What operators and individual travelers can do to ensure enriching tourism for centuries to come
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, an increased consciousness regarding climate change, supply chain delicacy and our rich global heritage have led to an unprecedented commitment to sustainability. But what does the term mean, and how can individuals ensure the Earth’s beauty can be enjoyed for generations to come. Tourism Cares CEO Greg Takehara enlightens us on sustainability’s progress in the travel industry.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE SUSTAINABILITY IN CONTRAST TO A TERM LIKE “GREEN” OR “ENVIRONMENTALISM?”
We use the UNWTO definition of sustainable tourism, which is tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities equally. I think there is a lot of focus on the “green” aspect of sustainability, and people immediately identify with climate action issues like the elimination of single-use plastics, but it’s much more than that. We have to respect cultural heritage, we have to preserve local communities, we have to be very invested in long term socio-economic benefits.
WHAT IS AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO DEMYSTIFY THE TERM SUSTAINABILITY TO A MORE WELLROUNDED IDEA OF THE CONCEPT?
We always encourage people to look at sustainability as a personal journey. because inevitably, it starts at home, at the dinner table, with conversations with your families. We encourage an exercise known as the Good Life Goals. It’s a really short video that you can find on the internet that really goes through the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in really quick fashion. What happens is that you attach very quickly to a goal that resonates with you, and that gives you a really strong basis for what is meaningful to you personally. And when you have that kind of start, you can then talk about how you’re going to enact change. We recently launched a professional membership where we’re engaging with individuals, and I think that’s important because the traveler is invested now in making sustainable, responsible and meaningful decisions when they’re looking at their travel.
HOW IS EMBRACING SUSTAINABILITY A SUCCESSFUL LONG-TERM BUSINESS TACTIC FOR TOURISM BUSINESS AND OPERATORS?
What’s exciting is that we’re now seeing so many companies who are making very strong pronouncements about sustainability, whether that’s identifying goals, making pledges or creating campaigns that ensure that sustainability is a core tenet of their business plan, especially as they’re looking at their pandemic recovery right now. I think it’s important that you not be shy or bashful about what you’re doing, because right now we’re in an environment where there are a lot of workforce challenges. Companies are having a hard time either retaining their employees or attracting new talent, and a commitment to sustainability is certainly one way to meet those goals.
HOW CAN INDIVIDUAL TRAVELERS COMMIT THEMSELVES TO SUSTAINABILITY?
There are so many resources available on the internet right now, but it’s sometimes a challenge to refine and use those. At Tourism Cares, we have our own resource [the Meaningful Travel Platform], which is a training and education tool that focuses on responsible and meaningful travel. So, for instance, if you’re a family or small group that’s planning a trip independently, you can look at our meaningful map that identifies a number of strong social enterprises that are off the beaten path. You can also learn about businesses that are focused on animal welfare or environmentalism.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND IS A GOOD WAY FOR TRAVEL BRANDS OR OPERATORS TO DEMONSTRATE A GENUINE COMMITMENT TO SUSTAINABILITY TO POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS?
It’s the difference between considering sustainability as a niche or trend versus a core to one’s business. When you visit a tour operator’s website and you can see content about their commitment to sustainability or emphasis on sustainability on separate tabs, customers really respond to that, and they can sense when the intent is genuine.
HAVE YOU OBSERVED A GROWING DEMOGRAPHIC OF TRAVELERS THAT PRIORITIZES SUSTAINABILITY?
We’re on a journey, and I’m confident that we’ll get there. It’s becoming an increasing reality that people are seeing sustainability as something bigger than a single campaign, but rather the core principle for an increasing number of businesses. There have been strong pronouncements from the airline and cruise industries about environmental impact and working with local communities, so if those large sectors are committed to this, it gives me hope for the future.
Tourism Cares is IITA’s designated philanthropy. IITA’s members are committed to sustainable travel and tourism practices, and have led the way for development of sustainable products throughout the U.S.