The power of asking the right questions about the climate crisis and enabling sustainable tourism
As an Indian journalist having worked in the tourism industry internationally, I will be sharing my journey, why the link between the natural world and tourism can no longer be ignored, and how good reportage and poignant questions can help ease the uneasiness of those who want to transition to sustainability.
When I was studying, I didn’t have the slightest clue about the climate crisis or the existence of a term like ‘sustainability’. I did know that I wanted to be a journalist and write on issues that needed urgent action and lacked media attention.
After completing my Bachelor's, I landed my first job at the widely acclaimed Indian-based newspaper The Indian Express and though my pieces revolved around a B2B approach, I was first introduced to the idea of sustainability here.
This was when the seed was planted. However, it was only in the second year of my career, that this seed started receiving nourishment. Working with the non-profit Going To School, I was in charge of engaging with students from all over the Indian state of Maharashtra on a television show that would focus on the climate crisis.
Through this show, young students themselves would have the opportunity to be reporters and have conversations with their respective communities about how the climate crisis is affecting them and what it means to be sustainable.
Holding place for sustainability in tourism
These two opportunities paved the way for me to look within myself, within my own personal space and find a way professionally to make the climate crisis centre stage and help drive effective tangible action towards addressing it.
Pre-pandemic, in 2019, according to research conducted by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the tourism sector contributed to 10.4% of the global GDP and sustained 319 million jobs, in other words, 10% of total employment in 2018.
At the same time, another research said that the estimated carbon footprint from this industry is responsible for 8% of the world’s global emissions.
Furthermore, the 2019 IPCC report stated that the frequency and intensity of cyclones are set to increase thus having catastrophic effects on coastal cities like mine (the suburb of Mumbai) due to the worsening climate crisis.
There lay my answer. Realizing there is limited talk on the importance of sustainability in the tourism industry despite these statistics, especially in India, I decided to start writing on the link between climate and tourism which we can’t ignore anymore. We can no longer just make sustainability a sub-category in the industry, instead, we need to address the crisis in all parts of tourism.
Meeting like-minded individuals and Paving the path together
During my career, I had the honour of learning and interviewing several professionals on a wide range of topics; for example, conversing with designer and hotelier Bill Bensley, who is behind the architecture of sustainable properties like Capella Ubud in Bali; interviewing tourism organizations that are working on regenerative travel like CREST, which is part of the Future of Tourism Coalition, and adventure travel company Oneseed Expeditions; and conversing with Claire Christian, Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) on how the increase of tourists in the Antarctic calls for further action to preserve the region.
While I was at Hong Kong-based media house Green Queen, I deepened my knowledge about sustainability and what solutions work and what don't.
Presently, I’m volunteering with Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an international network of travel destinations, companies and professionals committed to climate action. Tourism Declares, together with the UNWTO, UNEP, The Travel Foundation and VisitScotland, has launched the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, advocating for the tourism industry to accelerate climate solutions within this decade.
Being a part of this has been a huge moment of joy and pride, especially given that I’m able to represent my country in the wider talk of global action. Here, I have come across challenges professionals and companies in this industry are facing to be sustainable, and at the same time, learn and discover innovative ideas from companies that have figured it out and thus bridge the gap.
Some of those examples include: hoteliers making fundamental decisions to allocate funds that benefit local communities and the environment; working hand in hand each step of the way with the locals to understand what needs the most attention in the area where your business is situated; how one can save costs by reducing energy use and how by investing in coral reefs, you invest in more tourists.
And finally what is most important is that through my pieces and reportage, I’m able to effectively make sense of the clutter not just for myself, but for the readers as well.
Lessons: The little things do matter.
The time is now to act. Making plans for 2050, 2070 is good and gives you a direction to work towards but it’s equally important to be making strides now, to be putting sustainable systems in place now.
The little things do matter. Whether it is eliminating all single-use plastic from your business, items like bathroom essentials or other commodities that can leech chemicals in the waterways or land, limiting excess of everything to prevent wastage or setting up methods to handle the excess to benefit the environment around you.
The big things matter even more. First, fix what you can control. Focus on your immediate business and then move on to third party suppliers.
Look beyond your business. The communities around you, talk to them, learn from them, understand if there are wildlife, aquatic or indigenous plant species that are being affected not directly just by your business but by the climate crisis in general and how you can protect them.
Raise awareness among your travellers. Once they understand what you’re doing, they will choose your services before others and in turn, your business will benefit.
For my peers
Being a woman, and a young journalist, time and again whether at events, interviews or in the industry as a whole, people do take a long time to consider you seriously.
But, at the same time, there are people who will trust you, enable you to tap into your potential, leading you to be confident and have your voice heard and listened to even in the midst of highly distinguished people from across the world.
Do your research, ask the right questions, have credible sources and share your knowledge, that is how we can rebuild this world quickly and more effectively.
Speaking from experience, it might take a while for the right employer to come along, and for you to feel like you’re doing some actual groundbreaking work. But trust in yourself, in your gut and there is no harm in staying away from something you don’t believe in.
I have observed that several ‘environment-friendly’ businesses are driven by profit. Profit is important, yes, just don’t let that be the driving force in being sustainable.
My professional journey has enabled me to be more mindful when I travel - whether it is carrying reusables, my own bathroom chemical-free essentials, or opting for homestays rather than hotels.
However, during these travels, especially to small villages, I’ve seen that the lack of proper sewage systems are destroying fragile ecosystems like mangroves or the over-commercialization of tiger safaris thus interfering with the tigers’ natural habitat.
While writing this piece, I came across a news article stating that the Supreme Court in India may allow businesses and projects without any environmental clearance to continue to function for the sake of protecting jobs and the economy.
But how will those jobs and supposed ‘flourishing economy’ matter, when there will be no planet in the first place?!
Small enterprises are working relentlessly on an individual as well as a community level, but we need action, not complacency from giants and our governments, we need action from a policy level to support sustainable change.
Tourism is based around nature, instead of exploiting it, cohabit in a manner where both have space to grow.
To conclude my piece, I will share what Elke Dens, who is now the Global Director of Programmes at The Travel Foundation, said during one of my interviews:
Born and brought up in India, Tanuvi Joe is a freelance writer dedicated to covering the climate crisis and how the tourism industry can transition to sustainability. She believes in the power of words and through her travels and conversations with people, she raises awareness and provides the readers with innovative ways to align themselves towards a kinder way of living that does more good than harm to the planet. Tanuvi has a background in Journalism, Tourism, and Sustainability, and in her free time, this plant parent surrounds herself with books and writes poetry on her blog Ruffling Wings.