Looking in the rearview mirror, it’s hard to begin to digest what is still unfolding for the planet, and the global travel industry.
After all, the travel industry is renowned for its long term resilience.
Still a relatively new phenomenon (when you think about it, the accessible for many, affordable travel that we know only came into being in the 1980’s and 90’s, with the advent of the package holiday) – global travel has already been hit hard in its short history. 9/11 scuppered airlines (and many other sectors of the travel industry), the 2008 global crisis hit travel hard, and on a more local level each year events from riots to bush fires to the refugee crisis to air-traffic control strikes, to ash clouds have meant that the tourism industry is no stranger to disruption and struggle.
But never in its relatively short history has an event so uniformly impacted the entirety of the travel business, around the world. Even countries with few virus cases have been sealed off or effectively closed by travel bans, and everyone has a travel lockdown story.
And as stories of stranded travellers, cancelled trips, separated families and those struggling from the loss of revenue from tourism fade, the stories of a planet regained by inhabitants other than humans emerges.
Orcas glide in to Vancouver’s harbourfront. Leopards roam the streets of India’s cities. Views of snow-capped mountains from some of the world’s most polluted cities make their appearance. The streets of Venice – overcrowded and (almost) keeling over from the pressure of tourism for several years now lie eerily silent.
Overtourism has been stopped in its tracks – but not in the way we hoped.
And in the silence, it has become unmistakably clear, that nature is healing. That it is us and our lifestyle who are the problem. And for every person whose livelihood depends on tourism, a parallel story emerges of nature’s healing.
However long our current situation lasts, what we do know is that it will not last forever.
The Lockdowns have already started easing in some places. The time will come to travel again. And while it might seem too soon to talk about travel for pleasure – we realise now a luxury and a privilege – tourism has become even more important than ever. We will need tourism again. But not how it was before.
The question that’s on our minds is this: How can we travel and continue to allow nature to heal? Can we get back on the road (or plane) again and keep reducing emissions? Can we keep the places loved the most from becoming overtouristed again?
And so, we sought a little help – from fellow travel bloggers and those who work in the tourism field – to discuss, what does travel 2.0 look like, and what can we do to make sure it is better than our first attempt?
Creating a Healthier Future for Tourism
When we are able to travel again, what do we need to do better, and what will travel look like? Will certain types of travel grow or dissapear? Here are some of our – and our contributors’ – thoughts.
The Rise of Armchair Travel
Virtual Reality has been of interest to travel marketers for several years already – but it was hard for anyone to imagine VR becoming mainstream within the travel industry so quickly. After all, would travellers really be tempted to forego the experience of being somewhere in person, for the virtual experience of walking streets, touring museums, and joining cooking classes through a screen?
What a difference a few months can make. Travel media outlets, including our own, have quickly become flooded with cookery recipes that will remind you of your favourite destinations, top virtual tours that you can take, or favourite books and movies that will remind you of everywhere from Argentina to Zimbabwe. We’ve written about our favourite virtual ways to travel to India as well.
Agile travel companies have been quick to realise that one of the best ways to pivot – and stay sustainable – at this time is to offer solutions to would-be travellers that allow them to experience something of the joy and value of travel, from the comfort of their own homes. MEJDI Tours have been hosting a ‘Crossing Borders’ series of livestreams, featuring thought-provoking talks from the countries they run trips to.
Other companies such as Beyond Romania Tours have set up virtual tours, available via Zoom, which take would-be travellers through Romania and some of its better known history – hooks. They offer the tours in English, but also in Romanian for those at home who have time to learn more about their own country.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about virtual travel, for us, is this: It holds the key to solving over tourism in the long-term, post-pandemic world.
If travellers are content with seeing the canals of Venice or their Eiffel tower from a virtual tour, we have a chance of solving the problem of sheer numbers – the truth that many of our favourite destinations cannot handle the load. With numbers on our side, more opportunities for small scale, more sustainable tourism open up.
