The global travel and tourism industry is now the largest employer in the world, which means its potential to effect change is huge – not just for itself, its visitors and its guests, but for the betterment of all people and the whole planet.
Are you interested in sustainable travel, sustainable tourism, sustainable hotels, a sustainable world? The scientific data is in: the world’s current sustainability efforts aren’t enough to secure our future and we are in a clear battle against time for ourselves and for our planet.
Centuries of population growth and industrial development driven by dirty, carbon-intensive fuels have radically altered our planet’s climate and the delicately balanced eco system it needs to survive and thrive.
The simple facts are shocking and scary – which is why perhaps it’s human nature to either ignore them, or spruce them up in scientific jargon so we can feel that we are in control of them.
Certain environmental catastrophes have already either happened or cannot be avoided, of course, and with President Trump prepared to undo vehicle rules that curb global warming (and that’s just before his breakfast) – and other nations continuing to ignore the urgent need for sustainable action – we could if we wanted to resign ourselves to a path of severe climate instability, resource scarcity, environmental degradation and social chaos (is this indeed your plan, Mr Trump?).
Alternatively, we can ACT NOW to limit climate change and build a more sustainable world.
2017 has been declared the International Year of Sustainable Tourism by the United Nations General Assembly – though you wouldn’t really know it, judging by the lack of buzz around the place. Yet it’s right here, right now, more than ever, that we as travellers and hoteliers all need to start buzzing very loudly. Indeed, we need to move beyond sustainable tourism and sustainable travel to something that embraces every single action that we take.
‘The more action we take, and the quicker we take it, the better chance we have of minimising risks and damages,’ says Susanne Becken, Professor of Sustainable Tourism at the Griffith Institute for Tourism in Australia (how cool such a position even exists – though how worrying that it even needs to). Putting a time on how long we have got – as some scientists have done – gives a false sense of security, says Susanne. ‘The time to act really is now’.
Travel wakes you up, gets into the crevices of your mind and enables you to see a world different to your own, and the best travel companies out there have helped millions of us do this well over the years on all budgets. But let’s make no mistake about it – the same industry has also had highly negative impacts on the world’s environmental, economic and social affairs, from its contribution to the dangerous build up of microplastics in the ocean to the ethically dubious practices of charging guests high prices but paying staff intolerably low wages.
I was inspired to travel the world by my father, who throughout my childhood shared stories with me from the trips he led as head of an adventure travel company. I went on my first independent trip when I was 16, roughed it round India for a year before university, then quickly became a travel writer full time. Over the last 20 years whilst researching travel books, features and reviews I’ve tasted pure freedom in some of the most beautiful places on earth and stayed in some of the world’s most gorgeous hotels. But I’ve also witnessed enormous amounts of poverty, ugliness, neglect and disorder, situations which I know for sure have rarely been helped by the (albeit very nice) places to stay across the fence.
The hospitality industry is now the largest employer in the world* – larger than the food industry – which means its potential to effect change is huge – not just for itself and its guests, but for the betterment of all people and the whole planet. As consumers of travel too, we can help effect that change, by becoming more conscious of how we act, where we travel and which companies we choose to travel with.
This year NOW will be taking a look at the issues and companies involved to help make our choices easier. As ethically conscious travellers, we have all been waiting for genuinely sustainable action from the world – and the travel industry – for too long. It must be NOW!
* The World Travel and Tourism Council