The UN estimates that nearly 2 billion people will be on the move by 2030, traveling to destinations all over the world. Travel and tourism can bring us a billion opportunities to make the world a better and more sustainable place — or a billion disasters, if we do not manage it properly.
Imagine, if the entire population of India were to go on a holiday. Now, double that figure.
In just over ten years from now, the United Nations estimates that nearly 2 billion people will be on the move, traveling to destinations all over the world.
Indeed, the decrease in travel-related costs and barriers has put travel within the reach of millions. Coupled with changing attitudes, the rise of the middle class and the growth of disposable income, the 21st century has seen a boom in the travel industry.
This unprecedented growth has led us to a crossroads: Travel and tourism can bring us a billion opportunities to make the world a better and more sustainable place — or a billion disasters, if we do not manage it properly.
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Companies across different sectors are beginning to understand the profound ways in which their success is inherently linked to the health of global ecosystems.
Nowhere is this as obvious as in travel and tourism, where many services are directly dependent on nature: sea-level rise and more acidic oceans are already threatening coastal tourism infrastructure, and climate change is leading to significant changes in biodiversity, altering the very nature of many World Heritage sites.
While the economic benefits of a vibrant tourism sector are clear, it is important to understand the impacts it has on local destinations, their communities and environment. One challenge has to do with ensuring the benefits of tourism are redirected back to the destinations that we visit. Other adverse effects that are inherent to the travel industry, mainly in relation to the environment, include waste generation and the emission of greenhouse gases, which are very difficult to avoid completely.
To put those impacts into perspective: 1 ton of CO₂ is roughly equal to a one-way flight from London to New York — or the average annual emissions of one Indian citizen.
The carbon emissions from that single flight from London to New York could be compensated with the emission reductions delivered by approximately four improved cookstoves in the span of one year, or by CO₂ captured by roughly 150 pine trees in one year through carbon offsets.
Wadi Rum, Jordan is another UN World Heritage site at risk from climate change and overtourism | Image credit: kimkim
For travel companies, sustainability must be embedded into organization-wide commitments, strategies, and actions — ones that also inspire travelers to join the movement.
And many are ready to come on board: more sustainable travel, the protection of natural and cultural heritage, and the generation of social and economic benefits for local communities are proving particularly popular among millennials, who are set to be three times more mobile than the previous generation.
Travel companies are in a unique position to empower travelers of every generation and turn them into climate stewards, to ensure that travel proceeds go towards safeguarding the wellbeing of the environment and the communities that can contribute to awe-inspiring experiences well into the future.
Encouraging responsible travel can come in many forms — from promoting the hire of local guides and the purchase of local products, to addressing environmental impacts from the get-go. One way to do that is to ensure that contributions to compensating the CO₂ emissions of international travel are automatically added to the trip.
Each journey changes us and the world around us, a world for which we are all responsible.
When properly planned and managed, sustainable tourism can promote cross-cultural understanding, and contribute to improved livelihoods, cultural heritage and natural resource protection. And with handprints across the globe, travel companies can be at the forefront of ensuring lasting, positive impacts on the destinations within which they operate.
The next big question is: Will we use this power to create a billion new opportunities to make the world a better, more sustainable place for all?
This piece was co-authored by Eric Chamberlain, Head of Destination Development at fast-growing travel startup kimkim; and Michael Malara, Corporate Sustainability & Sustainable Finance Expert at South Pole, a global sustainability solutions provider. The two organizations are working together to offset every trip booked through the kimkim travel platform to make travelers’ trips 100% climate neutral.