Technology’s Role in Enabling More Sustainable Travel
As an extension of “armchair travel”, technology will continue to play an ever bigger role in tourism, in ways we haven’t fully imagined yet, argues Olivia of Bean Exploring:
“It seems inevitable that travel in a post-Covid world will look different, even for a little while. But there’s one thing that has also been made clear throughout this lockdown: Technology is a lifeline. The travel industry is no exception to this. Technology has been integral to travel for a long time now, but can this renewed focus on innovation be used as an opportunity to make sure technology helps tourists make safe, sustainable and meaningful travel decisions?
Tools and services are already emerging to help the prospective tourist and those who work in tourism. There are tools to help travellers make decisions, like Deloitte’s digital platform providing information on Covid-19 related travel, quarantine and immigration restrictions. There are apps to help you manage disruptions and travel risks. And then there’s technology that can help with social distancing during your travels. Automation, contactless and self-service technologies are not new, but are we going to see these more in airports, when we arrive at our accommodation, or when booking a tour?
Most important is the way technology can help people collaborate and communicate. This is where innovation can really support sustainable travel. Many people and places are reliant on tourism, and a critical role of sustainable travel post Covid-19 will be to support them. There will be a strong focus on more regional and local tourism, and on supporting community-based operations. Technology can enable these decisions. Want to know where local tourism is struggling so that you can support… There could be an app for that. Local tourism businesses wanting to work together to pool resources… there could be an online platform for that. The potential for technology to support sustainable tourism is endless, and we need to encourage it in that direction.“
Make Travel Truly Accessible for All
Although travel has seen such a huge growth and more people than ever before are able to travel, there are still significant population groups that do not have that right, or privilege. There are those with no passport, or whose passports are worth little, meaning expensive and challenging visa applications for almost any trip.
Then, there are those that have different requirements for travel, who have all too often been neglected by the travel industry, as Ella Travels from World Travel Able points out:
“When we talk about responsible travel, we often forget about the minority of people who may find it hard to enjoy such wonderful experiences. With Covid19, we were first told that we should not worry because it could “only” be severe if we were above a certain age, had a fragile immune system or other conditions such as diabetes.
I wonder if people realize how unfair it is to undermine the problem with such a statement.
My hope is that post lockdown, we will consider minorities better. Those same people are forced to stay indoors when many of them need treatments and activities to keep healthy. We will need to pamper those travelers. They will need all our attention and love.
I have met so many people who can only travel by cruise, and we often judge them for making such a choice and being irresponsible travelers. Many of us travelers have special needs. And for most of us, those illnesses are invisible:
- People who are highly sensitive like those with fibromyalgia, chronic pain or even Electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which is not even recognized yet.
- People who have allergies or food intolerance.
But let’s face it, responsible travel is often made for either people who can pay a high price for an incredible experience respecting the planet, or for people with good health able to ride buses, walk or cycle for long hours.
We have to think of those minorities, so that they can participate in this healthy trend that is responsible travel. Those travelers need special care, and we need to be flexible with them. Offer them all the comfort in a sustainable way. Is that possible? I like to believe so!
I hope this terrible experience will not be in vain, that we will understand that we need to think of our collective health as a priority, and that minorities matter.
The fauna and flora of Mother Earth must be protected, and our habits need to change if we want to decrease our energy consumption, raw and rare materials. In a century where technology is wrongly seen as a world saviour, I hope humanity will be able to judge better what’s good for the planet or not. Because eventually, what harms her, harms us.“
The Growth of Slow and Meaningful Travel
We are not the only people to hope that the pandemic will bring travellers to to reconsider their type of travel, and seek a deeper connection with the places they visit, at a slower pace.
Dan and Audrey of Uncornered Market believe that people will travel more slowly and focus on nature more, too:
“As it becomes safe and possible to travel again after the COVID-19 crisis, we believe that travelers will seek out nature-oriented trips and experiences vs. city vacations. This connects both to the desire to really get away from it all and really feel immersed in and connected to nature and beautiful landscapes, as well as not wanting to be in crowded places with lots of people like in urban areas.
