Mainstreaming Sustainable Tourism: 7 Lessons From Travel Experts

In the past year, I’ve attended several travel conferences that dove deep into sustainable travel. While this post may be more aimed at those of us “in” the travel industry–from media to business owners–I think you’ll find the insights inspiring if you’re any type of traveler who wants to to “journey for good.”

At the 2017 Impact Travel Summit, entrepreneurs and leaders in the travel industry shared some of the challenges facing the travel industry, along with inspiring and compelling examples of positive change–all with the aim of mainstreaming sustainable tourism and creating greater transparency. And at the 2018 Women in Travel Summit, sustainable travel topics were woven throughout the educational tracks and main stage.

Here are some of the themes and lessons that emerged.

Note: Most of the following quotes were from the Impact Travel Summit, except where indicated that a talk was given at the Women in Travel Summit.

Mountain and lake view in Alberta, Canada

There’s a positive shift happening–travelers want something more.

“Millennials want companies to be open and transparent, and to be actively promoting social good.”

“People want to do something more than just go to a resort.”

– Susan McPherson, Founder of McPherson Strategies // @susanmcp1

Millennials want companies to be open and transparent, and to be actively promoting social good. Click To Tweet

“I firmly believe in ‘hopeful capitalism’: doing well and doing good.”

“There’s clearly something happening in the world.”

– Geof Rochester, Managing Director of The Nature Conservancy // @nature_org

I firmly believe in 'hopeful capitalism': doing well and doing good.Click To Tweet

“Traveling kindly feels good and it’s up to us to educate travelers on ways they can travel and give back to the community.”

– Jessica Blotter, Co-Founder of Kind Traveler // @kindtraveler @travelkindly (Jessica Blotter)

Traveling kindly feels good and it's up to us to educate travelers on ways they can travel and give back to the community.Click To Tweet

Successful tourism benefits local people.

The UN ambassador from Botswana, Charles Thembani Ntwaagae, told us that in his country sustainable tourism is a viable economic alternative to mining.

And in Israel, successful tourism means that women are able to get ahead, according to UN ambassador Danny Danon.

What this really boils down to is that responsible travel is when travelers care for a destination as if it were their own home–wanting to see businesses, culture, and the environment maintained (and thriving) for the future.

Responsible travel is when travelers care for a destination as if it were their own home.Click To Tweet

“We have to ask ourselves: Who benefits from tourism?”

“There is a way to make money and do good at the same time.”

– Jamie Sweeting, President of Planeterra and Vice President of Sustainability at G Adventures // @ecotourguy @planeterracares @gadventures

There is a way to make money and do good at the same time.Click To Tweet

“Every purchase decision we make is an opportunity to transform.”

– Jeremy Smith, Co-Founder of Travindy // @travindy

Jeremy shared the example of Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland has a Community Host Program, which matches guests with a local with shared interests to help orient them to the island. “Our community hosts are passionate, lifelong Fogo Islanders who are pleased to offer their insights into the Island’s natural and cultural heritage. They have fished the Island’s shores, picked its berries, climbed its rocks, driven its roads, and walked its trails hundreds of times over. They are intimately connected to their home and eager to pass on their extensive knowledge of Fogo Island’s culture and history to our guests.”

Every purchase decision we make is an opportunity to transform.Click To Tweet

Sustainable tourism is here and now.

“Sustainable tourism isn’t some distant theoretical goal. While progress has been slow, it’s still progress and it’s up to us to push it forward.”

– Gail Grimmett, President of Travel Leaders Elite // @travelleaders @ggnyc1

Sustainable tourism isn't some distant theoretical goal. While progress has been slow, it's still progress and it's up to us to push it forward.Click To Tweet

There’s a representation problem.

Eric Martin and Kent Johnson are the Co-Founders of Black & Abroad, a cultural collective dedicated to redefining world experiences for the modern black traveler. They started it because, while they knew African Americans were traveling, they noticed a severe lack of representation in the media and marketing.

