The Last Generation with a Chance to Get it Right

Alexa Poortier

Year end is a good time to take a pause for thought, to take a deep look at ourselves, our actions and inactions.

The year 2018 was the world’s fourth warmest year on record after the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. 2019 is set to follow this trend. Of the 18 warmest years on record, 17 have occurred since 2000 according to the European Environmental Agency.

People who are conscious of the spiraling impact of a warming planet are increasingly anxious and feel grief. Acknowledging fears, talking about the issues and taking positive action with like-minded people can help many cope. The millions who joined the Friday Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion sparked a global movement as students flooded the streets to demonstrate for climate action and demand carbon neutrality by 2025. They are supported by their circle of influence from all generations. These are the conscious travellers today.

When it comes to driving climate solutions, urgent action is accelerating in many industries. But for the travel industry which is responsible for emitting one tenth of the world’s carbon emissions, ‘slow’ is the general speed. If the travel industry is a country, it would be the 5th largest emitter of carbon in the world, a huge percentage from air travel and 20% coming from hotels.

According to a recent Guardian analysis, taking a long-haul flight generates more carbon emissions than the average person in dozens of countries around the world produces in a whole year. 2019 is forecast to be another record-breaking year for air travel, with passengers expected to fly a total of 8.1tn km, up 5% from last year and more than 300% since 1990. Read More.

Tourism is often cited as being the most important employer in tourism destinations and, therefore, a force for good. We agree with this, but there is also an irresponsible side to travel which put people’s livelihoods, their environment and their living culture last. NOW support Responsible Travel as they called to account issues from canned hunting to highly polluting cruises, exploiting children to captive animals, and employers who pays below a living wage or offers unreasonable employment conditions, imports people and services rather than sourcing them locally. There are many issues around irresponsible travel that we can’t skirt around anymore, and the most urgent and often ignored issue in the last few decades is the rising carbon emissions in the industry.

For years, most of us have become keenly aware that carbon emissions are accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere. These increased carbon emissions are causing global temperatures to rise and are changing the climate of our planet. Most conscious travellers have an internal radar that can detect greenwash and are turned-off by the hyped green messages from airlines, cruise liners, travel operators and hotels (large and small, chains as well as independents) that are doing the bare minimum in order to claim that they have become more sustainable and reducing their carbon emissions. Enough is enough!

Travel editors and journalists who do not shout about growing carbon emissions in the travel industry as ‘blatantly irresponsible travel’ and connect the dots to climate emergencies, or call out the greenwash and those that are not the ‘the best FOR our world’, are complicit and part of the problem too. We believe that many travel editors and journalists are conscious and care deeply about responsible travel, but most travel writing is rarely independent since most are influenced by advertising from the travel industry which fund most travel media, and complimentary trips for journalists makes it impossible for many to give negative coverage.

There has been a disconnect between reality and what we read and see in travel publications and in the news in the last decade. At this most urgent of times, all who uphold journalism have a responsibility to report the truth, not because they are inherently unbiased but because they should test every fact used in their story, research all information shared by their sources and callout the greenwash. There is a change of climate in the media as activism, science and politics push the biodiversity crisis up the news agenda. The global news media are, after decades of looking the other way for similar reasons, are finally starting to connect the dots to what scientists have long called an emergency – climate change. When will travel editors and journalists step up as well? Will 2020 be the year to seriously ‘call out’ the greenwash and truly drive bold change?

Those who write about sustainability as ‘a buzzword’ or ‘a trend’ fail to understand the lifetime commitment, depth and rigour this solution requires. In 2020, the hotels, airlines, cruise-liners and tourism operators to applaud are those that commit to rigorous sustainability with accountability and full transparency and no greenwash allowed, and takes responsibility for their total impact on communities and the environment by supporting the 17 global goals and aiming to be carbon zero by 2025.

As we end 2019 and start a new year, Dr. Susanne Becken’s thoughts on carbon offsetting as a bandaid that gains us time and the future of travel comes to mind and will empower NOW in the years ahead. ‘What we need now is a larger movement, a complete rethink of the whole tourism system, one that includes the question of how we define tourism success in the future and what the ultimate outcomes from tourism should be. More people and more money are no longer guarantees of wellbeing for the industry, for communities and for visitors alike. Instead we need to measure other kinds of impacts, from how happy residents are to levels of carbon emissions – and then make some tough decisions, which could even mean reducing the levels of tourism in places.’

