The travel industry faces an opportunity to embrace a sustainable, authentic, and inclusive way of travelling beneficial from locals, to travellers, to the tourism industry.
Crowded low-cost flights, endless queues that go around the corners of the most famous art galleries, arguments with strangers to get the best spot for that travel selfie… these are some examples that show what modern tourism had become. The sector’s current pause, triggered by the COVID-19 global disruption, makes me realize that there is an overall lack of purpose in the way people travel, a trend that has grown over the last decade. This loss of essence also affects the way that most media portray tourism and tourists, giving a negative and unfair narrative about this activity mainly fuelled by factors like over-tourism and other unsustainable practices that negatively impact local communities.
2021 brings some moderate optimism for both society and the travel sector as vaccination plans are already in action, yet they remain in their initial stages and further examination is required to check the vaccines’ efficiency. This situation buys some time, for both customers and travel businesses, to rethink how travel will be once it is safe to do so again. In this stage, a transformation must begin to embrace a new approach that brings back the drive of travelling for the new era after the biggest crisis affecting the sector.
What is purposeful travel about?
To get away from crowded and artificial destinations, travel experiences need to be reimagined. Therefore, the aim of travelling must switch from completing a worthless bucket list to living a destination. Doing this requires an introspective journey from travellers to decide what elements are integrated in their travels to make them unforgettable and authentic while generating a positive outcome for the places they visit.
A key theme of purposeful travel is learning. DMO’s, travel media, airlines, hotels, restaurants… all the stakeholders involved need to bring the essence, the history, the culture of destinations closer to those visiting them. There are massive opportunities to create original and meaningful content as well as marketing campaigns that put in value the assets of any destination. But the real challenge is to make travellers be part of this reality and show them their role to extend the benefits of travelling to local communities.
So, when talking about purposeful travel, it’s inevitable to bring sustainability to the table. By investing in sustainable travel, the global industry assures a better efficiency in natural resources’ use, waste management, protection of biodiversity, and responses to climate change. Also, sustainability helps tackling other travel-related issues such as over-tourism while making a positive contribution to communities worldwide. From the travellers’ perspective, there are plenty of opportunities to practice sustainability. From the transportation they use, to the accommodation they stay in, to the food they consume, and the best way to apply sustainability to travelling is simple, go local as much as you can. By doing this deliberately, you will discover new languages, flavours, people, traditions, and stories that will enhance your bonds with the places you visit.
Purposeful travel: accessible to any segment anywhere
Another important feature of purposeful travel is its inclusiveness. From LGBT+ to disabled travellers, everyone can embrace this way of travelling and use it to connect with more people and create better places to live in and visit. In the same way, the travel sector can contribute to make purposeful travel more accessible and diverse by appealing to travellers’ interests and passions. The message to communicate the importance of these type of travels and experiences must refer to their authenticity and their role in bringing well-being to local communities, as well as their contribution to expand and challenge our minds. This can be achieved, either travelling to a far exotic destination or travelling locally, for example when going on your next staycation.
Regardless of the destination, there are many ways of practicing purposeful travel. From volunteering, to learning a new language abroad, to taking a gap year. In the same way, purposeful travel helps to fight beliefs such as racism, homophobia, and sexism by experiencing and understanding diverse cultures and environments. So, purposeful travel is an accessible way of giving back to others while being the best version of yourself.
As travel is a synonym of freedom, to discover and practice purposeful travel is an individual choice. Those who decide to transform their travel habits for when global travel resumes will benefit the sector’s recovery and, at the same time, make a positive contribution to local individuals, as well as to their natural environment and cultural heritage. Also, purposeful travellers will live stories much more valuable and meaningful than travelling without protecting the planet nor other humans and with the only objective of ticking off everything that another people have written down in ‘your’ bucket list.