The TreadRight Foundation, the not-for-profit organization joint initiative between The Travel Corporation’s (TTC) family of brands, held a live Q&A session on Instagram in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
The presentation was led by Céline Cousteau, TreadRight’s “Planet” Ambassador and daughter and granddaughter of famed ocean explorers Jean-Michel Cousteau and Jacques Yves Cousteau, respectively, and Shannon Guihan, TreadRight's Chief and Sustainability Officer, who discussed the importance of Earth Day, the current state of the planet, and the actions travelers and industry members need to take going forward.
‘We are all connected’
“Obviously there’s a lot of fear involved, and a lot of concern, [but] travel will resume at some point,” said Cousteau. “My hope is that when people travel again, they will take this lesson with them; that everything is connected on this planet.”
She added that the current pandemic only further shines a spotlight on just how interconnected we all are, despite the vast distances separating us. “We’re experiencing this through an unseen phenomena right now, that we’re connected to each other all over the planet. Keep that thought with you, and when you go somewhere you'll realize, ‘I’m connected to all the people I interact with in the place I travel to.”
She explained that the travel experience isn’t just about getting the tourist to their destination, but everything else that’s involved, including all of the hoteliers, restaurants, artisans, merchants, and tour guides.
Cousteau, who previously served as a tour guide for six years, has first-hand experience and knowledge of the impact. “I saw that first-hand on the ground, the entire system that goes into the tourism industry. I just feel like there’s so much positive impact we can have by really working through the industry to access all of the different needs around the world.”
No going back
Cousteau also remarked at the progress that had been made in the field of sustainability over the years, and said that while the coronavirus outbreak has derailed many aspects of the industry, we could not let all the progress made fall to the wayside.
“The forward momentum that was with us [pre-COVID] was huge. It was palpable, it was moving, and business leaders were recognizing that it was critical to the resiliency of smart businesses,” said Cousteau. “That cannot be lost, and I think Earth month is one of those movements that brings it to the forefront again.”
Shannon Guihan applauded the organization for the work it’s done in support of travel sustainability, especially the strides they made in gaining business partnerships. While in the past, many companies wondered why they should take on sustainability initiatives, now they are wondering how they can do more.
“To think that it’s just a social movement is to think too short-term. Corporations, entities, enterprises, they’ve all come together to realize this is an all-in type of scenario,” said Guihan.
“One of the benefits of having this kind of partnership is having access to the business side, giving us a much bigger breadth of understanding of what needs to be done in order to really address the issue of sustainability.”
A collective shift
Cousteau believes that taking the sustainability initiative further will require a major shift in our collective consciousness.
“I feel like what’s happening right now is an opportunity for us to shift consciousness on a much deeper level,” said Cousteau. “I think we’re going to start seeing some shifts [in how people view sustainability]. Those that care will continue to care even more so, and among those that sadly do not, I think we will start to see some converts.”
She also added that the current period of travel hiatus could present a unique opportunity for us all to take stock and decide how we will change our sustainability habits, both here and abroad.
“I think this is more important now than ever, and this has highlighted that for a lot of people. This in an opportunity, and what we do with it is really up to us. Where are we going to go, and what are we going to do when we get there?”
“I feel that the travel industry has so much to contribute,” said Cousteau.
“You’ve got a captive audience in group tourism in that you’re able to give them an added bonus by telling them that they’re doing something good by being in a place, and I think that’s our job to add additional value. Not a money value, but a charitable value.”
She advises future travelers to consider buying gift cards and booking for future travel to help support the small travel businesses (and small businesses in general) that are struggling during this crisis.
“There’s all of these small businesses that are closed, and right now it’s unknown what their future holds… I’d encourage you to buy gift certificates for your services now, and get your stuff done when you can go back out, and ensure that those small businesses can still exist and survive through this.”
She also recommended ways that people could give back to destinations and within their own communities, by contributing money to charitable causes, volunteering their time to places that need it, and donating essential supplies to organizations and communities in desperate need.
“It’s a mindset, it’s a consciousness…I know that’s not going to solve the world’s issues on a larger scale, but what is does is make you feel what it’s like to give back, and that’s an addictive feeling that will last even after we can travel again.”
“A lot of people are saying ‘I’m stuck at home, I’ve got wanderlust, and I want to travel again,’” said Guihan. “I encourage people, when it’s safe to travel, to do so thoughtfully.” And now with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day upon us, there’s no better time to be reminded of that.
“I think Earth Day has grown and I think it’s essential right now. The fact that people are confined in their homes is perhaps making them more aware of what’s going on, and how we’re healing,” said Cousteau.
“It’s through your consciousness that you make a difference… be mindful of companies you’re traveling with, where you’re going, and who you’re supporting, and once we’re able to move again, take those sensibilities on the road with you.”