The travel industry we know and love is fairly late to the game. To get it right, we need a fundamental shift of attitudes and behaviour from the ‘business as usual’ focus on more growth and profit. To ignite bolder action, we need conscious influencers and travellers to call out the greenwash and use the power of their wallet to only support hotels/resorts/retreats, airlines, cruise liners and tourism operators that takes responsibility for their total impact on communities and the environment, support the global goals and be carbon neutral by 2025.

It must be NOW!

Beyond the Expected – Our Stay at The Alpina Gstaad

The Alpina Gstaad

In a society where tourism has seen exponential growth, we cannot overlook the negative effects it has on the environment. Hotels are one of the main actors needed to create a more sustainable tourism industry. Since day one, The Alpina Gstaad has taken into account the local environment through its construction using both local materials and workers. This allowed the hotel to reduce its CO2 emissions right from the outset, which gave the hotel a good head start for its opening in 2012. This was the beginning of what is today one of the most sustainable hotels in the world. Many hotels tend to have difficulty with the concept that luxury, a core part of hospitality, can be sustainable. That is not an issue for The Alpina Gstaad, thanks to various features of the hotel resulting in a stunning décor, mixing authentic alpine style and modern touches.

The Alpina Gstaad

Upon arriving at the Gstaad train station, we were greeted by one of their electric cars, a Tesla Model X. These cars are available for guests to use throughout their stay to move throughout the Gstaad Valley. The hotel has a a number of electric cars, including a unique electric Fiat 500 which we used later in our stay. We arrived at The Alpina through its underground entrance that brings you into the mountain. We had a tour of the amazing premises which includes a wonderful spa, a cinema room as well as many art pieces. We also learnt about how The Alpina Gstaad is sustainable through various actions, like creating their own eco-friendly chlorine for their pools and raising awareness on the sustainability subject amongst their staff.

What’s amazing at The Alpina Gstaad, is that every staff is concerned with the subject of sustainability and you can feel it at all times. From our various encounters with different people we spoke to, from the concierge department to PR, housekeeping and general management, every staff is trying to improve the hotel’s sustainability practices from the side they know best and were happy to share their thoughts with us. The Alpina Gstaad also uses some of the heat produced by their kitchen appliances like fridges and freezers to heat their pools! Sustainable initiatives are visible in the guest rooms with a heating and air conditioning system that turns off when a window is open and toilets that have a dual flush system. There is still a bit to do in the rooms to make them more sustainable, as they still have plastic toothbrushes, cotton pads, cotton buds and slippers in recycled cotton/plastic however the team is working to find alternatives.

The Alpina Gstaad

We also learned about the various certifications The Alpina Gstaad is linked too. They are a member of the the NOW Force For Good Alliance which provides the NOW Sustainability Trust Icon to properties with integrity. With travellers becoming more and more conscious about the environment and their impact on it, having a reliable website (itmustbeNOW.com) and traveller tool (NOW Sustainability) that list all the properties that are caring about the planet is the easiest way to make conscious travel choices. Moreover, it pushes hotels to do better every year as their good and not so good practices are accountable and transparent to travellers.

During our stay, we drove to Lake Lauenen and enjoyed a delicious picnic with local and seasonal products prepared by the hotel’s chef. The hotel kindly lent us their electric Fiat 500, the only one in Europe. It has a unique design with arctic animals fading when the temperature goes up. It was kindly gifted to the hotel by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, to raise awareness among hotel guests regarding the issue of global warming. Guests have the Fiat 500 at their disposal to wander around and discover the Gstaad valley in total comfort with zero carbon footprint.

Alpina Gstaad Bag

Unfortunately, our experience has not been totally sustainable. Our picnic was packed in plastic containers and small plastic water bottles were included. We also saw during breakfast that small Nutella were provided with the bread basket. With all the negative outcomes created from the creation and consumption of this spread (due to the palm oil it contains), maybe the Chef could create a homemade “Nutella” with local products.

On the day of our departure, we had the opportunity to talk with Mrs Alexa Poortier, founder of itmustbeNOW.com. We discussed tourism and the different pillars of sustainability which focus on profit, people and planet. We discussed the importance of everyone’s voice and the point of view of generation Z, the one we belong to. Our generation will be the first to deal with the biggest consequences of global warming, but we do not seem to see how much power is in our hands today to change the situation. Mrs Poortier inspired us to think differently and re-evaluate the importance of our voice and what we can do and change around us, in our universities, at work, at home and how to make the people around us aware.