On the surface this sounds like positive tourism recovery for protected areas that depend on tourism money for their operations and conservation efforts. However, this means that in order to avoid another situation of overtourism and destruction as we saw before the COVID-19 pandemic, protected areas will need to be proactive now in developing plans to manage or limit visitor numbers, distribute visitors within a park, and increase informational campaigns so travelers learn how to better protect the nature that attracted them there in the first place.
During this crisis there has been increased awareness of the importance and vulnerability of local and small businesses, including a strong push to support them so they survive the crisis. I believe this trend will continue with “Travel 2.0” with more travelers choosing local tourism businesses, guides, and services in the places they visit so that their tourism money directly supports and has a positive impact on those local communities, businesses and conservation efforts.
I believe the we all — travelers, destinations, travel companies, bloggers/writers/media — can play a role in “Travel 2.0” being more responsible and having more of a positive impact. This includes promoting and partnering with small, local businesses so that they and their communities are in the center of tourism recovery. In addition, we should continue to raise awareness of more sustainable practices for travelers and how their behaviors, actions and decisions really can make a positive impact on destinations, as well as their own experiences.”
Mariellen Ward of Breathe Dream Go and India for Beginners believes that spiritual tourism will only grow stronger, too:
“As a travel blogger and journalist, I have seen firsthand the effect of COVID19 on travel. My website traffic has fallen and the tourist town I live in, Rishikesh, India, is in complete lockdown. Most of the residents here depend on tourism for their livelihoods in one way or another, so it’s going to be very hard on this small, peaceful town in the Himalayan foothills. Rishikesh sees primarily three kinds of tourists: Hindu pilgrims are the vast majority, followed by adventure travellers who want to go white water rafting or trekking, and foreign Yoga students. From October to April, Rishikesh sees a big influx of Yoga students who are here for teacher training, to attend satsangs (spiritual discourses), or to just chill and soak up the vibes. I live here, so I am aware of the movements of the seasons and the tourists.
On my website Breathedreamgo, I write primarily about travel in India — and also on Yoga and wellness as I’m a very long time Yoga student, almost 30 years. I know from personal experience and exposure to other travellers, that travel to India, and to do Yoga or follow a spiritual path, is a passion for many people. It’s not the same as leisure travel, it’s not as expendable or disposable — people rely on their spiritual and wellness pursuits, beliefs, and activities in times like these. In response to the coronavirus, I published a post about boosting your immunity with Yogawith a well-known Yoga master, for example.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see this niche grow. The pandemic crisis is forcing people to stay home, to look inward, and to think about the bigger questions of life, including the question of our mortality. It has slowed the world down, cleared the skies and rivers, and allowed animals to wander freely. I optimistically think there will be a lot of people who want to see fundamental change, and who may themselves elect to go on a spiritual pilgrimage to foster this change. I’m currently working on several spiritual itineraries, which I will offer through my custom tour company, India for Beginners.“
A Call to (Further) Re-examine our Relationship with Animals in Tourism
The ethics of tourism involving animals has been debated and re-debated for decades now, in an attempt to find a balance where tourism can promote conservation and the wellbeing of wild animals that are increasingly experiencing the loss of their native habitat to human populations – as opposed to tourism that exploits wildlife.
Covid-19 and the resulting global lockdown has provided new situations that prompt fresh investigation into what the role of tourism in wildlife conservation truly is, as Daniel from Animondial points out:
“Whilst this is a time to focus on survival, it is also an important time to take stock and to reset. Then, once this is all over and we resume our usual lives, we do our utmost to do better, and to be better businesses. As a specialist in animal welfare protection in tourism, I am encouraging travel businesses to review their interactions with animals and specifically to identify and better manage risk. Installing safeguards that protect both people and animals.
