It’s hard to believe that just a few short months ago, most of our conversations were about overtourism. Disgustingly crowded beaches. Depleting resources. Litter scattered everywhere. Exasperated locals. Today, those very beaches are empty and pristine and the air is definitely clearer. As people stay home, Mother Earth is repairing herself.
At this point, it’s more important than ever before to zone in on the positives. And there are so many positives… just look around! Cities have gotten their authenticity back. Countless streams run clear again. Wildlife is, for the first time in decades, breathing a sigh of relief. Our connection with nature has strengthened. Culture is reviving.
What if we view Covid-19 as a catalyst for beneficial change that truly alters the world for the better?Charlotte Noël – Founder TravelRebel
Of course, Covid-19 has taken an immense toll and we’re not trying to downplay that at all. But here’s the thing: we will overcome this. Human beings are resilient and history has taught us repeatedly that we will adapt to the new normal. In fact, if we’re smart and learn from past errors, we can bounce back even stronger.
How? Well, what if we view Covid-19 as a catalyst for beneficial change that truly alters the world for the better? What if we – as individuals, as nations, as travelers, and as hosts –vow to rebuild our systems in a more sustainable manner, so that future generations can avoid what we went through?
What if we can change the world simply by the way we travel?– Charlotte Noël, Founder TravelRebel
I’m serious, just hear me out. The urgent need for sustainable tourism is something we, at TravelRebel, have been emphasizing since our conception. Letting destinations breathe, letting locals prosper, being conscientious on our journeys… all this is embedded into our very DNA!
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again… there’s no need to cram in front of the Trevi fountain with dozens of others. There’s no joy in discovering a new place from the top of a crowded, commercial tour bus. Come on, rebels. Do you really want to find a place on that packed beach, where all you can see are pieces of plastic and hordes of tourists? Maybe in this Covid-19-riddled world, our message will resonate louder and clear.
Let’s all be changemakers
You see, as part of the travel industry – one of the industries impacted the most by the Covid-19 crisis – we have a responsibility to rethink travel and tourism so that it can be a force of good in the future. This dialogue is especially pertinent as the world opens up again, slowly but surely.
Covid-19 has been a shock to the system. To all systems. But amidst all the craziness, we’ve witnessed so much altruism. We’ve witnessed people connecting (virtually and otherwise), helping each other out, and uniting on the basis of a shared humanity. Holidays have been generously offered to healthcare workers, ordinary citizens have taken it on themselves to collect and distribute food to the elderly, and donations for victims and survivors are skyrocketing. Not a bad side of the new normal now, is it?
However, while so much has been altered for the better, there’s always a question that looms overhead: what if old habits return?
Can’t lie, that is a big possibility. And here’s where we all must play our part. Travel enthusiasts, bloggers, business owners, policy makers, and regular locals – we must band together to make sure the gains made are not lost. Make sure our positive change of mindset is permanent, even if it means foregoing short-term profit for long-term sustainability and widespread prosperity.
Travel and tourism are essential, and not just economically but socially, culturally and educationally as well. So how can we rebuild the industry in a more responsible, sustainable manner? Well, that’s a complicated debate that needs hours of deliberation, but don’t worry, we’ve simplified it a bit. These few changes can help shed light on the direction that the industry should take in the upcoming years.
1. Going local
With it no longer as convenient and navigable to explore far-flung locales, it is only natural for tourism to turn inwards. What do we mean by this? People are going to discover places close by that have been ignored thus far. Because of this, local tourism (and even hyperlocal tourism) is bound to gain traction.
So, domestic tourism should see an uplift.
In fact, we’ve already begun to see an inclination towards this trend. Walking tours of neighbourhoods have sprung up, road trips seem to be trendy once again, and we’ve heard whispers from many who are just waiting for trains to fully resume so they can book their seats.
And this leads us to our next point…
2. Trains and electric cars
In the shadow of Covid-19, more rules and regulations regarding cross-border travel, especially when flights are concerned, are inevitable… but that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay, because these regulations are ultimately for our own good. In the beginning, some people may feel a bit wary of venturing too far, but we can all work together to mitigate these fears. You see, respecting personal distance, maintaining hygiene, and following safety protocols are all good practices that we should’ve been following in the first place. These should all become habits so that we can prevent future pandemics.
Electric cars and trains are better for the environment, and hopefully, as more travelers see the need for sustainability post Covid-19, they’ll gravitate this way. Going by CO2 emissions per passenger, the environmental impact of train travel is significantly dwarfed by that of flying. Moreover, the eco-friendliness of an electric car cannot be denied. Depending on how the electric power is produced, this kind of vehicle can be fully run on renewable, sustainable resources, which is amazing.
3. High value, low impact – Sustainable Tourism
Ever heard of Bhutan, a nation that is governed by the principles of Gross National Happiness (as opposed to our boring old GDP)?
When it comes to a discussion on ‘high value, low volume’ tourism, most of us automatically equate it to the policy followed by this small nation. However, Bhutan is not alone – many other countries have often experimented with variants of this strategy to control the negative environmental impacts of tourism. This strategy doesn’t limit visitors; what it does is make the destination more exclusive by charging visitors a rather steep fee to offset the high carbon footprints they often leave behind (especially low-spending tourists). There’s usually a sustainability quotient within this charge, and that much of the money directly goes towards social and environmental welfare programs within the country.
Smaller destinations that are home to rare flora and fauna, spiritual places, and delicate cultural practices can especially benefit from this sort of approach, but so can bigger, more touristy places. With a bit of tweaking and refinement, a high value, low volume approach can curb the menace of overtourism if it resurfaces again.
4 Citizens before visitors
Another silver lining to have come out of this pandemic is reflection. In the hustle and bustle of yesterday, when we were constantly on the go, we forgot this human trait that is not only beneficial but also necessary for growth of any kind. Covid-19 seems to have brought it back: reflection of self, reflection of lives, reflection of the world.
And with this reflection, we’ve come to realize just how broken tourism was, especially in many of the tourist hotspots. In a way, we had forgotten what cities are actually about: the people who choose to live and work there, and not the visitors who come for their merriment (think Amsterdam).
So, it’s crucial for destinations to rebuild in such a manner that their economies serve their locals first and foremost. Catering to travelers should come second. In the long-term, policies promoting this approach will have massive positive ramifications, even for travel and tourism.
So what’s the takeaway, Rebels? This is the time to build anew. To be better.
This is the time for us to act cautiously, to hold on to sustainability ideals, and to never forget that the flawed tourism industry that we were directly or indirectly a part of has gotten another chance… to mend itself, to mend the world. We can do this!