Image credit: David Murphy – Not On The Map
I think it’s fair to say 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 2022 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 as we move forward into 2022?
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. Meanwhile, in Britain and Sweden, campaigns to fly less and opt for overland travel are finding their way to the mainstream media. 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.”
The remote work movement and a stronger focus on work-life balance have also influenced the way people are travelling. One thing the pandemic has taught us is that it’s OK to slow down. We can persevere without the constant hustle and devotion to work. For me, I am excited about embracing slow travel. The idea of being able to spend long periods of time in one destination, as opposed to hopping from country to country to see the main sites and leave, feels more purposeful and intimate. I feel as though I am more present in the places I visit when I’m not feeling rushed.
Related Reading: As Travel Resumes, So Does Focus on Decarbonization of Aviation.
Carbon-neutral Travel & Carbon Offsetting
Carbon offsetting, or compensating for carbon dioxide emissions arising from our activities, is a growing concept that has particularly interested the tourism industry, being one of the largest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions. Companies like Sustainable Travel International offer travellers the chance to calculate their flight emissions using an online calculator and offset emissions through their online platform.
Carbon offset initiatives like Offsetra and Tomorrow’s Air fund carbon removal projects through users’ monthly subscriptions – think Netflix but for carbon offsets. These kinds of initiatives are really taking off as individuals are looking for simpler ways to offset their travel footprint that don’t necessarily involve ceasing travel.
Tourism operators are also stepping up to find innovative ways to make their operations carbon-neutral. Tour operator Exo Travel has found a way to measure the average carbon footprint of the activities guests partake in during their holidays and then funds a compensation scheme to support sustainability projects across Asia. Intrepid Travel is also a 100% carbon-neutral B-corporation.
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. In the Maldives, ecotourism company Secret Paradise Maldives offer tours to learn and participate in coral rehabilitation projects.
Citizen Science also comes under the pillar of regeneration. Citizen Science is an initiative whereby citizens, or travellers, are encouraged to participate in scientific research through observation and data. Companies like Adventure Scientists and Biosphere Expeditions lean on participants to gather the data needed to address critical challenges to the environment and human health.
Coliving & Coworking Opportunities
The pandemic played a large role in the expansion of the remote work movement. Many industries and sectors are now adopting remote work practices and offer this more flexibility to their employees. Pre-pandemic, this movement was also growing. The ‘digital nomad’ scene was vibrant in places like Bali and Europe and seems to have reignited as border restrictions ease. More recently, there has been an increase in coliving and coworking experiences catered to this community.
Take for example Sende, a rural coworking and coliving space in northern Spain. Their aim is to convert unused space, specifically in rural areas of Spain, into creative coliving houses for communities of social entrepreneurs, freelancers and digital nomads. Even governments have acknowledged the importance of projects like Sende to revive uninhabited villages.
On São Miguel Island in the Azores, Portugal, Joana from Quinta do Bom Despacho has transformed her beautiful 18th-century family home into a sustainable eco-living experience for environmentally conscious and sustainability-curious freelancers, couples or groups. Bringing people together to co-live has both a positive impact on the environment through the use of shared spaces and resources, and stimulates the tourism economy by offering a market in the so-called off-season.
Coliving and coworking opportunities like this continue to grow across Europe and in many places around the world. This movement is going to be interesting to follow as many digital nomads who embrace the beauty of freedom are also craving deep connection and community on their journeys.
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. One of the most highlighted examples of overtourism is Mount Everest, where inrushes of tourists brought overcrowding and large amounts of waste to an area with few waste management facilities. In 2020, 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.
The remote work initiatives mentioned above also encourage visitors year-round. Remote work expert and entrepreneur, Goncalo Hall, works closely with local governments to establish remote work communities in destinations. Listen to our interview where we discuss how digital nomad villages can be used as a tool for decentralisation, repopulation and community-building.
In her blog, Ellie from Soul Travel 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.