Finally, the hotel staff offered us a ride back in the Tesla to the train station for our departure. From this wonderful stay, we have learnt that luxury can go along with sustainability without affecting the guest’s experience. We felt at home from the moment we stepped into the lobby. While at The Alpina, guests do not feel the need to make compromises. In fact, by choosing The Alpina over another hotel, guests are already doing something good for our planet. Raising awareness among guests through involving experiences could maybe be the next step towards a more sustainable future for The Alpina Gstaad.

NOW and The Alpina Gstaad are two active actors in the pursuit of sustainable tourism. Sustainable development at large, looking back at the Brundtland Report is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Looking upon today’s environmental situation, we can say that the diverse actions put into place since this report haven’t been effective enough. There is no balance between the negative effects and the positive effects of our growing global economy on the environment. Therefore, it is important for every industry in today’s economy to start acting with urgency and it’s good to see hotel’s like The Alpina stepping up to the challenge.

Editor’s note:
The author of this article visited The Alpina Gstaad in the summer of 2019. In its ongoing project to be sustainable, The Alpina Gstaad has acted upon a number of the sustainability issues raised in this article.

  • Winter 2019 they will be replacing their room slippers with Felt and their spa slippers will be made from recycled cork come summer 2020.
  • As of Winter 2019 the takeaway containers used in picnics will be 100% recyclable.
  • Winter 2019 they will be serving palm-oil free chocolate spread with sustainable hazelnut. While they still will have Nutella, they will be prioritizing their own spread.

Through the NOW Lens: Climate Activism and the Rise of Eco-Anxiety

The Climate is Changing

This has been a huge year for climate change activism, people are finally waking up to the science that has been telling us for years about the degradation of our planet, and consequently they are feeling helpless and angry. Eco-anxiety is gripping the world right now as people fear for theirs and their children’s futures, this is clearly demonstrated through the schools strikes that were happening all over the world and the Global Climate Strike which had 7.8 million protesters. The most prominent of these has been the Extinction Rebellion movement. There has never been a more poignant time to join in with the many climate change movements occurring all over the world right now.

With the October Extinction Rebellion just gone there have been mixed feelings. Their tactics are certainly effective but are extreme and not for everyone. Many people have felt they want to support the cause but might not feel that Extinction Rebellion is for them, however there are many other organisations and movements working alongside Extinction Rebellion that you could also get involved with.

For example the Stop Ecocide movement set up by the late Polly Higgins, a British barrister who led a decade-long campaign for “ecocide” to be recognised as a crime against humanity. Is a fantastic movement that is trying to criminalize ecocide.

They say that:

Serious harm to the Earth IS preventable
When government ministers can no longer issue permits for it,
when insurers can no longer underwrite it,
when investors can no longer back it,
when CEOs can be held criminally responsible for it,
the harm will stop.

Stop Ecocide NOW

ECOCIDE is recognised as a serious loss, damage or destruction of ecosystems, and includes climate and cultural damage. They therefore believe ECOCIDE should be recognised as an atrocity crime at the International Criminal Court – alongside Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. You can sign up to become an Earth protector here!

Other organisations that are doing incredible environmental work for both people and planet are Tree Sisters; a global network of women who donate monthly to fund the restoration of our tropical forests as a collective expression of planetary care.

350.org is another amazing organisation tackling climate change. Started by a small group of university students in Philadelphia, “350” became a global grassroots climate movement that focused on holding leaders in various positions accountable to the real­ities of science and the principles of justice. Their argument was simple and twofold, supplementing a moral incentive with an economic one: it is not only wrong to profit from climate change, but it also is no longer a good investment as fossil fuel assets are losing value fast. The campaign inspired institutions to divest around 5.4 trillion from fossil fuels; another 5.2 billion was divested by individuals as of January 2017.

Where does travel come into this?
Travel is a huge issue that is being grappled over within the climate change rhetoric. There is no getting around the fact that the carbon output of flying is unrivalled, however the importance of travel and exposure to other people and parts of the world is also imperative to our ability as humans to appreciate our earth and be driven to protect it. Waking up to climate change does not mean the end of travel and our need as humans to experience the entirety of the world in all its beauty.

Austin Neill

Hypocrisy and flight shame are popular narratives within the wave of the climate movement, and it’s true – we simply cannot continue to travel in the way we have been doing and travelling sustainably isn’t easy. However, starting with making informed choices as a consumer and traveller about how you spend your money and where you spend it – like; choosing to give to establishments that are actually giving back to the community and the earth – is a great place to start. Calculating and offsetting your carbon isn’t going to eradicate the emissions caused by travel, but it’s certainly better than doing nothing and is contributing to a greener future.

