Discovery Leadership Masterclass Series: Future of tourism and impacts of climate change on sustainable travel


…making future travel sustainable

The festive season is here again, and the desire of travellers will be to experience the joy of travelling to different places – exploring new horizons and dreaming without challenges. In the world of festive travel, starting one’s preparations well in advance is a strategic move that can significantly enhance the travellers’ experience.

Indeed, whether travelling for fun or business, travelling has a big impact on the planet and there are always some steps the traveller ought to take to ensure the travel is as eco-friendly as possible. For many tourists, travelling presents the opportunity for learning about new places and people, exploring diverse cultures across the globe and is a means of connecting humanity. Travelling to visit places makes people grow, and it’s even better when done in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.

But to travel is to start by planning out the journey in advance. Oftentimes, in the traveller’s eagerness to embark on a festive adventure, many tend to underestimate the importance of early and proper planning. In particular, where one eats, visits and lodges while travelling can be incredibly important. To plan sustainable travel is to engage in practices that support the promotion of good sustainability principles.

However, patterns of future travel and destination choices are likely to change due to climactic factors – such as temperature and extreme weather events, forced migration, degradation and disappearance of popular and natural tourist destinations. This may alter the landscape of travel to unsustainable travel experiences. The implications however need to be addressed through innovative sustainable solutions, powered by immediate, conscientious and responsible choices to abate the impact of breaching critical environmental issues.

That said, with climate change being the single biggest global issue and threat to sustainable tourism and travel, travellers face climate-sensitive risks if they do not consciously submit to playing a role in making travel sustainable. Climate change – which is a health emergency issue – is characterised by extreme weather patterns that destabilise communities and reduce access to good health. Again, the changing environmental conditions could increase suitability for other risk implications which affect livelihoods and businesses if their effects are not managed. The question is: how should the traveller embark on sustainable travel this festive season?

Climate Change and the Global Tourism Outlook

Climate change impacts – such as desertification, rising sea levels, deforestation, biodiversity decline, water shortages and infectious diseases – hurt the tourism economy. Changing weather patterns significantly affect countries, communities and other linked sectors such as food, culture, construction and handicrafts, employment and poverty levels.

Climate change’s widespread and unprecedented effects disproportionately burden the most poor and vulnerable individuals and businesses such as those in agriculture employment; with poverty, lack of adaptation opportunity, migration and disease affecting the most marginalised groups – children, women and the elderly. Indeed, climate change is considered the world’s most feared security threat that significantly impacts the global travel industry and worsens its prospects and fortunes.

In view of its effects, Climate change is already making some travel destinations less attractive – or even inaccessible. The rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, environmental pollution and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns are all affecting travel destinations and businesses around the world. In some parts of the world, for instance, extreme weather events such as hurricanes, typhoons and floods are causing damage to travel infrastructure and disrupting the tourism and travel plans of many.

Climate change is also having a direct impact on travel businesses. For example, airlines are facing higher costs due to fuel price volatility and the need to purchase carbon credits. Hotels and other accommodation providers are also facing higher costs due to need for upgrading infrastructure to protect against extreme weather events.

Tour operators and other travel agencies are also being affected by climate change. For example, they are having to cancel or modify tours due to extreme weather events; and adapt their product offerings to meet the changing needs of travellers to remain more sustainable travel options.

How the local travel industry is impacted adversely, and the way out

The local travel industry has had greater adverse impacts of climate change threats. Its enormous effects are already visible, and will be catastrophic unless we act now through extensive tourism education, innovation and adherence to climate commitments and practices. Being guided by these preventive changes and initiatives may provide huge opportunities to modernise our tourism infrastructure, which will create new jobs and promote greater prosperity and business continuity across the industry.

However, the notable degree of finding adverse impacts from climate change on local travel industry highlights a serious concern among travellers and industry players – to do more in addressing climate change impacts through adherence to good environmental practices, initiatives and commitments. As travellers become more aware of their effect on the environment and how their choices today will impact tomorrow, they ought to be consciously aware because an education system is part of travel requirements in strengthening sustainability efforts.

Meanwhile, travellers too are expecting more from the tourism sector, and will continue to push for change; so, the onus falls on industry to respond and pave the way for sustainable tourism. Tourism, as is known, is susceptible to the impacts of climate change on destinations and businesses – but it also contributes to the causes of climate change.

