Sustainability, responsible tourism, eco-friendly travel, green travel … these have become more than buzzwords of late, and there is a growing number of consumers who opt for travel experiences that tick off the boxes of sustainability. They want to “be nice to the planet while discovering it,” as stated in an advertisement from one travel supplier, which seems to be resonating with travelers.
Sustainable tourism includes many aspects, from flying on airlines or taking cruises with brands that are actively working towards zero emissions, to choosing authentic travel experiences that support the local communities visited.
Travel industry is waking up
The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities."
Practically speaking, the foundation of sustainability lies in the fact that the travel industry has been waking up to its impacts on the Earth. More suppliers have put comprehensive programs in place to take charge of their carbon footprint and address the chain of effects that their fleets (airlines, cruise lines, car rentals), properties (hotels and resorts), and travel experiences (tour companies and attractions) have on the environment. It is about protecting and conserving the environment while limiting waste and other negative impacts.
In addition to being good stewards of the planet, travel suppliers must also consider how well their use of resources and management practices help to maximize the social, cultural, and economic benefits to the local communities. That is, undeniably, a big task. But it can be tackled in small steps, one after another.
Travel advisors also play an important role in educating travelers about which suppliers are more in line with today’s sustainability expectations. “I had this very conversation with clients a few days ago,” says Diane Manson, CTC, of Mountain City Travel, based in Kimberley, British Columbia. “Explaining/enlightening that, although a ship may burn clean fuel, the number of passengers integrating into the community for a day, has an enormous cultural impact. For this reason, I recommend, and sell only small- to mid-ship cruise experiences.”
Individual traveler choices do make a difference
Although the larger sustainability efforts are in the hands of travel suppliers, each choice by an individual traveler also makes a difference.
Many people are eager to travel again, after the past few difficult and restricted years, and they are looking to do things a little differently. They want to try out new experiences and fresh ways of traveling. In these cases, eco-friendly travel is especially appealing.
While interest in green travel is high, education and encouragement are key to ushering it forward. Manson notes it is so important to “take the time to educate and offer perspective [to clients], [which might be] different from what a client's intention of 'doing the right thing may be.'”
She went on to give this recent example: “’Should I take pencils, crayons, coloring books and candy for children on our travels?’ was a question from a client preparing to depart for Ecuador. I suggested donating to Planeterra, a non-profit that aims to preserve local cultures and natural resources. Projects like these support sustainability, and provide a hand up rather than a handout.”
Other travel advisors do suggest a form of hands-on voluntourism to their clients as a way to assist with sustainability on the most local level. Shayla Northcutt, CEO & owner, Northcutt Travel Agency, LLC, in Houston, Texas, explains: “[Imagine] if you were able to pack a suitcase full of clothes, books, and school supplies, and book the tour to drop them off with a local school, so that you see the children in Jamaica that it is actually going to help.”
As for supporting local artisans and economies, Northcutt says: “If you were able to walk the streets in Sayulita, Mexico, and go into the old market where the handcrafts are made, and local artists are steadily working to make a daily wage, all while their child is sleeping on a mat on the dirt next to them crafting jewelry … You remember that piece of jewelry that you bought.” Not to mention that you will have given back to the artist and the local economy.
Ralph Iantosca, owner of Iantosca Travel, in Irving, Texas, shares his perspective on how he helps to inform and educate clients about making responsible tourism choices: “There are many different ways to participate and support sustainability. I try to promote and support in ways that make sense to the traveler. I let them know that some countries have banned plastic, like Rwanda, and that visiting lodges in Volcanoes National Park offer the opportunity to stay in an Eco Lodge that relies upon solar power for electricity, has gardens to grow their own food, or supports the local community who has gardens which grow the fresh produce. Or, on a Lindblad expedition, they do not offer any type of fish that is on the endangered list.”
Selling responsible travel “is a conscious effort by the travel advisor,” adds Iantosca. “I am proactive, and the community that is selling travel can do their part by being proactive when offering travel opportunities to their customers. We can steer them to help promote sustainability.”
If we all band together in a common effort - travel suppliers, travel advisors, and travelers alike - perhaps we can further transform the travel industry into a force for good, doing its part to propel the Earth and its people towards a sustainable future.
FROM THE SPONSOR:
Air Canada is Canada’s largest airline, the country’s flag carrier and a founding member of the Star Alliance. The airline is dedicated to an ambitious goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from all global operations by 2050, and to continue to leave less and do more.
The airline has set the following greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets as part of its Climate Action Plan:
- 20% net GHG reductions from air operations by 2030 compared to a 2019 baseline.
- 30% net GHG reductions from ground operations by 2030 compared to a 2019 baseline.
- $50M investment in Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), as well as carbon reduction and removal development by 2030.
Air Canada’s Leave Less Travel Program provides corporate customers with opportunities to reduce and/or compensate their carbon footprint related to business travel. Air Canada tracks and calculates the GHG emissions associated with customers’ business travel; companies can then choose to mitigate their GHG emissions with the purchase of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and/or carbon offsets.