Laura French speaks to sustainability experts to find out how the industry can rebuild more responsibly and how travellers can support the communities they visit.
1. “Travel can be a force for good, if we remember our responsibility”
Justin Francis, co-founder and chief executive of Responsible Travel
Justin co-founded Responsible Travel in 2001, working in partnership with specialist holiday companies to offer sustainable travel experiences. He was named one of The Times’ 50 most influential people in travel and is now part of the UK Government’s Council for Sustainable Business, working to help deliver the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
“It’s all very well to talk about ‘building back better’, but we need to aim higher than limiting the harmful impacts of tourism, and not only on the climate.
“To survive and thrive in the long run, companies will need to work with, and not against, nature and local communities.
“Tourists are increasingly conscious of both their environmental and social impacts. They’re looking for ways to travel better, and for businesses they trust to help them. We’ve seen a steep rise in people wanting to feel closer to nature. We’ll be doubling our own UK nature-based trips, both to aid rewilding efforts, and because there’s a clear and rising demand for these trips.
“We’re likely to see other changes to holiday habits. I think more of us will fly less, and instead stay longer in destinations, and take more short staycations.
“We suggest staying in locally-owned and run accommodation, employing local guides, and generally ensuring as much of our money supports local people.”
“Both as companies and individuals, we need to remember we’re visiting the places others call home – they should benefit from our tourism. Why would we strive to save local-run establishments on our own highstreets, but ignore them on holiday? We suggest staying in locally-owned and run accommodation, employing local guides, and generally ensuring as much of our money supports local people.
“Ultimately, responsible tourism is about creating better places to live in, and visit. Travel can be a force for good, if we remember our responsibility not only to customers, but to the people, and places we wouldn’t exist without.”
2. “The pandemic has changed our values”
Roque Sevilla, chairman of Metropolitan Touring and visionary behind Mashpi Lodge
Based in Ecuador, Roque is the visionary behind luxury eco-retreat Mashpi Lodge as well as the chairman of Metropolitan Touring, the president of Fundacion Futuro – focused on conservation in the Andean Choco region – and a board member of the WWF. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Galapagos Marine Reserve in the 1980s.
“Sustainability means many things. It’s about providing opportunities and income for the communities we interact with by helping them develop their skills. It’s also about minimising footprint; all of our companies are carbon neutral and have been for several years. We’re now trying to take that one step further by going carbon-negative to make up for the footprint from before. And it’s about protecting our wildlife; we’re one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, so we need to conserve that for the next generation.
“I believe people will start choosing more sustainable companies in the future, and opt for destinations that respect local communities, conservation and biodiversity.”
“At Mashpi Lodge we support several community programmes, including working with a foundation where professionals – engineers, doctors, lawyers and so on – who have just come out of university spend two years educating others to help create more opportunities for them. We also have a project which involves training women who want to work in tourism. Then there’s the research itself – we’re always trying to develop new ways of doing things to minimise visitors’ carbon footprint.
“I think there’s far more to be done to protect our planet, but I believe the pandemic has brought an opportunity to rethink how we travel. It has changed our values – I think a lot of people have started to become more conscious about how badly we’re treating our planet. As a result I believe people will start choosing more sustainable companies in the future, and opt for destinations that respect local communities, conservation and biodiversity.”
3. “Support local cooperatives and stay in locally-run accommodation”
Kasia Morgan, head of Sustainability at Exodus Travels
As head of sustainability at Exodus, Kasia works with a global network of sustainability champions to develop the operator’s ‘People, Places & Planet’ strategy. She also heads up the Exodus Travels Foundation, established in 2019 to support communities and conservation projects across the world.
“I expect that after this year, people will think about travelling in a more meaningful way, visiting fewer places, perhaps on longer trips, but really getting under the skin of a destination. We’ve had a glimpse of a ‘better world’ – less polluted, more generous and selfless, slower-paced, and this will undoubtedly impact the way people choose to travel in 2021.
This year has also really emphasised the importance and benefits of travelling with a reputable tour operator and booking through a travel agent, so for those travel companies that are able to weather the storm, they should be looking at a more positive 2021.
“We’ve had a glimpse of a ‘better world’ – less polluted, more generous and selfless, slower-paced, and this will undoubtedly impact the way people choose to travel.”
What is most concerning is how the pandemic has affected the communities that rely on tourism. For that reason we recently launched a Community Kickstart Project (part of the Exodus Travels Foundation) to provide funding to communities that need it the most, and need it now.
My top tips for clients wanting to travel sustainably would be to stay in locally-run accommodation and eat in locally-run restaurants so money stays within the community; support local cooperatives, social enterprises and conservation initiatives when sightseeing and souvenir-buying; and be mindful of the carbon impact of transport on your holidays. Opting for ‘self-powered’ travels, such as cycling or hiking, or choosing trains over planes, can enhance the adventure! If you are flying, make those flights count by enjoying a holiday that’ll benefit the places and communities visited.”