Holidays used to be much more infrequent and people would plan their often annual trips away well in advance – these days we travel very last minute and very often, however planning your trips away with more time and care means that choosing to take often lengthier and more expensive train journeys where possible rather than a cheap budget air flight becomes an easier option. Check out our amazing tools available to find out how you can become a more conscious and sustainable traveller.

Where Are We with Sustainable Travel In 2020?

Climate Justice NOW

South Pole says that, if it was a country, travel and tourism would be the 5th largest emitter of carbon in the world. Sustainable travel has become necessary for the future of the travel industry, but as we move into 2020 and face our climate emergency, has the industry made any real progress?

More hotels are stepping up to try to become sustainable, but it’s still only a few that are rigorous, accountable and transparent, while many are still greenwashing, preferring to do things that are easy and cheap, or to do nothing at all. Sustainability certifications also remain confusing – there are still only two sustainability certification programmes for hotels that have reached GSTC Accredited level with independent audits – EarthCheck and Eco-Tourism Australia (read more here).

Some enlightened travel companies are totally stepping up, and travellers are becoming massively more aware of their choices and how to make the right ones, but will this drive change soon enough? NOW asked key UK travel writers and thinkers for their thoughts as we all face our uncertain future.

Jane Dunford

Jane Dunford

Jane Dunford is travel editor of The Guardian and a freelance writer with an interest in ecotourism and sustainable travel. She is also deputy director of new reforestation charitable initiative Forests Without Frontiers.

How do you feel about the health and wellbeing of people and the planet right now?
It’s a difficult time we are living through, there’s a lot of uncertainty and negativity in the world, the climate emergency poses ever more real threats and I think all of this is impacting on people’s wellbeing. At the same time, though, there’s a rise in interest in practises that boost wellbeing – yoga and meditation, returning to nature – so people are exploring the more simple ways of bringing themselves back to balance.

Have you discovered any new gems of places to stay that genuinely “walk their talk” on sustainability and carbon mitigation and don’t greenwash?
I was impressed by Bankside, a new hotel in London, which seems to have a genuinely sustainable ethos, from low-VOC paints, sustainably-soured wood furniture and zero-landfill-waste targets to solar panels and bee hives on the roof. I haven’t visited, but SALT of Palmar in Mauritius looks interesting too, with a commitment to sustainability, from limiting emissions to having its own farm for produce.

Do you feel we have made any progress at all in 2019 when it comes to a more sustainable travel industry?
We’re making progress, but there is still such a long way to go. Given the climate emergency, it’s becoming more of a priority for more people within the industry, from big hotel chains to some airlines. I think there has been progress made with more people working in the industry looking at their businesses and how they can make them more carbon neutral. More tour operators are looking to offset carbon emissions on behalf of holidaymakers too. It’s interesting that International Airlines Group (which owns BA) recently promised to remove or offset all carbon emissions from its fleet by 2050 – still a long way off, but a step in the right direction.

Do you believe in carbon offsetting, and do you offset your own carbon?
Carbon offsetting isn’t an exact science – and it shouldn’t be used by people to alleviate their guilt around flying. But there are some great schemes which do work to absorb C02 from the atmosphere or help reduce emissions – from tree-planting to providing less polluting stoves in developing countries – which are worth investing in. I think people should look at their own carbon footprints, reduce as much as possible, fly as little as possible, and contribute to carbon offsetting ventures. I offset my own flights with Forests Without Frontiers, a new tree-planting charitable initiative that I’ve been helping set up. I really believe in the work it’s doing and the importance of planting trees in the area the first project is in.

What should people do more of when they travel?
Take the train when they can instead of flying, choose hotels that have good sustainable credentials and support local communities and environmental initiatives, or stay at homestays – owner-owned establishments where your money goes directly to local people.

Justin Francis

Justin Francis

Justin Francis is the co-founder and managing director of online travel company and responsible tourism pioneer Responsible Travel, a member of the Council for Sustainable Business and a Director at Basecamp Explorer in Kenya.

How do you feel about the health and wellbeing of people and the planet right now?
Anxious and concerned but hopeful. We need to fly less in order to ensure we can keep global heating below 2 degrees.

Do you feel we have made any progress at all in 2019 when it comes to a more sustainable travel industry?
The travel and tourism industry are making some progress, and there are some people doing brilliant things. Progress in aviation in particular has been too slow, this is why we are calling for a tax to help kick start the decarbonisation of air travel. We would like to see the introduction of a Green Flying Duty, with the proceeds of this ring fenced for research and developments into cleaner alternatives(find out more here).

