With the spread of overtourism and a rise of climate awareness, more and more people have been waking up to the negative impacts of tourism on our planet and society, reflecting particularly on tourism’s contributions to the climate crisis and environmental damage.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced travel and tourism - often considered to be one of the largest and most significant economic sectors globally - to pause, leading to questions around both negative and positive and even necessary roles that tourism plays in our world.
As the industry continues on its slow and uneven paths of recovery, we would like to share some examples and stories of the positive impacts that tourism brings to our society, as a way to provide a vision for what our sector “building back better” can look like, locally and globally.
Tourism Businesses and Destinations Uniting for Climate Action
Although tourism can play a critical role in supporting conservation efforts and sustainable development programs, tourism activities (in particular transportation and resource consumption) often also involve a large climate footprint.
Rather than avoiding this “inconvenient truth”, tourism leaders (including small businesses, NGOs, associations, and grassroots organizations) have come together to declare a climate emergency, and to co-create a better future for tourism.
Tourism Declares members (323 and counting) are aligning individual climate action plans with the need to cut global emissions in half by 2030, as well as collectively advocating for a system change across the industry to accelerate a just transition towards carbon-free tourism.
This global network of committed professionals has enabled a global movement that has successfully mobilized the industry, leading to significant milestones such as the Global Climate Action Survey and the Glasgow Declaration.
As highlighted in this Sustainable Brands article, the strength of this movement is its community.
Given the devastating impact of COVID-19 on tourism, this may not seem like the ideal time for the industry to declare a climate emergency. Yet, this pandemic pause also clearly highlighted the positive impacts of an aviation-free world, exposed the dependency many communities had on international tourism, and gifted the industry time to deeply consider how it wants to operate in the future.
These are the kinds of conversations happening among those who have signed on to Tourism Declares. All signatories are invited to participate in and connect with each other in a free online community; where even those considered competitors see the value of tackling this multi-faceted, often overwhelming problem together.
Hospitality Businesses Supporting Healthcare Workers
The impact of the pandemic has been devastating to the tourism industry, putting countless jobs and businesses, particularly in emerging economies, at risk.
While acknowledging the unprecedented loss and devastation for individuals, businesses and destinations, it is also worth noting that some tourism players were able to respond to the crisis with creative solutions.
One such notable example is the hotel and lodging sector putting their free rooms to use, welcoming medical workers and patients. For example, more than 1.2 million beds were donated by the hospitality industry through the #HospitalityHelps initiative, which allowed for hotel owners to offer rooms, and people seeking a room to request for one through the same website.
The Hospitality for Hope Initiative by the American Hotel and Lodging Association brought together more than 15,000 hotels that had signed on to the initiative and donated rooms for frontline workers. According to Forbes, the initiative led to more than 3.4 million rooms made available for healthcare professionals.
These initiatives show that building and re-building a more resilient industry can and should include solutions based on innovative thinking outside of the conventional tourism box.
Temporary Housing for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
In 2015, Travindy created this guide, highlighting many ways tourism businesses and organizations can “think outside the box” to put their skills, facilities, resources and networks to use in support of refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants in need.
In response to various emergency situations - from natural disasters to COVID-19 - Airbnb has been helping people find a place to stay in times of crisis since 2012. The Open Homes Program enables Airbnb hosts to offer their homes for free to people impacted by disasters or fleeing conflict. And since December 2020, Airbnb.org, the non-profit foundation of Airbnb, has also been working on accelerating the work of “sharing space, resources, and support in times of need”.
More recently, Airbnb stepped up to offer housing for 20,000 Afghan refugees globally, calling on others to also extend support in order to help millions of displaced Afghans.
These examples illustrate the truth that an industry closely connected with and dependent on local businesses, communities and residents, tourism has both the responsibility and opportunity to play an active role in supporting those affected by various humanitarian crises and natural and man-made disasters.
Addressing Vaccine Inequity
The 2021 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) / UNWTO highlights the lower levels of “access to and distribution of vaccines” in developing countries to be a major roadblock in tourism’s recovery.
“The asymmetric roll-out of vaccines magnifies the economic blow tourism has suffered in developing countries, as they could account for up to 60% of the global GDP losses.” (UNWTO, June 30, 2021)
Intrepid Travel, a certified B Corporation focused on sustainable adventures, has been a shining example of a leading tourism business pushing for vaccine equity. “Vaccinations only for the privileged won’t cut it,” said Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton, “For travel to return, we need vaccine equity, and the travel industry must be part of the solution.”
The company has launched a global vaccine equity campaign, focused on fundraising to support the global vaccine delivery, improving vaccine access and education, and implementing a mandatory vaccine policy for travelers to protect local hosts, guides and community members as well as travelers themselves.
James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel, shares a call for vaccine equity on Twitter
And here, from this Skift article, are three recommendations for tourism industry organizations (particularly the “big players” who have significant influence) to follow Intrepid’s example and proactively support vaccine equity:
- Remove Barriers to Vaccine Access: International travel brands in “positions of influence” should flex their economic and political muscles to help improve vaccine access for those in areas that local governments might not be prioritizing.
- Educate the Traveler Pre-Trip: Travel businesses should educate their customers, who are by definition “privileged travelers”, to help them become advocates for vaccine equity, as well as understanding their responsibilities as vaccinated travelers traveling to unvaccinated areas.
- Support Vaccine Education Efforts: Travel business should be proactive in educating their staff members, partners and local stakeholders, through collaborative efforts (for example, by partnering with local universities or associations) to spread accurate information and to help combat vaccine hesitancy.
As we gaze forward to consider the future of our industry - and seek to become a positive force for inclusive growth - we must realize that our ability to restart and rebuild tourism depends on gaining trust and support from workers, residents and communities who will enable and be impacted by travel-related activities.
As such, it is more important than ever for tourism industry players to learn from the past, recognize our collective responsibility as a significant global economic sector, and seek to play an active role advocating for sustainable development.
We invite you to share other examples and stories of tourism businesses and destinations thinking outside the tourism box to support and accelerate solutions for people and the planet.