Reports have confirmed that COVID-19 is a disease of animal origin, and like SARS before it, it has likely originated from live animal markets[i]. These are marketplaces, predominantly in Asia, where a large variety of live and dead wildlife species are sold alongside dogs and other domesticated animals for human consumption[ii]. Conditions within these markets are often crammed and unhygienic, presenting an unintentional incubator for many new diseases, carried by wildlife, that go on to infect humans (known as zoonoses).
Crucially, this is NOT a call, or an excuse, to abandon animal-based experiences, end our relationship with animals, or worse, end lives, but this is a wake-up call to recognise the risk of zoonoses and the need to enact measures to prevent risk. China and many other Asian countries have already suspended their live animal markets and the trade in, and consumption of wildlife, as well as dog and cat meat [iii], after the identified connection with COVID-19, but there is no indication that trade will stop, indefinitely. In fact, these markets soon resumed following the SARS outbreak (2003), when similar connections were made.
My impression, and recommendation is that we need to rethink our relationship with other animal species, and specifically review how we exploit and interact with them. It is not sufficient to just suspend activity for a short while, only to resume when the spotlight is removed – particularly if not doing so places people and or animals at risk.”
Yana at Aware Impact goes on to point out the issues with what happens when un-ethical animal tourism activities are suddenly abandoned? It’s not as easy as simply letting the elephants trundle back to the jungle anymore:
“In Russia, we have a saying: Animals are our smaller brothers. Which means we should respect and take care of the animals as if they were our siblings.
But what do people do? They take the animals from their natural habitat and force them into doing things which are unnatural to them. Riding elephant camps, circuses, aqua parks and other places that use animals to entertain tourists are all examples of unethical animal experiences.
What happens with these places now when COVID-19 put all tourism on hold? Without income from tourists, the owners of animals are not able to take care of them or even feed them. This is what is currently happening in Thailand and other places around the world. “Unemployed” animals are now at danger of starvation or frightening treatment by their jobless caretakers.
Now let’s take a look at sustainable animal experiences such as wildlife safari in national parks. Here, tourism plays a protective role. The government and the locals are interested in protecting the animals and the environment as tourism brings money in the community. Now, with rangers staying home in lockdown and no incoming funds from tourists, the people turn their backs to the animals and start poaching. Rhinos in South Africa, elephants in Nepal and sun bears in Malaysia become victims of poachers as a result of COVID-19 halt of tourism.
I also encourage you to realize how horrible the zoos are for the animals. After spending weeks in lockdown and quarantine, most of us know how boring, lonely and even depressing it can feel when you are stuck inside the four walls. Now imagine animals spending their whole lives inside the cages! (Ed: It can be argued that reputable zoos take good care of animals make invaluable efforts towards conservation, but there are many that fall well short of the mark or are simply cruel).
What the COVID-19 pandemic should teach us all is that it’s important to treat animals in the right way. Based on the official version, the coronavirus started at the wildlife live market, where animals were kept in tiny dirty cages and slaughtered for their meat and body parts. Respect and love our smaller brothers!”
Another element of our relationship with animals that often goes under the radar (but has a far larger impact environmentally than the travel industry) is what animal products we eat – as Sam and Veren from Alternative Travellers explain:
“While this pandemic has devastated the world in so many ways, it is also teaching us many lessons about how poorly the human species has been treating this planet. We’ve been seeing the restorative power of nature when left to her own devices. Wildlife has been returning to the oceans, pollution has lightened, and all in all, the environment in flourishing. I believe that it is imperative that we continue caretaking our environments once this pandemic is over and we are able to travel again. This means making changes to our travel habits, because all of us need to become more sustainable travelers.
It’s very clear that the transportation industry – especially the airline industry – is a huge polluter. But what most people don’t know is that there’s another industry that’s even more detrimental to the environment. The animal agriculture industry globally accounts for even more pollution and negative environmental effects than the entire transportation sector. The animal agriculture industry is also responsible for the destruction of habitats, such as the cutting down of the Amazon rainforest in order to grow livestock feed. And these are just a few examples of the high planetary cost of eating meat three times a day, like so many are used to doing these days.