Have you discovered any new gems of places to stay that genuinely “walk their talk” on sustainability and carbon mitigation and don’t greenwash?
We work with some amazing companies and have recently seen a real increase in the amount that is being done, from booking trains for customers to helping them avoid flights, or doing all they can to reduce carbon in destinations. Undiscovered Destinations, a tour operator we work with, have recently started booking trips by train, such as this one.

Do you believe in carbon offsetting, and do you offset your own carbon?
We believe carbon offsets sum up all that is wrong with our approach to tourism and the climate crisis. They perpetuate the idea this crisis does not prevent unlimited growth with old and highly polluting technology.

This is before we consider the fact that even the very best schemes do not work. A 2017 study of offsets, commissioned by the European Commission, found that 85 percent of offset projects under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) had failed to reduce emissions. Even for the schemes that do work we would like to see airlines and travel companies move away from the idea of offsetting, as this incorrectly offers a ‘guilt free’ excuse to fly. We believe the industry needs to move to a carbon reduction strategy.

What should people do more of when they travel?
Fly less. This is the first thing. When you do fly try to make it count and minimise carbon in destination. Food miles are something to be conscious of, try to eat in local restaurants serving fresh, local food. I spend a lot of time at Responsible Travel campaigning and on media work that’s wider than the company, and more time outside of Responsible Travel being an advocate for issues I believe in. I work with the UK Government and business leaders, as a member of the Council for Sustainable Business, on the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan. I’m a Director at Basecamp Explorer in Kenya, working on a Maasai-owned Conservancy that serves to create local economic benefit, protect the Savannah for wildlife and for carbon sequestration, and for reforestation. I judged various Award schemes for responsible and sustainable tourism. This year I’ve started some lecturing, as a guest at Harvard Extension with Megan Epler Wood, and in the near future at The University of East London. More recently I’m becoming more engaged in community and sustainability issues in Brighton, where our offices are based. My personal travel reflects our company advice to fly less and stay longer, however I believe that only system change (rather than relying on individual actions from the willing) – hence our campaigning for The Green Flying Duty.

Juliet Kinsman

Juliet Kinsman

Juliet Kinsman is a luxury travel expert and journalist and founder of sustainability consultancy and content creation agency, BOUTECO which helps hotels to walk their talk and talk their walk when it comes to their social/environmental/economic sustainability practices.

How do you feel about the health and wellbeing of people and the planet right now?
For me, sustainability, health and wellbeing are all interlinked – and at the moment, as we move further away from nature, our wellbeing as people and planet as a whole is certainly under threat. But there’s also lots that’s wonderful and inspiring that’s happening and worth celebrating. We’re waking up to the value of good mental health and the need for us to return to a way of thinking and working that is holistic rather than individualistic. It’s important to share more stories of positivity to counter the negative news headlines that bombard us constantly. All too often messages about serious matters – especially sustainability – are done with a wagging finger or highlighting all that’s wrong with the world – but shame or guilt is the wrong emotion to always aim to evoke: when it comes to trying to change human behaviour, instead, it’s good to inspire and lead by example instead.

Have you discovered any new gems of places to stay that genuinely “walk their talk” on sustainability and carbon mitigation and don’t greenwash?
Any hotels that find a way to get truly back to nature warm my heart such as Borgo Santo Pietro in Italy, a beautiful boutique hotel that has wooed me with its new botanical skincare range, Seed to Skin, where 90% of their ingredients are sourced from their organic farm – it’s an incredible commitment to sustainability without any cost to luxury or indulgence for sybarites. You’d be hard pushed to find a hotel business with a stronger commitment to transparency around emissions than Soneva, while Steppes Travel, in response to the increased concern and curiosity around carbon calculations, has launched a grassroots “Trees & Science” campaign with the Woodland Trust. I’ve also just had an amazing week with a Slow Cyclist holiday to Transylvania in Romania, where peddling through Carpathian Mountain scenery and past orchards of fruit-laden trees at a slow pace was like meditation on two wheels. Pausing for lunch in sweet farmhouse kitchens, eating from boldly painted ceramics delicious home-cooked meals made from ingredients plucked or reared right on their doorsteps is sustainability at its simplest.

