Fiona Jeffery takes issue with a recent article in The Guardian

If ever I’ve read a damning report about the travel and tourism industry, it was Christopher de Bellaigue’s article in The Guardian on June 18 entitled “The end of tourism?”

It was an uncomfortable, well-researched article, highlighting the negative impacts tourism has on local communities and environments, often creating more harm than good.

I’m sure we can all think of destinations that are blighted by over-tourism. While acknowledging tourism’s contribution to local employment, to wildlife and conservation protection and much more, there is also the vulnerability of many developing destinations due to their over reliance on tourism in terms of GDP.

We know there are better ways of delivering our product, and it starts with our own sense of responsibility.

We should recognise that, despite growth rates exceeding all expectations for the last decade, our industry can be toxic and vulnerable when mismanaged.

However, if managed well it can provide economic prosperity and be healing to the soul.

So how as an industry should we respond?

I would like to challenge De Bellaigue and say there is more than “a few environmentally minded reformists” who “have tried to develop sustainable tourism that creates enduring employment whilst minimising the damage it does”.

Sadly, given the size and scale of the industry’s global impact, he is right – too few tour operators, online travel agencies, hoteliers and cruise lines ensure social and environmental considerations are given the same priority as financial ones.

This imbalance comes at too high a cost to local communities and to the planet.

If I wanted to be prophetic, I could argue this pandemic is having its revenge in protecting the health of the planet from the industry by stopping tourism all together.

So what do we take from De Bellaigue’s article?

Like the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a wakeup call to all of us who love and value this industry. We have a responsibility to protect the planet and its communities, its peoples and places, as well as a responsibility to run successful businesses.

We should not have one and not the others. Every travel and tourism company has to accept accountability for the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental costs, and turn these into opportunities.

Like everything of value in life, it’s about achieving the right balance.

Over tourism is bad but so is no tourism, given so many millions of lives and livelihoods depend on it.

We need to move from measuring things purely in terms of arrivals, receipts, growth and jobs. These are all important indicators, but so are levels of air pollution, water scarcity, carbon emissions and biodiversity.

The secret lies in defining sustainability and managing businesses and destinations to achieve this sensitive balance.

I would like to see our industry globally commit to some common social and environmental measurement standards that ensure recognition and collective responsibility for improving and cleaning up our act.

I would argue that ‘What you measure, you manage’.

Therefore, a commitment to agreeing and embracing key global measurements could be a game changer and lead us towards becoming a more responsible industry with a more positive and sustainable future.

Fiona Jeffery OBE, Finn Partners senior partner, global responsible tourism practice