What does the future of sustainable travel look like? Holly Tuppen headed along to the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in Seville, Spain, to find out.
Last week I sat down with Barack Obama—or at least, I sat in the same room as him—when he addressed the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) summit in Seville.
While Obama (who loves to travel “for the universal truths it unravels”) offered a welcome respite from today’s less-than-inspiring political figures, he was by no means the only changemaker in the room.
In a world where sustainability is front-and-center of the global conversation, many parts of the travel industry are taking it upon themselves to lessen their impact and improve lives at the same time.
Now 15 years old, these awards celebrate those initiatives, and the people and businesses behind them. Here’s what I took away from the whole thing.
Community trips—during which travelers spend time with a local community—are a great way to understand a destination better and economically support local people. The best examples are those that start with the needs of a community, rather than shoehorning a community into traveler needs.
One finalist putting community first is Intrepid Travel, which hopes to activate 10 community-based tourism projects by 2020. The first is the Myaing Community Based Tourism initiative in Myanmar, where a lodge designed and owned by the community is helping locals make income from tourism. Homestays are illegal in Myanmar, so the lodge enables Intrepid to bring travelers to a lesser-explored part of the country and ensure that funds go directly to the community.
Kennedy Leavens, founder of Tourism for Tomorrow winner Awamaki—a non-profit that creates economic opportunities for women artisans in Peru—believes that income in the hands of women is the best way to lift communities out of poverty.
Awamaki provides Quechuan weaving cooperatives with the training and design expertise needed to broaden their market. The income earned is often used to improve community facilities or send kids to school. Awamaki also organizes small-scale trips that are designed by the weavers, including homestays and weaving workshops.
Masungi Georeserve is a geological park in the Philippines that offers adventure and education activities just 45 kilometers from Manila. The entire experience has been designed to fund conservation efforts—without them, the 3,000-hectare forest, home to 60 million-year-old karst formations and 400 native species, would be devastated by logging.
Masungi’s series of rope ladders, cobweb platforms and suspended trails not only have a limited impact on the ecosystem, but the whole operation is geared to fund conservation efforts. Spend money here, help save nature. Simple.
Elsewhere, in Brazil, Eduardo Coelho’s Rio do Prata ecotourism projects fund a wider conservation agenda. Most day visitors to Fazenda Cabeceira do Prata in Jardim and Mimosa in Bonito are actually locals who have never considered conservation before—the goal is to turn them on to the wonders of their local environment, and the importance of protecting it, through immersive experiences and education.
In many places, sustainable travel is the last hope for ecosystems to survive. On a small archipelago off the east coast of Indonesian island Sumatra, for example, wetlands and forest have been devastated by tin mining, illegal logging and industrial development. Some 80 per cent of the mangrove forest has been destroyed, and the subsequent coastal damage causes problems for local fishers.
A small community group, Kelompok Peduli Lingkungan Belitung (KPLB), has designed a program that balances environmental protection with ecotourism, which funds the conservation initiatives.
So far, the community management of mangroves, coral reefs, fishing zones and tropical forests has not only had a positive impact on ecosystems, but has also improved livelihoods within the local community.
In 2018, a whopping 1.4 billion tourists traveled the world. Although there is a rising awareness of the problems created by our unrelenting travel habits, any shift in mindset will be a slow one. In short, overtourism isn’t going anywhere. The most successful destinations will be those that listen to the needs of residents and the environment, rather than put growth first.
From the moment the small Caribbean island of St Kitts shifted from sugar export to a tourism economy in 2005, the Ministry of Tourism pursued a ‘Pro Planet, Pro-People’ approach. The St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council (SDC) was established to focus on sociocultural, economic and environmental sustainability.
By working with businesses, schools, universities, and farmers throughout the island, the SDC ensures that tourism works for everyone—80 per cent of residents think that tourism is a good thing overall.
In the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, a local businessman, Renato Machado, has taken responsible tourism into his own hands by establishing Reserva do Ibitipoca. Since 2009, his converted 18th-century farmhouse, Fazenda do Engenho, has welcomed tourists to experience the reserve.
Renato recently handed the hotel to a local management team so that the project for the people, is now administrated by the people. The reserve not only provides meaningful employment (99 per cent of employees are local), it also encourages other relevant businesses to open, and has up-skilled 200 people in the surrounding area.
Carbon remains the elephant in the room when it comes to sustainable travel. Although innovation with clean fuel and electric transport is promising, the travel industry is still responsible for 8 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Award finalist Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort is the Caribbean’s only certified carbon-neutral resort. For more than 30 years, its environmentalist owner, Ewald Biemans, has proved that sustainability, guest satisfaction and profitability can go together.
In Polynesia, The Brando is on the same page. One of the world’s most exclusive eco-resorts runs on 70 per cent solar energy, 100 per cent solar heated water, and the world’s second application of Sea Water Air Conditioning—through which cold deep-water temperatures are harnessed to cool rooms.
As awareness and action about the issues we are facing become more mainstream, so too will travelers’ desire to only travel with companies they know to be having a positive impact on both planet and people.
‘Treading lightly’ isn’t enough anymore and it’s no longer just about limiting our impact—it’s about treading with purpose, fixing the damage we’ve already done, and making global exploration sustainable for generations to come.
See the full list of finalists and dig into more details about the awards on the World Travel and Tourism Council website.
Holly's passion for travelling the world responsibly started in 2008 when she set off on a 20-month around-the-world-without-flying adventure. After sailing, cycling, walking and hitchhiking oceans, deserts and mountain ranges, Holly returned to London to spread the word about sustainable travel.