Do you feel we have made any progress at all in 2019 when it comes to a more sustainable travel industry?
I think the first challenge was raising awareness – and in many ways we are winning with this, with more people understanding the connection between anthropogenic carbon emissions and global warming and climate change. The next challenge is to get each part of the trio to start implementing change. We need three things – stricter legislation from the government to support innovation and improvements in policy which limits waste and a reliance on fossil fuels; responsibility taken by suppliers and the service industry to strive for the triple bottom line (when a business is good for people, place, and planet); and consumers to take greater responsibility for their own actions and behaviour and think a bit more deeply rather than prioritising instant gratification and convenience.

Do you believe in carbon offsetting, and do you offset your own carbon?
Absolutely I support carbon offsetting – anything to mitigate the overall expulsion of carbon and greenhouse gases – the only danger is that people mostly do it to assuage their own guilt and by offsetting to “reduce” their own emissions their actions can remain as they were, when really we need to look at the overall reduction of our own personal footprints and not just counter all the indulgences we’re having. Also not all offsetting is equal, obviously, and people need to do their homework and research exactly what they’re paying for in terms of carbon credits, and be assured that the projects that are being supported with their money are ethical and long term. It’s the taking off and landing part of our flights that’s worst, so it’s good to scrutinise individual airline policies and see whether you are giving your money to a business that considers its impact in every way it can and strives to be a good business in all respects.

What should people do more of when they travel?
Sustainability is about having a positive impact socially, environmentally and also economically, so I would urge everyone to consider the supply chain of their holidays and travels in the same way that they might look at the provenance of ingredients used in what they eat – especially with package holidays and international luxury chain hotels. I recommend reading Bruce Poon Tip’s book Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business. His travel company G Adventures has created more than 50 social enterprises around the world bringing underserved communities, from Peru to Vietnam, into the sustainable-tourism chain, resulting in improved education as well as jobs.

I also urge everyone to simply keep making some noise about what matters. Personally I challenge anyone and everyone whenever relevant about what we could all do to reduce impact – whether it’s declining goodie bags spilling over with lovely things in single-use packaging to feeding back to hotels when I think it’s utterly ridiculous they serve imported Fiji mineral water when filtered local water is absolutely fine.

Sophy Roberts
Sophy Roberts
Credit: Michael Turek

Roberts is a journalist who frequently writes for the Financial Times among others. Her first book, The Lost Pianos of Siberia, a work of non-fiction which charts the human story of Siberia through a modern-day piano hunt, is published in February 2020 by Doubleday lostpianosofsiberia.com.

How do you feel about the health and wellbeing of people and the planet right now?
Frankly it’s depressing. We worry so much about self-care, about the anxiety-inducing, stressful impact of the modern age on our populations – travel, frenetic activity, ceaseless technology. But these same pressures are destroying the planet too. We all need to slow down. It’s not just about self-care; it’s about saving the planet first. There are voices out there – of remarkable conservationists and campaigners – which are beginning to find a bigger platform. That’s an exciting shift in power, that these voices are now being heard. 

Do you feel we have made any progress at all in 2019 when it comes to a more sustainable travel industry?
In terms of appreciable, actual action? No. But what we are seeing are conversations. People are beginning to wake up, to talk about the future and to seriously consider more sustainable alternatives for the first time. Reduction of plastic bags and bottles are just the start. There’s now serious, considered, high-level discussion about the ethics and alternatives of flying. There’s a very long way to go, but self-awareness is a start.

Have you discovered any new gems of places to stay that genuinely “walk their talk” on sustainability and carbon mitigation and don’t greenwash?
I’ve just got back from Trasierra in Spain, where I was on assignment covering George Scott’s Riding Safaris. It was just remarkable – slow days spent on horseback, with candlelit evenings and not a single car seen in three days. I also think all the Nomad properties in Tanzania are good on sustainability: market leaders.

Do you believe in carbon offsetting, and do you offset your own carbon?
Yes and no. I offset my own carbon with a ‘Guilt Wood’ that I’ve planted at my home in Dorset – every time I fly, I plant a tree. But I also know that a tree planted in the heart of some of the UK’s healthiest land, which will take a generation to mature, is not going to compensate in real terms for another wash of carbon into the atmosphere from my next flight. Although I travel for a living, I’m trying to make sure that when I do fly, it is to report on a cause I believe in. Everyone has their set of scales, to justify why they should or shouldn’t get on a plane. I’m also trying to stay in a single place longer, to get more out of it, rather than just fly around the world on jobs with a willy-nilly disrespect for the impact of my actions.

