Keep Traveling, but Travel Responsibly

12 November 2019

It’s no secret that the tourism industry contributes its share to the increase of greenhouse gases that warm the climate and in turn leave destinations increasingly vulnerable. Still, tourism and travel play a vital role in driving economic growth and development around the globe. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), travel and tourism are responsible for one of every five new jobs worldwide and will generate 100 million new jobs worldwide over the next 10 years. Travel also shows no sign of slowing down, with growth projections predicting a continued global travel boom. Travel and tourism serve as drivers in critical conservation efforts as well, with their power to educate travelers about environmental challenges, regional vulnerabilities, and needed change. 

Clearly, travel is here to stay. Just as clearly, travel companies, tour operators and individuals need new approaches to traveling responsibly.

A panel of travel industry leaders fielded questions from attendees at the AdventureConnect in Washington, D.C.

This was the theme of the AdventureConnect event held on 30 October 2019, co-hosted  by The George Washington University’s International Institute of Tourism Studies and the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). The event, held at George Washington University, brought together adventure travel industry leaders, educators and students to discuss the future of sustainable tourism. Moderated by attorney Chunnie Wright, who provides legal counsel to adventure travel companies, the gathering featured panelists Karl Egloff, director of travel and conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF); Jeff Bonaldi, founder and CEO of The Explorer’s Passage; and Russell Walters, ATTA’s North America strategic director and AdventureEDU educator.

A number of takeaways came from the lively discussion that ensued:

Sustainability must be a shared responsibility

While the tourism industry as a whole — including airlines, cruise ships, and hotels — needs to take the lead on adopting practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consumers must do their part to drive efforts by demanding more of businesses and supporting those that demonstrate good environmental stewardship and leadership.

Tour operators have a key role to play

By fully understanding the sustainability of their own supply chains — including guides, vendors, and other suppliers — and by engaging with those companies and individuals who are demonstrably reducing their environmental footprint, tour operators can wield significant influence. They, too, can drive environmental initiatives internally by offsetting all of their trips.

Tour operators and destinations can work together to educate travelers

Around the world, tour operators are partnering with destinations to increase public awareness through climate-focused, educational trips. For example, renowned primatologist Jane Goodall recently joined a group to plant trees at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, an area that is exhibiting the harsh effects of climate change, partly due to large-scale deforestation. The expedition, a partnership between The Explorer’s Passage and conservation group ClimateForce, raised proceeds to fund large tree-planting projects. In Iceland, where higher temperatures are melting glaciers, companies like Into the Glacier, which leads visitors through ice tunnels, educate the public about the impacts of a warming atmosphere.

Travelers should make informed choices when flying

While overall air travel is responsible for 2.5% of the world’s gas emissions, studies estimate that by 2050, aviation could take up a quarter of the world’s total carbon budget — or the amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Tour operators and travelers can contribute to lower emissions by adhering to the N.E.R.D rule: Choose NEWER aircrafts, buy ECONOMY seats, fly on REGULAR (medium-sized) jets and fly DIRECT, without layovers.

Share knowledge, spread the word

Because it can be challenging to understand — much less adopt — sustainability-oriented solutions, small businesses in particular often need support. Destinations and experienced businesses could help to scale sustainability by sharing their stories, experiences, and recommendations for best practices.