There is no better demonstration of how hotels, lodges, tour operators and airlines can do their bit to support the environmental and social health of our planet than a whirlwind tour of this year’s Tourism for Tomorrow finalists. Organised by the World Travel and Tourism Council, the Tourism for Tomorrow Award judges have selected finalists under five themes; community, destination, environment, innovation and people. By understanding the issues and solutions facing the travel industry, travellers are empowered to make more informed choices, so read on…
It feels hard to imagine witnessing the health of a community decline as tourism businesses around it prosper, but sadly this can often be the case. Healthy communities provide more committed employees, a better cared-for local environment and therefore happier guests. A travel operator that knows this better than most is &Beyond – through its non-profit Africa Foundation, it has set up community projects, including building classrooms and clinics, in 56 communities throughout South Africa, Southern Africa and East Africa. On the other side of the Atlantic, Uakari Lodge uses tourism to provide meaningful employment to 10 surrounding communities – each US$1 generated by the lodge creates US$5 for the local community. Taking an even more direct approach to supporting communities, over 500 travellers have helped Global Himalayan Expedition set up a solar powered microgrid in previously off-grid Himalayan villages.
So much of why we travel is because of the extraordinary beauty of the natural world, which is in a more fragile state than ever. Supporting a healthy environment involves biodiversity conservation, protection of natural habitats and addressing climate change. Airports and aren’t renowned for sustainability but everyone needs to do their bit. Thanks to collaborative efforts with suppliers Airport Authority Hong Kong has achieved a 25.6% reduction in its carbon intensity. Melia Resorts in Mexico have committed to protecting mangrove forests and restoring neighbouring reefs. On the opposite end of the scale, since 1995 the tiny 1km long Chumbe Island Coral Park has shared its inspiring, conservation-led outlook and precious environment with 9,400 local people — who in turn now want to protect what they see.
Venice, Barcelona and Thailand are just a few of the destinations struggling with over-tourism. The world’s population is more mobile than ever, and while that is positive in many ways, some places are oversubscribed when it comes to travellers. Destinations need to be managed responsibly to ensure local populations and the environment stays healthy. An enlightening example of this is Parque Arví which offers residents a welcome respite from the smog of Medellin — before it opened there was only four metres of green space per resident, yet now there is 12. Further north, two organisations stand out for their efforts in bringing together businesses to put sustainability on the map — in Jackson Hole 260 businesses have been trained in sustainability by a program set up by the Riverwind Foundation and Thompson Okanagan Tourism has successfully engaged with 4,5000 organisations to ensure that tourism benefits indigenous communities, villages and towns alike.
Innovating for health
Given that we’re unlikely to stop travelling all over the globe anytime soon, innovation is the lynchpin when it comes to making travel have a positive impact. Innovation can be as simple as a bus service. No ordinary public transport system, Parkbus in Canada not only takes up to 45 vehicles off the road per coach, helping to reduce congestion, but through tailored schemes provides disadvantaged groups with access to the wilderness. In Bali innovation comes in the form of Pemuteran Bay Coral Protection Foundation’s ‘bio-rocks’, which are helping a previously poor fishing village turn the tide on coastal destruction. Meanwhile, looking up to the sky, Virgin Atlantic is tackling the environmental challenges of inflight catering by partnering with the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
Not only is supporting and developing loyal employees an essential part of running a good travel business, in a world riddled with unemployment and social injustice, providing opportunities to those that need them most, is the right thing to do. Cayuga Collection have always put the treatment of staff high on their list of priorities; employees are not only local, and employed year-round (even out of season), but a medical programme takes care of their whole family’s health. Taking responsible employment one step further, Tree Alliance in Thailand has set up restaurants specifically to help train disadvantaged young people in hospitality skills. In Cambodia, Heritage Watch has developed a simple program working with teachers to educate kids about the importance of cultural and environmental preservation — in response to temple looting.
Tourism for Tomorrow winners will be announced on 19th April. Find out more here.