Why NOW is the time to reshape the future of tourism

As tourism recovers from the coronavirus pandemic and the industry restarts, we are faced with an unprecedented opportunity for collective change and global good. It’s time to rethink how travel works and choose a better future for tourism.

Less than six months ago we were ringing in 2020 and wondering what the new decade would hold. If anyone had told us then where we would be now, I’m sure we would have laughed them out of the room.

Over the past few decades, as international travel has become more accessible, we’ve seen tourism grow at an unfettered pace. In 2018, international visitor arrivals grew by 5%, reaching 1.4 billion two years ahead of the UNWTO’s forecast. Travel was increasing so rapidly and in some cases, in an uncontrolled manner, that words like “overtourism” were becoming common lingo. We saw the pain and harm that careless practices were inflicting on treasured destinations, fragile landscapes, irreplaceable heritage sites, and local communities. While bucket list destinations were getting slammed with tourists, their host communities were not always reaping the benefits. We saw coastal habitats destroyed for tourism development and trails ridden with trash. But we also saw the potential of tourism to affect positive change and the possibility of what could be – of places where travel and tourism was empowering local communities, stimulating wildlife conservation, promoting inclusivity, and revitalizing cultural traditions.

Back in January, I don’t think any of us could have imagined where we’d be going next. In just a matter of weeks, we saw global tourism come to an abrupt halt. As COVID-19 spread across the globe and border closures, lockdowns, and no sail orders went into effect, overtourism became a thing of the past. Photos of packed beaches and plazas were replaced with images of empty airports and desolate streets. As of April, 100% of all worldwide destinations had introduced travel restrictions in response to the pandemic.

The pandemic has further highlighted the positive and negative impacts of travel and tourism.  In tourism’s absence, communities around the world have been left without jobs and income, putting them in a desperate place. This coupled with a loss of tourism-generated conservation funding is putting threatened wildlife and environments at risk of poaching, overharvesting, and deforestation. On the other hand, the halt in tourism has also removed certain human induced pressures on the environment and climate, and taken the pressure off of overburdened communities

Now, destinations are beginning to slowly and carefully reopen, and people are beginning to look up and look forward. As world tourism recovers from the coronavirus crisis, there’s no doubt that tourism agencies, travel companies, governments, NGOs, and destination communities are presented with a challenge. The road ahead will surely not be easy, with international tourist numbers projected to fall by 60-80% in 2020. But, we are also presented with a choice and an unprecedented opportunity to rally global change and build back better.

There is no question that this pandemic has been tragic. However, it does show us that big changes are possible when we join together around a common goal. We believe that this spirit of collective good can continue beyond the pandemic. As tourism recovers, we see it as an opportunity to not just restart, but to also reset. To consciously bring back tourism. While it may be tempting to be complacent and return to business as usual, proceeding in this manner puts destinations, people, ecosystems, heritage, and the future for tourism at stake. It’s time to chart a new trajectory for tourism – one that focuses on the needs of destination communities and environments.

We know that achieving such a bold vision is not something that we can accomplish alone – that there is greater impact and strength in collaboration. That’s why we are thrilled to announce that Sustainable Travel International has come together with five other NGOs for the first time to form the Future of Tourism Coalition. These organizations include the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), Destination Stewardship Center, Green Destinations, Tourism Cares, and the Travel Foundation, guided by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

To rally global change, the Future of Tourism Coalition has collaboratively developed and put forth a set of Guiding Principles. These transformative principles outline a bold vision for the future of tourism – one that retains the integrity of destinations, promotes inclusivity and equality, maximizes positive impacts for communities and environments, and fosters collaborative change.

Now, we are calling on tourism agencies, travel companies, governments, investors, non-governmental organizations, and destination communities to commit to these principles as they move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that the path to change is a journey and that lasting solutions take time. Whether your organization has been embracing sustainability since day one or is just dipping its toes in the water, we invite you to add your voice and sign on to our Guiding Principles.

Twenty-two Founding Signatories who represent a diverse cross-section of key industry stakeholders have committed thus far, including Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), G Adventures, Government of Colombia, Hilton, Innovation Norway, Intrepid Travel, Jordan Tourism Board, Lindblad Expeditions, Palau Bureau of Tourism, Slovenian Tourist Board, The Travel Corporation, and the World Wildlife Fund, among others.

In the coming weeks, our Coalition will look to signatories to share their perspectives and experiences. We will listen, learn, and support the industry by providing the tools, guidance and collaboration to ensure a stronger path forward. Together, we hope to collectively work toward a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all.

For more information, view our press release announcement or visit www.futureoftourism.org.

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