Forum: Travel is back. Let’s do it responsibly: Travel Weekly

James Thornton is CEO of Intrepid Travel, a tour operation that aspires to “balance purpose and profit” while growing the market for sustainable, experience-rich travel.

Over the past two years, destinations experienced record lows of arrivals. But as summer approaches and pandemic restrictions lessen, the thought of traveling is again on everyone’s mind.

The question arises: Will we all have the same ideas we used to about where or how we travel? We’re all excited to see our sector recover, but will the recovery tip the scale too far in the opposite direction, ie, will undertourism quickly flip back to overtourism?

The pandemic was a good chance for our team to evaluate how we can continue efforts to combat overtourism, and we’ve seen this catch on with others, as well. I’m hopeful we’ll see a more balanced approach and that even more organizations will join us in urging steps that governments, tourism boards and travel companies can make to manage tourism and build travel back responsibly.

An example: Faced with the prospect of overtourism returning, the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions has created incentives to focus visitor experiences on local communities instead of simply focusing on the total number of visitors. This decision to move away from “destination promotion” to “destination management” is a part of a larger pledge to make sure every Dutch person benefits from tourism by 2030.

I believe we’ll see more countries follow suit with such balanced and responsible approaches.

As we begin to put travel plans into motion this year, there needs to be more consideration about where our money goes. We need to be more conscious about how much is staying in the community by, for instance, lodging at family-owned hotels, using public transport and interacting with local communities.

There are a few steps that travel advisors can take to ensure responsible travel:
• Consider companies that specialize in smaller group travel.
• Research and examine the of ethics travel providers and accommodations you book.
• Check certifications and verify the authenticity of claims made by suppliers.

I would urge other tour operators to build partnerships that support responsible travel. For instance, our relationship with the Mediterranean Experience of Ecotourism Network (MEET) supports responsible and environmental tourism while giving travelers the opportunity to explore well-conserved and little-visited areas around the Mediterranean.

MEET develops high-quality ecotourism experiences based on four “C” s: consciousness, community, conservation and connection. This partnership has connected us to expand our responsible offerings by tapping into a network of suppliers with compatible approaches to travel.

There are, unfortunately, too many “certifications” that sound impressive but are not truly credible. When booking a travel company for your clients, look for certifications that are robust, widely recognized and, importantly, independently verified for doing good work they claim to have investigated.

It looks like 2022 will go down as the year of the European summer. Currently, overtourism has not yet returned, in part because capacity is not fully back yet. Part of what is keeping tourism in check – lingering Covid restrictions and concerns about delays, cancellations and staffing issues with airlines – will ultimately be addressed and resolved. And when they are, we will want to be working to make sure travelers and destinations do not return to the unpleasant overtourism conditions that plagued so many destinations before the pandemic.

As we move further into this year and the next, we’ll no doubt feel rewarded by seeing how happy people are to be out traveling again and trying new things, crossing bucket list countries off their lists and learning about other cultures. But some travelers will again default to the old habits and book options based primarily on what they see on social media.

As we emerge from the haze of the pandemic, we’re all re-evaluating how we live our lives and where we place importance. A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer the answer. We know consumers have options when considering where and how they travel; let’s help them make responsible decisions that truly benefit host communities and ensure a more pleasant experience for them as they once again explore the world.

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