That’s why in “Travel 2.0,” I hope that more travelers begin choosing more plant-based options, both at home and while traveling. Eating plant-based has a much lower carbon footprint and does not cause harm to the environment on the massive scale that factory farming does. And don’t worry – vegan travel most definitely is not a chore that many might think it is. Historically, meat was a luxury, not the commonplace item that Westerners have become used to today. This means that most world cuisines have some naturally vegan dishes within their traditional culinary culture. There are also countless local restaurants that are incorporating plant-based options into their menus, or even entirely vegan restaurants that showcase local cuisine.
Discovering vegan treats while traveling is easier than ever with online resources full of vegan travel tips to help the veg-curious on their worldwide culinary journeys.
Stop Passing the Buck When it Comes to Responsible Choices
When it comes down to making responsible travel choices, there’s long been a certain amount of noise around who should be responsible for taking the lead. Consumers have been told it falls to them to be extra discerning, while all but the most pioneering travel companies have been slow to implement real change. After all, it can seem like a small win if one traveller says no to plastic water bottles, while tour companies continue to hand them out to all travellers.
Whatever the post-lockdown travel landscape looks like, the time for excuses will be over, and at least part of the effort will fall to travellers to think about the effects of their travel choices, as Steph from Worldly Adventurer points out:
“When we can travel again, we have to confront how sustainable tourism is only going to happen if we evaluate the travel choices that we as individuals make. I don’t believe that we can just stop travelling to protect the planet; there’s no chance that we can encourage everyone to subscribe to that viewpoint.
However, what we can do is support grassroots tourism: that hotel run by generations of the same family, that tour operator that only hires local guides, that community-led lodge that is providing both a source of income to its people and encouraging them to protect and preserve their surroundings.
Last year, I visited Guyana, a long-forgotten country in South America, where eco-lodges in the jungle run by indigenous communities are actively protecting great swathes of the rainforest. They’ve found this wonderful balance of mindful environmental management and protecting their culture and peerless knowledge of the natural world – and it’s an incredible experience to stay with them.
Tourism can be a powerful means of protecting both vulnerable communities and vulnerable ecosystems, as it enables local people to see the value of their natural resources. Spending our money on these types of hotels and tour operators is a way that we as travellers can help contribute to sustainable, long-term balance in the tourism industry.“
Focus on Quality not Quantity
In the post-pandemic world, travel could look quite different – and as the economic impact of the lockdown starts to emerge, one area that could easily change for the better in travel is to focus on taking fewer trips, that are more meaningful, longer, or more important – as Astrid from the Wandering Daughter points out:
“In the future, the focus of travel will rely more on quality, rather than quantity. Gone are the days of fast travel, where travelers jump from one destination to the next every few days.
We’ve now seen the disastrous effects this type of travel can have on the health of the traveler, the culture and economy of a destination, and on nature in general. The obvious alternative to fast travel is to slow down.
Traveling slowly can help decrease carbon emissions, offer more opportunities for travelers to experience the local culture, and allow travelers to have more of an impact on the local economy. More important, slow travel helps travelers distribute their tourism dollars in a more equitable manner. It affords travelers more time to explore a destination, to venture off the tourist path and discover a deeper side of the culture on their own.”
The Rise of Impactful Digital Nomadism
Digital Nomads – or those who travel and work remotely – have been some of the first hit by the travel lockdowns. In the last few years, our world has become relatively used to the concept of being able to travel and work freely – and the availability of good wifi has helped. The Digital Nomad lifestyle also presents opportunities for a more connected world, as Bianca of the Altruistic Traveller explains:
“As social distancing rapidly became the new norm, so did remote working. In the span of a few weeks (in some cases, days) the population lucky enough to keep their jobs were forced to adapt to the idea of remote work. But some of us had adapted to this flexible lifestyle long before COVID-19.
