The road now less travelled

8 April 2020
Dorothy Tembo, International Trade Centre

The global spread of the coronavirus pandemic has hit us all with incredible speed – and the tourism and hospitality sector is one most impacted.

Countries and territories are shutting their borders, airlines face bankruptcy, ports are refusing entry to cruise ships – and according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, a staggering one million jobs are being lost every day in the travel and tourism sector. And most of these jobs have been traditionally undertaken by women and young people. In addition, a ‘domino effect’ is hitting huge numbers of suppliers worldwide. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is estimating that five- to seven-years’ worth of growth will be lost to COVID-19.

Once the storm passes, can we – should we – go back to business as usual?

The truth is, travel as usual is not sustainable. Now more than ever, we see a link between mass travel and impacts on the environment. Therefore, it is likely that the post-coronavirus traveller will choose more sustainable paths to enjoy what the world has to offer. Even before COVID-19, the industry was witnessing a shift in preference to certified eco-hotels and toward more local and authentic experiences. Increasingly people are supporting tourism that supports communities.

This shift is what concerns this edition of International Trade Forum. A rise in sustainable tourism was already underway but it can also help us rebuild after the crisis. The pandemic is challenging us to think about what comes next.

We need smart solutions. The articles you will find in this issue show the efforts many partners in the relevant industries are undertaking.

In view of achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in the 2030 Agenda in this next ‘Decade of Action’, UNWTO sees tourism emerging from the current crisis as an even more important contributor to the SDGs, if managed responsibly. And ITC could not agree more with sustainability being at the heart of UNWTO’s plan for tourism’s post-COVID-19 recovery.

Beyond that, the aviation industry remains one of the biggest environmental challenges. How can sustainability go hand in hand with flying if you want to visit the remote islands of Indonesia? Flight shame will not fix airline emissions. But on the positive side, we will see how the aviation industry is working hard to reduce its CO2 footprint and to support a more carbon-neutral world by 2030.

Sustainability concerns, however, extend far beyond carbon emissions and the airlines. In many places, tourism has grown beyond its sustainable limits, to the detriment of local communities. So-called ‘overtourism’ in places like Venice, Barcelona and Reykjavik is one obvious result. Cruise ships disgorge thousands of people for half-day visits that overwhelm the destination but often may leave little economic benefit. The Cruise Line Industry Association is working with sensitive ports to avoid these negative impacts.

The cultural ideology of how Generations X, Y and Z are consuming travel plays another important role in positioning destinations as authentic experiences, not as a mere check on your 20-places-you-must-see-before-you-die-list on Instagram.

Brilliant examples are a renowned eco-lodge in Kenya, owned and fully run by the Maasai; a truly unique project in Myanmar that is bringing peace; or the #FeelMongolia campaign, which plays a key role in accelerating Mongolia’s rural economic development, increasing employment, ensuring environmental balance, and protecting its historical and cultural heritage. Here, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the President of Mongolia for contributing to this edition.

You will find many more pioneers in this edition. They, and sustainable tourism providers like them, remain ready to welcome visitors in the post-pandemic era.