Adventure Travel's Sustainability, Climate Action Issues Require Industry Effort

17 October 2018

Adventure travelers seek experiences allowing them to appreciate the natural environment, but those experiences have the potential to destroy that very environment they seek to enjoy. Tourism numbers have skyrocketed in recent years with 1.3 billion trips taken in 2017 alone, and this explosive growth requires adventure tourism professionals to continuously commit to protecting the places we all revere.

Her Excellency Lina Annab said overtourism is not a tourism problem, but rather a regulation problem. © ATTA / Hassen Salum

Unsurprisingly, conversations related to sustainability and climate action have surfaced repeatedly throughout the Adventure Travel World Summit. Several concurrent sessions are tackling the issue from a variety of angles and Adventure Accelerators, being held on Thursday, will address climate action and eliminating plastics.

To set the stage on sustainable travel practices, a panel of speakers spoke honestly about overtourism during Staying A Step Ahead, a standing-room-only concurrent session moderated by Jean-Claude Razel, an AdventureEDU educator and owner of Alaya Expedicoes. There are five key drivers — shifting economic power, population changes, technology usage, environmental shifts and pressures, and changing values — playing a role in the overabundance of travelers, according to Caroline Bremmer, head of travel research for Euromonitor International. This has set the stage for increased travel throughout the world, and the experience economy has become a global phenomenon.

Speaker Her Excellency Lina Annab, minister of tourism & antiquities in Jordan, noted overtourism is far easier to prevent than recover from. Capacity management needs to be considered long before there is an issue. “Overtourism is not a tourism problem. It is a regulation problem,” she said. Rochelle Turner, research director for World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), took this one step further and noted there are several audiences that need to be considered in addressing overtourism. “It is a complex issue. There are many diverse interests at stake, and there are many influences, which demands the need for a variety of solutions,” she said.

This concept was illustrated in Accelerating Smart Sustainability for Destinations, moderated by Chris Doyle, executive director of Europe and Central Asia for the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), which presented Norway as a case study of how and why stakeholders from the national level all the way down to individual community members are involved in developing sustainable tourism. Three professionals working from different perspectives in Norway’s tourism industry shared specific information and insight from their part of the puzzle, but a few key messages stood out at all levels in the process of developing this model.

Gert Nieu explained how many organizations in The Netherlands banded together to create a carbon offsetting solution. © ATTA / Hassen Salum

“Smart destination development is about asking the right questions in the right order,” said Ann Heidi Hansen, project manager for the Visitor Management Pilot Project, Nordland County Council. “Not ‘How can we get more tourists?’ but ‘Why do we need tourists?’” Several times throughout the session, delegates were reminded that tourism is not the goal but rather a tool in developing a sustainable destination. “Today, success is often measured in increased volumes, increased number of tourists, increased number of overnight stays,” Hansen said. “Stop chasing volume. Start creating value.”

Any discussion of sustainability also encompasses a conversation about climate action to some extent, which was the main theme of Extending Adventure’s Impact. Through the climate action lens, Gert Nieu of SNP Natuurreizen also emphasized the point that it takes a multi-faceted group effort to chip away at these big-picture, universal issues. His organization has partnered with several others in The Netherlands to create the carbon offset tool, CARMACAL, which has helped increase awareness about climate change while offering a solution to help address it. “It is very important to work together. Together you are much stronger than just working as an individual,” he said. “It is better to step out of your competitor role. It is far more important to change our industry not by competition, but by sharing.”

The tourism industry is constantly evolving with an eye toward “the future,” but the urgency to implement climate action protocols and drive sustainability is no longer a discussion for tomorrow. If there’s one message that was made loud and clear throughout the Summit’s many conversations about this topic it is this: Together, the adventure industry can lead the way in creating more sustainable and environmentally friendly destinations and concept of travel.  Failing that, we may lose those very places that allow the industry to survive and thrive in the first place.