I’ve been a digital nomad for 18 months now, and have known fellow digital nomads to have been on the road (that is, remote working from various countries) for more than 5 years. Before COVID-19, I foresaw the transition into remote work to be quite a slow one. Many businesses were still adopting principles from the 50’s – micromanagement, outdated internal systems, disconnected departments. It was clear that change could take time. That was until we were pushed into the deep end by a global pandemic that locked half the world inside their homes.
What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is accelerate the idea of remote work and this could have huge implications on the future of travel. Tarek, the founder of the global community “Nomads Giving Back!” explains, “with a world full of new remote workers and companies who have unintentionally adopted the remote working culture, we will likely see many more people eventually spending extended periods of time in foreign destinations.” Tarek further adds, “millions of new remote workers may eventually realise the cost arbitrage opportunities that nomads have been taking advantage of for years – to save a huge amount of costs while gaining a significantly higher quality of life, all while exploring the world.”
This new way of life will open up opportunities for people to seek more connection and meaning through travel. Here lies the concept of impactful digital nomadism. “Giving back to local communities has proven to help many nomads and ex-pats find a new sense of connection and meaning in the places they call home away from home. Through our global community and pilot social impact programs in Bali and Colombia, many foreigners have embraced the opportunities to give back to local communities and are finding inspiration by joining a movement towards positive change.”
The rise of impactful digital nomadism ties in well with the rise of sustainable tourism. Will the concept of social impact take centre stage in the future of travel? Let’s hope so.”
Use the Sustainable Development Goals to Plan our Return to Travel
The UN’s sustainable development goals have many useful pillars for benchmarking a more responsible version of tourism, but their use has been largely confined to CSR policies of travel companies, rather than being communicated at a more grassroots level and with travellers. Vicky of Earth Changers argues that it is essential to use these pillars to map out our return to a more sustainable form of tourism:
“At Earth Changers, where we deal with positive impact sustainable tourism, we can foresee three phases as travel returns and rebuilds post-covid: Let’s call it the Short, Medium and Long Haul(s).
Short haul, all the focus of course is going to be on Health (SDG3), safety and security – with forced behaviour initially, even when our lockdown loosens up, we won’t be able or want to go far, in close proximity to people. Local tours and activities and rural escapes will be the first to recover, and with city hotels offering some great deals and AirBnBs returned to local housing stock for income.
We won’t be so keen to get back to inflexible working or jump on public transport, (with facemasks no longer be the preserve of the asia), preferring private vehicles, creating decline in pollution, energy use (SDG7), and carbon emissions, thus support for sustainable consumption and production (SDG12) and conservation of our environmental – marine (SDG14) and land (SDG15).
However, the sharpest decline conceivable will probably still not be enough to meet our Paris Agreement targets, highlighting just how far we have to go to improve our world faced with the climate crisis (SDG13).
Medium haul, perhaps forced change will be enough to change our attitudes, behaviour and choices. Business travellers may finally realise it’s just not worth the faff and cost when you can Zoom from home – and much better for our environment!
Leisure tourism will get competitive as lockdowns lift, and tourism scrambles to reassert itself. But the same suppliers may not be available and the travel landscape look quite different, prompting companies to create new partnerships (SDG17) in order to survive as we rebuild the sector and demand.
So long haul, this may actually create the systematic change desired for real change for sustainable tourism, coupled with the potential for demand to be more compassionate. Caring to community, consumers may come to value the real importance of sustainable tourism: people and planet.
An Unknown Future
Whatever the future holds for travel post-virus, of course it is largely too early to tell what that will exactly look like. Much depends on the economic impact of lockdown, as well as traveller mentality. But whatever that future looks like, we have a strong opportunity to make sure that when we return to travelling, it has a better impact than ever.
What are your thoughts on travel after covid-19? Let us know in the comments below.
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