Sustainable Tourism: A Positive Outcome of the Covid-19 Crisis
Sustainability is no longer simply interpreted as anything to do with the environment alone. It now has a much broader connotation and includes the social, cultural, economic, and physical aspects of a destination.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to an unprecedented standstill redefining our daily lives to what we now call as the ‘new normal’. This global health crisis not only affected the lives but also the livelihood of people across sectors. With borders only opening slowly to international travellers, the world is fighting the health crisis by following physical distancing and strict hygiene and safety guidelines.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections in early April suggested that the recession bought in by the coronavirus, will be the most severe global economic downturn since the Great Depression and that it will be ‘far worse’ than the Great Recession of 2009. However, the pandemic has also presented us with a silver lining to this dark cloud for the tourism sector – the chance to bring an impactful focus on sustainable tourism.
A change that is imperative
Sustainability is no longer simply interpreted as anything to do with the environment alone. It now has a much broader connotation and includes the social, cultural, economic, and physical aspects of a destination. Which is why it is imperative for all stakeholders to work together in order to emerge out of the current crisis and make tourism more sustainable as a long-term goal.
To ensure that the travel and tourism industry continues its contribution to the economy, destinations and companies need to learn from the crisis at hand and make far-reaching structural changes to the tourism sector starting with the reflection on its sustainability. Travel and tourism have an immense multiplier effect on the economy. Last year, it contributed 9.3 per cent to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and received 5.9 per cent of total investments. The infrastructure created in tourism pockets across the world speak for themselves.
That said, the pandemic is sure to bring about a change in our current behavior and help create an approach for long-term human survival. The industry, tourists and other stakeholders should be encouraged by policymakers to act on sustainability by creating an environment that could facilitate a more sustainable model of tourism.
What lies ahead
Only when every player in the travel ecosystem shows awareness and commitment towards sustainable tourism, does the idea of sustainable tourism become mainstream and not limited to certain pockets of travellers.
Sustainable tourism is not just a choice anymore, but also a necessity, as most travelers will now increasingly prefer holidaying with companies that show commitment to green, environment and socially friendly practices. Together, these stakeholders will play a critical role in ensuring that the tourism sector measures up to its expectations. Food for thought for the trip rating agencies can be rating travel companies and destinations by travellers on their sustainability quotient and their ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) score.
As local communities across the world seek enhanced prosperity and living conditions without making any compromises, authorities handling destinations and businesses must come together to streamline tourism activity, manage the long-term rising number of visitors and meet theirs as well as the locals' expectations.
‘Responsible travel’ in a post-COVID world
In some countries, this crisis could lead to a change in how authorities manage oversaturated destinations, improved communication, and stronger adaptability of online channels for communication. In addition, proven and accepted standards in responsible travel must be adapted, in addition to the move towards paperless and plastic-free touchpoints which can be replaced by as much digital experience as possible – before, during, and after our travels.
It is a fact of the matter that travel and tourism is by far the worst-hit industry by Covid-19. However, I firmly believe that this time of emergency is an opportunity for all the stakeholders to come together, support each other, and focus on bouncing back more robust, with common standards, and with sustainability ingrained into their DNA. Not only for travel infrastructure but also in terms of human rights and fair pay to people being part of the tourism industry.
Although the responsible travel movement was already gaining momentum before the crisis, adopting a holistic approach to sustainability can only be beneficial for the tourism industry going forward. The true challenge for destinations, companies, and travelers is now to communally as well as individually learn from the global crisis and fast track the transformation for sustainable and responsible travel and tourism in order to be firm footed for any future challenges.
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