Sustainability and a spirit of openness will help drive the post-COVID recovery of not only the travel and tourism industry but also the wider global economy, according to a panel of industry experts at WTM Virtual.
Matthew Upchurch, CEO from luxury travel advisers Virtuoso said sustainable tourism was about the environment, protecting natural and cultural heritage, and about the economic benefits. Each of these three pillars are impacted by COVID, and panellists homed in on the connection between sustainable tourism and people’s livelihoods.
Fiona Jeffery, chairman of water charity Just A Drop, noted that African governments “shut down earlier than the west, responded responsibly and are in a better place than they would have been.”
However, with no furloughs and limited support from governments, lockdowns have hit hard. However, the existing Just A Drop infrastructure was able to help, for example, by supplying fresh water to markets so that they could open and people could trade and earn some money. It was also involved in educational outreach.
Isolated and rural communities have been hit hard by the double whammy of COVID and the resulting drop in tourism, prompting specific responses from the industry.
Brett Tollman, chief executive for The Travel Corporation, explained how the business was building out its range of “Make Travel Matter” experiences across its forty or so brands.
These are bespoke trips designed to “maximise the positive social or environmental impact they have on their communities”. He said that in some cases.
Travel Corporation would act as a de facto business adviser for its suppliers, helping them finetune their operations in order to attract more travellers and generate incremental revenues.
This spirit of openness is also expected to be part of sustainable tourism’s future. James Thornton from Intrepid Travel Group noted that many smaller suppliers do not have sufficient finances or resources to commit or are unsure how to approach as issue.
“We’ve always been really strong on decarbonisation and on animal welfare, so we’re sharing our guides on our website in an open source way for any company looking to take the first steps,” he said, adding that the other panellists’ businesses were doing the same thing.
Simon Press, Exhibition Director, World Travel Market, said: “Many communities which relied on tourism revenues will take some years to recover economically, so the industry needs to do everything it can to support the return of travellers to kickstart livelihoods.”