What should people do more of when they travel?
In our quest for the ‘exotic’, we often overlook our own backyard. I spent a magical weekend at a yoga retreat on the north Devon coast a few weeks ago. The water was Mediterranean-blue, the skies the size of Africa’s. I booked this, and paid for it, rather than went for the journalist ‘freebie’ in Bali. In 2020 – and beyond – we all need to start looking for alternatives on our doorstep. We need to stop seeing travel as a right: it’s a privilege and it’s one we’ve glutted ourselves on. So that’s my 2020 travel resolution – to try to replace far-flung trips with experiences closer to home.

Francisca Kellett

Francisca Kellet

Francisca Kellett is a leading travel writer and editor, and the co-founder of Mundi & Co, a creative content agency for luxury travel brands.

How do you feel about the health and wellbeing of people and the planet right now?
We are at a crisis point – politically, environmentally, socially – but I’m feeling surprisingly chirpy about everything, mostly thanks to the incredibly positive youth-led movements currently striving to change things. My daughters have turned into a little environmental activists and it gives me hope for much-needed positive change.

Do you feel we have made any progress at all in 2019 when it comes to a more sustainable travel industry?
Absolutely. Sustainable travel used to be niche, but it’s now very much in the mainstream, especially in the luxury market. Travellers are highly educated and know that their travel can have a positive – or negative – impact. Their changing demands are forcing the industry to change.

Have you discovered any new gems of places to stay that genuinely “walk their talk” on sustainability and carbon mitigation and don’t greenwash?
Misool Eco Resort in Raja Ampat. They are hugely environmentally savvy, 100% sustainably built and have completely saved and transformed their marine environment, creating a 1,220sqm marine conservancy that was once a shark-fishing area.

Do you believe in carbon offsetting, and do you offset your own carbon?
I do carbon offset and see the benefits when we have to fly, but I also think it’s by no means a solution – and there’s the danger of legitimising too much flying. It’s a thorny issue and there should be more of a discussion around it, and less blind faith.

What should people do more of when they travel?
Fly less! I’m trying to travel by train as much as possible, and try to only fly when it really matters. Equally important is to take longer trips and only stay in places that are having a positive impact on local communities and environments. That should be a given for travellers, and is, hopefully, becoming the norm.

60 seconds with Inge De Lathauwer

Inge De Lathauwer

Inge De Lathauwer is the founder of The Sumba Hospitality Foundation, which has built a vocational hotel school with a unique eco resort and permaculture learning farm in Sumba, one of the poorest islands in Indonesia. Graduates get secure jobs and the broader community is invited to attend free English classes and learn permaculture techniques. More here.

One word that describes you?

Passionate

What project are you most proud of when it comes to sustainability?

Creating the Sumba Hospitality Foundation: a hybrid model of a vocational hotel school in Sumba, Indonesia for underprivileged local youth that teaches hospitality, permaculture and sustainability, combined with an Eco resort which is also a model for responsible tourism development.

Which is your favourite part of your job?

Witnessing my students build their future as successful hospitality professionals and Green ambassadors for their island.

Which is the part that you enjoy the least?

Administration.

Who is your greatest influence?

Sonu Shivdasani, founder of Soneva resorts, pioneer in sustainable tourism.

Best advice you’ve been given?

Follow your intuition, work hard and never give up.

What is your personal indulgence?

Champagne and chocolate.

The latest IPCC Report noted that our planet will reach 1.5C by 2030 (not 2050 as was originally suggested). How would you suggest we get people to ‘do more’ in 2019 to help this situation?

Eat better, opt for local, organic food; refuse any packaging; behave as a guest in a foreign destination and treat the local communities with respect. In general, I would say, everything comes down to education. We need to focus more to inform the younger generations. They are the future and will be able to influence and realize the change we need to make. Knowledge is power.

What are you, your family and/or your company doing to reduce and offset your carbon footprint and inspire others to do the same?

Our project is 100% off grid, we filter and reuse 90% of our waste water for irrigation of our organic farm, all buildings are made out of local bamboo, and we have a strict no plastic policy. We introduced regular trash walks with the community and local government to create awareness.

What is your personal favourite place to stay and/or travel company that’s trying hard when it comes to sustainability?

Maringi eco resort and spa in Sumba. All the income of the resort goes entirely back to supporting the local community. You can enjoy a luxury holiday while contributing to a better world.

What other steps do you take to make your daily life more committed to sustainability?

I rarely use my car and walk a lot. My fridge is almost empty, because I buy daily local organic produce. Overstocked fridges often result in food waste.

What do you think must happen now to help make our planet, people and profit more committed to sustainability?

