Image credit: David Murphy – Not On The Map
I think it’s fair to say that sustainability really kicked goals in the last decade. I remember when I started this blog back in 2015, the term ‘sustainable travel’ was barely on the radar. Nowadays, travellers are becoming more mindful of the kind of impact they are making, corresponding to a higher level of consciousness of an individual’s social and environmental impact in their daily lives.
Impact Travel Alliance (ITA) – a global community and 501(c)3 nonprofit aimed at improving the world through travel – is looking ahead to 2020 with optimism as many sustainable travel trends are becoming mainstream. “It’s heartening to see so many sustainability and conservation ideas at the forefront of discussions,” said ITA Founder and Executive Director Kelley Louise.
So, as the term ‘sustainability’ edges into household discussions around the globe, what trends are shaping sustainable travel in the new decade?
While the concept of slow travel is not new, climate activist Greta Thunberg’s focus on this movement gave slow travel a media boost. Millions watched Thunberg sail across the Atlantic Ocean as opposed to flying, bringing attention to the impact of the aviation industry on global warming, and people have followed suit. Bloggers Steven and Simone, aka The Couple in Row 51, aim to travel from New Zealand to their home country of Amsterdam completely overland to raise awareness about the impact of travel on our precious planet.
Meanwhile, many in Britain and Sweden have promoted campaigns to fly less and opt for train travel instead. Dutch airline KLM even released a “Fly Responsibly” campaign, urging travellers to explore alternative options to air travel. “The point isn’t to flight shame travellers, but to encourage them to be more conscious of the impact their travel decisions have,” Louise said. “We get caught up in getting to a destination or cramming as much as we can into a trip, and forget that often the point of a vacation is to slow down and just experience a place. As we well know, it’s about the journey, not just the destination.”
Regenerative tourism is a concept that pays attention to the regeneration of habitats and species. International tourism consultant Anna Pollock explains it eloquently – “Regenerative Tourism depends on caring hosts willing to ensure their destination is healthy and full of life. A regenerative, systems-based approach integrates conventional sustainable practices and doesn’t treat them as an extra, a “bolt-on” necessity.”
Take Alladale Wilderness Reserve in Scotland, for example. Scotland has lost 97 percent of its natural woodland, and Alladale’s mission is focused on rewilding the property’s 23,000 acres and reintroducing Highland plant and animal species, earning it a spot in the European Nature Trust.
Environmental education organisation CERES Global offers tours to Central Kalimantan in Borneo to stay with Indigenous Dayak communities, participate in the One Million Tree Project and learn about traditional forestry and ecology with the aim to regenerate the forests. In the Maldives, ecotourism company Secret Paradise Maldives offer tours to learn and participate in coral rehabilitation projects with Save The Beach Maldives.
There are many opportunities to participate in programs that are helping to regenerate our planet and reverse the damage we have done.
Impactful Digital Nomadism
As more of us choose a life less ordinary, unconfined by office walls, digital nomadism is on the rise. Remote work opportunities allow nomads to choose to work from destinations around the globe and are therefore integrating into new communities. In recent years, nomad hubs like Bali, Chiang Mai, Dahab and Medellín received an increasing number of digital nomads. But how do nomads offer their gratitude to these open-armed communities?
Nomads Giving Back! founder Tarek Kholoussy saw an opportunity to create a bridge between nomads and local causes. “I wanted to build a platform that made it easier for nomads to give back to the places they call home away from home,” he said. Nomads Giving Back! is connecting nomads and travellers with causes in their respective destinations. Through connections like this, impactful digital nomadism is formed.
Accessibility and Inclusion in Travel
‘Inclusivo’ is one of my favourite Spanish words. It means ‘everyone included’. Accessibility and inclusion are becoming more frequently highlighted in the travel industry, and rightfully so. Travel businesses are breaking down barriers so that minority groups are represented in the field, as well as ensuring that all travellers – no matter gender, sex, race, age, sexual orientation, etc. – feel welcome in destinations.
One example of an organisation pioneering accessible travel is Planet-Abled, providing accessible travel solutions and leisure excursions for people with different abilities. Founder Neha Arora explains – “Inaccessibility, lack of basic amenities and societal prejudice are some of the barriers people with different abilities face when it comes to travel. Our unique travel sojourns are all-inclusive and give our customers the freedom to see the world.”
A Spotlight on Overtourism
We’ve seen first-hand how overtourism – an excessive, intolerable number of tourists in one destination – can significantly harm a destination’s ecology. Some of the most highlighted examples of overtourism include Mount Everest, where inrushes of tourists brought overcrowding and large amounts of waste to an area with little waste management facilities. This year, the Italian city of Venice banned large cruise ships from entering its canals due to environmental concerns of underwater erosion, pressure on infrastructure and pollution. In Peru, tourism authorities introduced a ticketing system for visitors heading to the famous Macchu Picchu, with the aim to control tourism at the site, ease transport pressures and also encourage visitors to head to other Peruvian spots.
To combat overtourism there is the development of undertourism and off-season tourism. One such company is Off Season Adventures, which focuses on bespoke trips to Nepal, Tanzania and other countries during low seasons, enabling income for employees year-round. Another example is Atlas Obscura’s “Sustainable Design and Artistic Innovation in Puerto Rico,” which helps guests explore well past San Juan and support local communities while the country continues to recover from Hurricane Maria.
Ellie from Soul Travel Blog speaks about why the solution for overtourism is not necessarily avoiding travel – “Travel can expand our self-awareness, and critically our awareness of the damage we ourselves may un-wittingly be doing to the world. The reason we believe in travel is because of the power of travel to transcend differences and build human connection.”
I agree with Ellie’s words about the power of travel, especially pushing sustainable travel into the mainstream. If these trends gain traction we could see tourism helping solve some of the planet’s most pressing issues.