Comment: Responsible travel has a different meaning post-Covid

We must remain committed to climate crisis, says Not Just Travel and The Travel Franchise co-founder Steve Witt

Only a few weeks ago, ‘responsible travel’ stood for making better choices that didn’t only consider yourself, but the impact of your holiday or business trip.

It meant looking into the airline you were flying with to see if it took part in carbon offsetting, taking a deeper look into the responsible nature of suppliers of day trips, and choosing a more eco-conscious hotel or villa that was committed to working with the local community, reducing plastic waste, or being powered by renewable energy.

As we in the travel industry look to the glimpse of light at the end of this long Covid-19 tunnel, responsible travel now means something else too.

Being a responsible traveller now not only means thinking about the health of the planet, but it also means thinking about your health and that of your fellow travellers.

Airports, airlines, hotels, bars and restaurants, public and private transport must recognise their role in this – and are expected to do so. They know we only get one chance at this to ensure the travel industry can continue, thereby saving millions of jobs and ensuring safe and confident travel without the threat of Covid-19.

And, of course, travellers themselves must play their part. That means maintaining social distancing rules in pools, bars and restaurants and on beaches, mountains or wherever the adventure takes them.

Certainly, the appetite for travel remains unabated; research by the Advantage Travel Partnership shows that 86% of Brits are willing to travel abroad, despite the threat of Covid-19 and more than 75% of people have either the same or an increased holiday budget for the next 12 months. Four out of five (80%) were still hoping to travel this year if restrictions are lifted.

Some believe the Covid crisis was nature’s way of slowing us down and making us think; making us pause for a moment and reflecting on what’s important to us.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in looking at the pollution radar maps before and during lockdown periods, or noticing the quality of air and noise pollution, or watching the videos of fish returning to Venice. Add to this the impact on people and our new found respect for freedom, health and each other’s space.

Is this the new view of ‘responsible’ tourism? A more synergistic approach to travel, where the needs of the planet and each other come together?

Covid has left us all knowing we can’t take anything for granted.

Responsible tourism means ensuring we each minimise risk to others when we travel. It means new health and safety standards on planes and trains and within hotels. It means a new way of dining, new expectations of cleaning standards. It means potentially less tourists to popular attractions to allow social distancing.

Responsible tourism means a greater respect and support for those in the tourism and hospitality industry who need to make a living with more costs and potentially less customers.

But of course, responsible tourism still means we have to listen to Mother Earth, who is giving us an important message. Respect our planet and our resources because there is no second chance. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Lockdown has taught us much, and one of the lessons was an appreciation of what we couldn’t enjoy.

We have to go above and beyond to protect ourselves and the planet. We should expect it to get harder to travel. We should expect to see more pressure on each and every one of us to help, but this is our responsibility if we wish to continue to travel.

We could talk about the destruction of rainforests, overfishing of seas, pollution and more. But the reality is this is too far removed for most of us to notice or care about (and this is wrong). But take away our ability to travel and enjoy our freedom and we suddenly realise the importance of these things.

We all must use this moment to appreciate what we have and commit to doing something positive to ensure it survives and that we all ensure we support each other in the process. This is the new responsible tourism.

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