COVID-19 has demonstrated that changes must be made in order to support and secure the future of travel. Along with elevated safety protocols, a genuine commitment to sustainability provides a roadmap to a more responsible travel industry.
While every major industry in the world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism — which represents 10 percent of world GDP — has been one of the hardest-hit economic sectors.
Even as national borders slowly reopen, the uncertainty associated with travel continues. According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) report on Related Travel Restrictions released in May, international tourism arrivals are expected to decline 58-78 percent compared to 2019.
As businesses focus on how to not only survive but recover from the impact of the pandemic, many are turning to more purposeful, people-centric solutions. Driven by growing consumer demand for better business practices, the crisis has forced organisations to examine their social and environmental impacts. It has also brought to the fore how central the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are in supporting the responsible recovery of the tourism sector.
In June, the UNWTO released its One Planet Vision for the Responsible Recovery of the Tourism Sector — a strategic guide aimed at helping travel businesses emerge stronger from the crisis while still contributing to the SDGs.
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The One Planet Vision is structured around six lines of action to guide responsible tourism recovery for people, planet and prosperity: public health, social inclusion, biodiversity conservation, climate action, circular economy, and governance and finance.
In the report, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili says:
“Sustainability must no longer be a niche part of tourism but must be the new norm for every part of our sector. This is one of the central elements of our Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism. It is in our hands to transform tourism and that emerging from COVID-19 becomes a turning point for sustainability."
Smart travel businesses looking to use this pause for a thoughtful shift towards sustainable consumption and production patterns could learn a thing or two from the renowned purposeful paradise, Bawah Reserve.
Image credit: Bawah Reserve
Located in the Anambas Islands, Indonesia, the five-star private island resort leads the pack when it comes to managing its social and environmental footprint; and addressing the needs of its guests on a deeper, more emotional level.
The resort, which grew from a vision for a more sustainable travel experience, opened in 2018. Bawah Reserve’s earth-first philosophy changes the way traditional resorts have been run by respecting the natural environment and minimising future impact.
Constructed with a minimal-impact approach, Bawah Reserve was built without the use of heavy machinery; and crafted using a range of locally sourced and sustainable materials including bamboo, recycled teak, palm leaves and quarried stone. The environmentally sensitive design is an outstanding example of a resort that respects its natural surroundings.
The Reserve has its own water infrastructure — rainwater is conserved while a desalination plant produces fresh drinking water for staff and guests. Solar energy powers its water heaters, and wastewater is collected and pumped to a series of specified treatment areas.
When it comes to food, the resort operates an organic permaculture garden for an earth-to-table experience and follows a ‘Four Ring Sourcing Philosophy,’ which begins with sourcing locally first — starting with Bawah, then the Anambas Islands, Batam and Indonesia. Only when resources cannot be procured within the four rings will the resort consider importing items; and even then, only if it’s necessary.
In conjunction with the Bawah Anambas Foundation (BAF) — an independent not-for-profit established in 2018 to rehabilitate and conserve the marine and terrestrial life across the six islands that make up Bawah Reserve — the resort launched an integrated waste management programme and is transitioning toward a circular economy.
Circular practices were introduced to island residents in 2019. Designed to elevate the skill set of locals, improve the economy in the Anambas and help eliminate plastics, artisans from a local village were taught how to make recycled and upcycled products through education and training programmes developed by BAF. Bags and pouches, for example, are made from plastic waste and purchased directly by the Reserve.
In addition to the resort’s land-based efforts, Bawah Reserve is dedicated to supporting life below the surface — from locally made ocean-friendly sunscreen and eco-friendly laundry detergent; to working with marine biologists to develop protection and rehabilitation programmes for coral, fish and the sea turtles that nest on the archipelago’s pristine beaches.
COVID-19 has demonstrated that changes must be made in order to support and secure the future of travel. Along with elevated safety protocols, a genuine commitment to sustainability provides a roadmap to a more responsible and fair way to travel. And while many tourism professionals have some way to go, the SDGs and the UNWTO’s One Planet Vision offer guidance on how to build back better and create a better normal for tourism.