It must be now that tourism should follow the 4C’s to develop responsible tourism by empowering the local Communities, preserving the Culture and balancing Conservation of the environment with Commerce, so travellers can enjoy discovering a healthy and productive planet for a very long time. We are proud to be a member of The Long Run, an organization of nature-based tourism businesses committed to driving sustainability. Good practices are shared with each other and inspire to take action.

If you could have one hour with a world leader, who would it be and what would you say?

President Jokowi of Indonesia, who is known for his commitment to support the local communities. Tourism development is one of the top priorities on his agenda. Indonesia has 15,000 islands, many still undeveloped but at a tipping point, and I would love to share some suggestions on how to develop these new destinations in a responsible way with a long term vision.

Any regrets so far?

No regrets, I love what I do. The positive energy and motivation from the young Sumbanese people who have very little but give so much fill me with immense joy and I feel fortunate to meet very inspiring, like-minded people on my journey.

How to Give the Right Way When You Travel

Gift a tree instead of stuff

When you want to give a gift to others, give a tree instead of a card or stuff. It costs just £2 for a tree to be planted by Forests without Frontiers, for example – imagine how many trees could be planted this festive season if everyone on the planet gave a tree instead of a card. This is how we can give the right way to our planet earth. When we travel, it’s also giving the right way to a destination.

Forests without Frontiers

Give your respect

The first step to responsible travel is to take with us a general attitude of respect, both for the physical place we find ourselves in and the locals we encounter. We can help cultivate a spirit of positive change by making an effort to take care of the landscape, and by being polite and thankful towards locals.

Lina Trochez

Be mindful of what and how you give

As well intentioned as it is, giving ‘stuff’ such as clothing or pens out randomly to villagers and their children in rural communities can sow community conflict and encourage a culture of dependency. As one of our readers says: ‘I watched two Maasai women in Africa fight over a T-shirt that a smiling tourist had handed out.’ If you’re going to give, make sure it’s fair, and only give small amounts of something useful (and not made of plastic) to everyone rather than one or two things to a few.

Choose your food

In some parts of Asia, the first English words children learn are “Give me sweet.” Is sugar that rots their teeth and spikes their blood sugar really what you want to give? There are a lot of hungry children in the world, and they need sustenance and nurture, just like your own children. Go prepared and give healthy snacks individually wrapped to eat there and then, rather than sweets. If you give packets of things, such as crackers, open the packet there and then too – in some countries unopened packets are taken off children and sold back to shops. Be sure to wrap your food in something sustainable, and avoid plastic and foil wrappers that will only add to the garbage heap where recycling is not available.

Overbuy things you like and rate

If you like something, be generous and buy two of them, especially if they are hand crafted and being sold to you by the person who made them. This fuels local culture and employment. As one guide told a travel blogger: ‘Crafts are the best thing to buy; they have people’s dreams woven into them’.

Rafael Saes

Bargain up quantity

Haggling is part of many cultures, but let people earn a real wage by not bargaining them out of a meal that evening. If you want something, and the seller is over-charging for it, ask for more of it for the same price rather than offering them less money. You can afford it. This is especially true of people who sell stuff on the street and are battling weather, traffic and crime just to make a living.

Say yes to having your case carried

It’s easy to be irritated by people offering to help carry your suitcase at airports or stations and then to ask for a tip if this isn’t the practice in your own country. But if you relax and let go a bit, you’ll see that actually, this is an easy way for locals to earn money and for you to get a bit of help.

Don’t give to beggars

Whether they are children or adults, it’s wise not to give indiscriminately to beggars, for this can encourage ‘begging’ as a job choice or alternative to school, when those that do it are often part of professional begging rings and will not see any or much of the money in any case. Give food to the individuals instead, as above, and give to well chosen local charities you have checked out in person that you know will use the money to help those in need in the place you are in directly.

Give your time

Mindful volunteering is still very much in need all over the world. But choose your organisation carefully. Never volunteer to work with children in orphanages, for example, unless you are a professional, fully qualified childcare or teacher with experience and can do so for a minimum of four weeks. If you have no specific skills, go through a work exchange organisation such as HelpX or Workaway.

Perry Grone

Give your attention

Be much more than a consumer, and take an interest in local cultures – those poorer than you often have talents and wisdoms to share instead and, just like you, are looking for human connection. Take an interest and have a chat – you’ll be surprised what you get back in return. One reader on a travel forum recently wrote: ‘When we visited Bijapur in Northern Karnataka, kids wanted pens, but more significantly, they just wanted to chat.’