In the new normal, destinations should place sustainability at the core of their strategies as it is the main element that underpins their resilience.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has shaken the foundations of the global travel and tourism sector, from an economic to a social one. However, there are always opportunities among crises. The pandemic has shed light on the negative impacts our sector has, such as over-tourism or wildlife exploitation. Now it is time to transit to a truly sustainable way of travelling that fits the conditions of the ‘new normal’.
From DMOs to travellers, we all need to embrace a new role which does not jeopardize the industry nor the natural and cultural resources that nurture it. This transition brings changes with it, especially in the way we travel and our concept of it. To support this, the World Travel and Tourism Council has highlighted the benefits of travelling responsibly:
- Minimization of negative economic, environmental, and social impacts
- Contribution to improve the wellbeing of local communities
- Positive impacts on local economies
- Conservation of natural and cultural heritage
- Meaningful connections between travellers and local communities
Tourist destinations should place sustainability at the core of their strategies. It is the main element that underpins the resilience of destinations through recovery plans and the drive to achieve objectives such as the Sustainable Development Goals. By investing in sustainable travel, the global industry assures a better efficiency within natural resources’ use, waste management, protection of biodiversity, and responses to climate change. Sustainability also tackles other issues such as over-tourism while aligning with the Triple Bottom Line and making a positive contribution to communities worldwide.
Tourist destinations have the opportunity to extract precious information from the current halt within international travels amid the pandemic. Now is time to revise aspects such as the desired markets to cater to, the relationships between industry’s businesses, or the hidden resources that can lead destinations to a sustainable recovery. When planning these strategies, the destination criterion A1 from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council should be followed while considering the local communities point of view. Sustainable travel has gained importance over the years to the point of becoming a must. Emerging destinations have the best positions to take advantage of the current halt in the global travel industry by planning a sustainable tourism development aligned with proper marketing campaigns and engaging all the stakeholders involved.
Some destinations are examples of effective policies and responses to gain resilience. In African destinations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, national parks like Virunga (Congo) or Gishwati-Mukura (Rwanda) banned access to tourists to protect endangered species, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, from potentials effects of COVID-19 caused by interactions with humans. Fiji, the country located in the Pacific, started to target small groups of wealthy travellers who can restart the travel industry, the main sector within its economy, as well as supporting the struggling local community. Fiji tourism board aims to manage a balance between health risk and travelling along with negotiating to establish travel bubbles which allow tourist flows from and to New Zealand and Australia in an attempt to save the country’s battered industry.
On a small scale, businesses are embracing innovative eco-friendly approaches. Organic coffee farms in Tanzania, ecological cabins in Alaska, farmhouses located in non-city environments in England, resort islands managed by local families in the Caribbean, and ranches in California are just a few examples of the increasingly growing trend of developing sustainable accommodation sites for travellers. During lockdown periods, many of these businesses turned a blow to the travel industry into an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage in the market before the resumption of travels while making a positive contribution, particularly to local communities. Investing in companies aligned with responsible practices then is an effective step to promote sustainable destinations.
DMOs should also appeal to travellers to modify their travel habits in the ‘new normal’. From taking less but longer trips to reduce their carbon footprint to choosing sustainable activities to travel locally. The list of measures is endless, especially in the transport sector. While airlines keep developing alternative biofuels, they should keep implementing actions such as promoting customers to acquire carbon offsets, increasing the prices of business class tickets, and developing sustainability plans.
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Tenerife while researching this article. In the destination, I visited different places in the south of the island where the main tourist centres are located. There, the balance between different stakeholders to boost sustainable travel was outstanding. Whale and dolphin watching is a popular activity among both travellers and locals. I had the chance to go on a boat trip organized by a local company in which I appreciated the efforts made to preserve the abundant marine fauna that inhabits the coasts of the Canary Islands. From research centres to the island tourism board to local fishermen and biologists, all were aware of the importance of the conservation of marine species. Particularly now in the post-COVID era when the number of travellers to the island has plummeted.
This is just one of the many examples of destinations that invest in ways of travelling that are sustainable and that aim to transform a sector that benefits both those who travel and those who welcome them.
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