Making the case for responsible travel

Giving our children a habitable world

A detailed report from the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) urges global travellers and businesses to rethink their habits in order to help our suffering climate

The report, The Case for Responsible Travel: Trends & Statistics 2019, cites statistics from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) which show international tourist arrivals around the globe rising by six per cent in 2018, reaching 1.4 billion individuals. What is more, this number was reached two whole years before the UNWTO predicted. “It is clear,” says CREST, “that travel is booming.”

But, of course, while this has a positive effect on jobs, local economies and travel companies’ bottom line, there is a negative flipside – the impact on the environment. And while CREST admits that many travellers are becoming more environmentally conscious, as the issue of climate justice becomes more and more mainstream – 48 per cent of US consumers say that they would change their buying habits if it would help the environment – a significant percentage have not reached this point yet. Tourism is responsible for five per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases, emissions that estimates suggest could increase by 130 per cent by the year 2035.

However, as CREST points out, it is tourist destinations’ long-term interest to foster responsible tourism. After all, if a combination of over-tourism and a changing climate render a once beautiful destination barren, or worse entirely uninhabitable, that’s not great for local tourism. The report quotes David Jessop, a consultant at the Caribbean Council, as saying: “Tourism is an industry that makes use of often fragile environments in economies and locations that require holistic rather than gated development. For a sector increasingly dominated by global brands and a desire to exploit the value of beautiful or interesting locations to the principal benefit of corporations and shareholders, this may seem revolutionary, even dangerous. However, if they value commercial continuity, such thinking is little more than common sense.”

While destinations need to be aware of the importance to foster a sustainable approach, tourism companies are also ‘obligated’ to do so, the report goes on to say: “Businesses can and must leverage this to inform and engage travellers in destination conservation and resilience.” And brands do seem to be listening, though, as ever, progress is not as fast as might be desirable. In 2018, for example, Hilton became the first major hotel brand chain to put in place science-based carbon targets based on the findings of the Paris Climate Agreement; it aims to cut its environmental footprint in half by 2030.

Of course, putting these targets in place and working hard to meet them is the ethical and moral thing to do, but it also makes sense from a PR perspective. Brands are increasingly fragile in the age of social media – it only takes one toxic high-profile event to tank a brand’s viability – so taking the ethical route comes with promotional benefits as well.

CREST’s report is full of figures both encouraging and worrying, and is well worth a read in full. Sustainability is definitely on the agenda in 2019 and will continue to be so in 2020; maybe there is some hope in the darkness.