The future of travel and tourism

Build back better, the tourism industry post Covid-19

As global tourism continues to be affected by Covid 19, Justin Francis, founder and CEO of Responsible Travel, reflects on the future of tourism.

Becoming better listeners

Like many commentators, environmentalists and airline bosses, I’m regularly asked about the future of tourism post COVID-19.

As someone who runs a travel company, I appreciate the opportunity to share my views.

But the most important views – those of local residents – are too rarely sought.

Communities host us in places they call home. They’re financially reliant on tourism and left to deal with the problems we cause.

I read columns and posts delighting in the reduction of CO2 from flying (something we’ve campaigned on for many years). But I’m thinking of the Maasai community dependent on tourism and cattle.

With no tourism, and the markets closed, they can’t buy food or easily sell cattle. And while we’re busy philosophizing, they’re wondering how to put food on the table tonight.

    If we’re committed to building a more responsible future industry, let’s start by giving these voices the equal billing they deserve.

Fair support benefits all

Industry recovery from this crisis will not be equal.

Tourism in the developed North – with our furloughs, grants and loans – is better equipped to weather the storm than many of the developing countries most dependent on it.

In the short term, tourism will favour the destinations and companies able to invest quickest in health screening, good medical facilities and the cheapest deals.

Meanwhile, and predictably, some tourism giants have thrust themselves to the front of government bailout queues – though the vast majority of tourism workers (reputedly, one in 12 worldwide) work in small and micro businesses.

    Many of us in the North rely on less developed countries to deliver our ‘product’. Our own recovery is therefore reliant on theirs. Rebuilding can only happen together - those most needing support must receive it from governments and industry.

Climate Justice: tighten regulation

Ours won’t be one of the industries hardest hit by Covid-19 - it will be the industry hardest hit.

Many developing countries and small island states among the most dependent on tourism, and economic recovery will depend on the industry’s recovery.

But we face a still greater threat. Some of those same nations are on the front line of climate change, and are already feeling the impacts of a heating planet.

Greater regulation is crucial if we’re to save the places we treasure. But it’s been sorely lacking.

Take airlines. Aviation fuel is untaxed, and the global organisation charged with managing aviation’s carbon emissions (ICAO) is funded by… the aviation industry.

Yet in the grip of this crisis, we’ve witnessed - with public support - governments take a much firmer hand with business. Regulation is possible.

If the same support exists on tackling climate change, we could hope for stronger regulation and taxation of aviation. Our proposed Green Flying Duty would serve to accelerate investment in renewable aviation fuels.

    Those that talk the talk on sustainability should demand that governments take a stronger hand in regulating aviation – and tourism – for the benefit of people, planet and culture.

Democratising travel

We’re not all in this together.

When it’s safe to do so, the wealthier will still be able to travel. And that’s very good: we need the jobs and livelihoods their spending supports and creates.

But societies face a long road of recession. And for many, unemployment, zero-hour contracts and poverty loom large.

The democratisation of travel is likely to take a very uncomfortable backward step.

Staycations are great. But staying put is an easier pill to swallow when you’ve enjoyed a life of travel, and enjoy easy access to beautiful spaces. Less so for those who dream of travel but have yet to experience it. I’d be interested to see any comparative figures on how many vacations people from BAME backgrounds take.

In addition, I fear there’s a real risk that accessibility issues will be sidelined amid economic struggles.

    Let’s not forget the enormous human value of the democratisation of travel. And where we can, let’s redress imbalance. Where assets are underused during recovery, let’s make use of them to benefit those most in need – let’s keep democratising travel.

Conservation and tourism

Tourism has a mixed reputation for conservation. Habitats are destroyed to build hotels, mangroves dredged to create pristine beaches.

But while we delight in nature flourishing in this quietened world, we risk overlooking the rhinos poached in Botswana because ecotourism has dried up, and local people are desperate.

    Tourism is part of the problem for conservation. But it’s also part of the solution - and the crisis has illuminated its role in protecting and preserving nature and habitats. It has, however, also highlighted the dependence of some conservation programmes on the industry, and the need to develop sustainable economic opportunities, in additional to tourism, in partnership with local people.

Out with the old – in this together?

Amid this crisis, many of us have experienced a renewed sense of community.

I hope we retain that mindset as tourist. That we’re more mindful of local residents - and our responsibilities as guests. I hope we reward those companies that collaborate with communities and demonstrate genuine – not just tokenistic – care and respect for local residents, culture and environment.

    Done right, tourism is a wonderful industry and a force for good. But the old model was broken. A future-fit industry will have a greater sense of responsibility and duty of care to people and planet. It will be better regulated, more democratic and accessible. Are we in this together?
Written by Justin Francis
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