called the group’s guiding principles a “bold new vision for tourism’s path forward.”

Continued Miller: “We look forward to working with the companies and organizations that have become signatories to the Guiding Principles to take critically-needed steps towards a more equitable and sustainable future.”

For more information on the Future of Tourism—or to become part of the movement—visit its website. There’s no time like the present.

>> Next: Travel Should Be a Force for Good

Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at Afar focused on features and essays.
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