Much more importantly, tourism operators ought to operate ecologically responsible business – noteworthy for its competitiveness via cost savings and differentiating their business as ‘climate friendly’. These motivations align with general business principles of driving the implementation of socially and environmentally responsible practices by companies. Again, there ought to be environmentally certified tourism enterprises and tour operators serving as an integral approach for sustainable tourism development.

 Approach to Sustainable Travel

The three pillars of sustainable travel are enshrined in environmental awareness, social responsibility and economic sustainability. As travellers change lifestyle habits to suit or embrace the culture of places visited, they minimise contributions to climate change. The question is, how can travellers embark on sustainable travel?

Here, respect for the culture of local communities by travellers conserves cultural and artistic heritage. It is essential to respect traditions, as they form the identity of local communities and create a sense of unity among the people. Travelling slowly minimises impacts on the environment and saves money – and allows the traveller to enjoy the scenery along the way. For instance, choosing trains over other means of transportation both reduces the ecological impact and is a cheaper option.

The travellers’ choice for accommodation can be a considerable factor regarding the comfort and enjoyment of his or her festive trip or visit. Depending on preferences and budget, the traveller can opt for various accommodations – from luxurious hotels to cozy vacation rentals or budget-friendly hostels. The beauty of modern travel, though, lies in the sheer variety of choices available.

Beyond booking for accommodation, selecting the right mode of transportation is another critical aspect of planning a sustainable festive journey. Whether considering flights, trains, buses or a combination of these, booking one’s tickets in advance can yield significant savings. For optimal price options, comparing prices and schedules helps one pinpoint the most cost-effective and convenient way to reach the desired destination.

Embarking on Environmentally-friendly holidays

Since the overall impact of climate change on the global travel industry is expected to be negative, the industry is likely to experience slower growth, higher costs and more disruptions due to climate change as a serious risk. However, there are also some opportunities for the travel industry to adapt to climate change, which could positively impact the environment and the industry through developing more sustainable travel products and services – and investment in infrastructure that is resilient to extreme weather events.

For any traveller to make an environmentally conscious journey, they ought to consider:

Getting to know the people in your area

As vacations are times to relax, it is important for the traveller to take his mind off work and focus on the trip. By this, the traveller will get so much more out of the travelling experience and get to know local residents in that area. There could be opportunity to learn a new spot for drinks, or the politics and issues the people in that area care about. In fact, taking advantage of the travelling moment is part of sustainable travel; because getting to know people in the region and understanding their perspectives creates a truly global society. And truly, global societies see past geographic and cultural divides to take care of each other.

Reducing water us

Depending on where one is travelling to, there are different ways to accomplish this one. Bringing a reusable water bottle, and even a water filter, so disposable bottled water does not have to be transported for tourist consumption can make a big difference in creating a more sustainable travel destination. Also, looking into local foods can help. Often, food and water for tourists is imported; which has high impact on emissions and water use for preparation. But if travellers patronise local produce, they can end up getting to know the culture better.

Staying in local eco-friendly lodging

 Major hotels can be pretty inefficient when it comes to sustainability. An even better option is to research alternative lodging, such as certified eco-lodges or staying in a local home. These options prevent large hotels (which use large amounts of scarce resources, and often do not distribute economic benefits to locals particularly well) from being built in fragile communities which often already rely on a tourist economy.

Using public transportation

Some of travellers’ most memorable moments can be from using public transportation. Whether it’s witnessing a dance on the subway or starting a conversation with another traveller or local resident, it can be a unique and entertaining experience. Patronising public transportation is energy-efficient, saves money and, with an open-mind, can be more exciting.

Climate Action for Sustainable Travel

As we may be aware, the travel industry is crucially dependent on the health of local communities, environments and cultures. As many experts have noticed, we need to invest in the resiliency of places affected by over-tourism and climate change to achieve sustainable tourism.

Storytelling can help by highlighting problems brought on by tourism and surfacing practices and technologies to mitigate its negative impacts. Whereas climate change continually remains the greatest threat to ecosystems, places and people – making travel unsafe, tourism itself is a significant contributor to climate risk. Key industry players must consciously establish their businesses and practices as leaders in the fight against climate change, by taking ambitious action and working toward a sustainable travel future.

With travel expected to rise in the festive season, the travel industry has an opportunity and responsibility to become greener and more sustainable for the long-term – a choice to serve travellers and a demand to meet the imperative for sustainable travel.

Discovery…thinking solutions, shaping visions.

Frank is CEO and Strategic Partner of AQUABEV Investment and Discovery Consulting Group, and Gideon is CEO-DeRoyal International Travel and Tours.

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