Co-Founders of Black & Abroad speaking at the United Nations at the Impact Travel Alliance 2017 Summit

In their talk at the summit, they reminded us of the “identity relevancy factor”–that when you’re representing people in your marketing, they’re more likely to stay with you. And they encouraged impactful inclusion in marketing materials by reminding us: “Inclusion is not placing a black or brown face on a white experience and pushing that out.”

Inclusion is not placing a black or brown face on a white experience and pushing that out.Click To Tweet

On the same note, I just listened to an interview with Sarah Enelow-Snyder on Passport Travel Marketing, and one of her biggest tips for impactful inclusion was to have diversity in the decision-making room.

At the Women in Travel Summit, Dené Sinclair, Director of Marketing for Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, discussed Indigenous tourism and the ethical role of content creators when discussing it. She discussed how Indigenous people have traditionally been portrayed in media. “For a long time, the story has been told by other people.”

One of the tips she shared for respectfully writing about Indigenous peoples: avoid stereotypes and exoticism, and seek to highlight diverse representation (i.e., Indigenous culture is not just Pow Wows). I’m planning to write a post highlighting the work of some amazing Indigenous photographers, but for now, check out these incredible Instagram accounts: Project 562, Sam Crow Photo, Ryan RedCorn, and Red Works Photography.

When writing about Indigenous peoples: avoid stereotypes and exoticism, and seek to highlight diverse representation.Click To Tweet

My takeaway as a white traveler and content creator: I want to be intentional about the media I’m consuming and promoting–from Instagram accounts to podcasts and books to conferences I attend–and ensure I’m listening to and sharing diverse perspectives.

Making connections with people is an important part of sustainable tourism.

At Hosteling International, the goal of bringing people together goes beyond how they design their buildings, but it’s woven into the heart of their business.

“We believe that when we can have conversations with people of different backgrounds, we come away feeling that we’re more similar to people than we are different.”

– Russ Hedge, President and CEO of Hostelling International USA // @hiusa

When we have conversations with people of different backgrounds, we come away feeling that we're more similar to people than we are different.Click To Tweet

The tourism industry is growing, and there’s great potential–but it needs to be managed.

Tourism is booming and represents 1 in 11 jobs around the world. “If done responsibly, this growth in business can be a boon to areas that need it.”

– Susan McPherson, Founder of McPherson Strategies // @susanmcp1

Rafat Ali, Founder of Skift, pointed out in his closing keynote that there are many reasons for overtourism (a term that Skift coined)–from low cost airlines to underplanning by governments to the democratization of global travel. And social media has changed how we travel and the reasons why we travel.

Founder of Skift, Rafat Ali, speaking at the Impact Travel Alliance 2017 Summit

What are the solutions to help manage this growth of tourism? Ali suggested these ideas, based on a recently published Skift framework for combating overtourism: Limiting transportation options, making it cost more, better marketing and education, collaboration among stakeholders, protecting overcrowded areas, and breaking the patterns.

What are the solutions to manage #overtourism? Limit transport options, increase cost, better marketing and education, protect overcrowded areas, & break the patterns.Click To Tweet

The world is full of fascinating, obscure places–and they just might be the antidote for overtourism.

Dylan Thuras, Founder of Atlas Obscura, started his talk by scrolling through slides of a clown motel in the desert and a rope bridge in Peru that is braided by hand from grass–get this, every year.

And, he suggested that these places just might be the answer to the problem of mass tourism. “While Venice is drowning under tourism, places like this are literally in danger of vanishing.”

Founder of Atlas Obscura, Dylan Thuras, speaking at the Impact Travel Alliance 2017 Summit

There are unique, fascinating, and obscure places all over the world. They’re the kind of places that deserve attention and income from tourism, but nobody is visiting. So that’s the mission of Atlas Obscura: to bring these places to the light and encourage a sense of wonder that encourages travelers to seek out alternatives to the popular hashtags and places that are overrun with selfie sticks.

“These wonders are everywhere and it’s up to us to tell their stories.”

These wonders are everywhere and it's up to us to tell their stories.Click To Tweet

 

>> Want to know more about sustainable tourism as a content creator or business owner? Check out Impact Travel Alliance’s new thoughtleadership study, “Bringing Sustainable Tourism to the Masses.” <<

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