Going places: Tourism industry looks to government, voters to address twin crises of climate change & coronavirus to help rebuild sustainably

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By Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), which advocates for responsible, sustainable tourism, is now advocating for a coordinated response to the twin existential crises facing travel and tourism and a habitable planet – climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the immense need and value of tourism, while fundamentally changing the way destinations, businesses, and travelers will plan, manage, and experience tourism. At the same time, climate change remains an existential threat that has real consequences for destinations and communities everywhere,” writes Gregory Miller, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST).

“That said, tourism was frankly on a path of self-destruction for decades, valuing profits at the expense of people, planet, and purpose. COVID-19 has proven that simply stopping tourism is not enough to meet the challenges of the climate crisis. Crisis often breeds innovation, and destination communities and businesses must now take the time to reconsider the path forward. As we look to the future of tourism, the same rigor and dedication that is needed to adapt to the pandemic must also be applied to neutralize the threat of climate change.

“Post COVID, there will be a profound shift in the competitive landscape in the travel and tourism sector, with preparation and effective risk management, adaptation and resilience, and decarbonization being fundamental to future competitiveness and relevance,” Miller writes. “With the compounding threats of climate change and COVID-19, we must share knowledge and case studies that provide genuine lessons learned, and we must take unified action to develop solutions for our planet and its people.”

Indeed, there is a “silver lining” from the pandemic that has virtually shut down an enterprise that globally accounted for $2.9 trillion in 2019 ($581 billion in the US) and employs one in 10 people around the world, including 9 million in the US (with another 7 million jobs indirectly supported by travel) before COVID-19 shut down hotels, restaurants, airlines, attractions, museums, historic and cultural sites: that they can only come back from a virtual ground zero by integrating sustainability and responsibility into their fabric, system and structure as they revivify, rising like a phoenix, from ashes.

“Here at CREST, we believe that responsible travel can be a vital force for protecting our world’s precious natural and cultural resources, while helping local communities thrive.

“When developed responsibly, tourism has the power to bring sustainable employment and biodiversity conservation to areas that otherwise fall prey to economic instability, extractive industries, and illegal trade and traffic. As an organization, we are dedicated to advancing sustainable travel to preserve and protect beloved environments, cultures, and destinations both today and for future generations.”

CREST has produced a special edition of its annual report, The Case for Responsible Travel: Trends & Statistics 2020, which shares key studies on COVID-19 and climate change and what lessons may be applied from the pandemic to meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

“In addition to general consumer, business, and destination trends in the context of recovery, we explore the unprecedented opportunity to mitigate two existential threats with one coordinated approach, truly making the world a safer, more equitable and more resilient place for all.

“Crisis often breeds innovation, and destination communities and businesses must now take the time to reconsider the path forward,” Miller stated at a World Tourism Day webinar.
“As we look to the future of tourism, the same rigor and dedication that is needed to adapt to the pandemic must also be applied to neutralize the threat of climate change.”

It describes how travelers, tourism businesses, and destinations are implementing workable, sustainable solutions to support our planet and its people and help the tourism industry on a road to responsible recovery and the importance of coordination among all the stakeholders.

It is important to educate consumers and travelers to change their habits and be more mindful, intentional. And, if travelers see and have a chance to engage in sustainable practices, they may take them home to own municipality and even their own home.

But these lifestyle changes will contribute just a small percentage of lowering greenhouse emissions. Overall, change has to come from the government/leadership/policy/regulatory level – more than values, whole systems and infrastructure have to change including energy grid, transportation, how buildings are designed, the codes they are constructed under, and how they are operated.

“The world is hoping to have a net-zero economy in 30 years, but you can count on one hand the number of countries that will have action plan, strategies at destination level,” said Dr. Daniel Scott, Executive Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo.

“As a geographer, tourism scholar, I want my teenage girls to see the world in same way I have. There are so many benefits to see how people live, to see cultures around the world. Tourism won’t solve climate change or COVID on its own, but travelers vote, they can advocate. Vote, because that’s where the power to change the system lies. More people who put pressure on government leaders to make a massive investment in R&D, low emission longer haul aircraft, biofuels, is the key to solving the puzzle. For 10 to 20 years, we have advocated for investment on behalf of airlines, cities, but it hasn’t happened. Vote, and as you vote, put pressure on the types of investment you want to see, that are key,” Scott said.

Miller agreed. “How important it is to recognize the future is cannot be carried on the back of individuals, but there has to be systemic change at all levels in order to see the kind of transition to more sustainable future. Voting is key. It is essential people vote. Vote for sustainable future and leaders who focus on it, vote for leadership in government and the corporate side who will make the difference.”

The full report is available at responsibletravel.org.

Based in Washington, DC, the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) is dedicated to increasing the positive global impact of tourism. CREST has become a leading expert on the full range of tourism models, from small-scale community-based and indigenous tourism to large coastal resort and cruise tourism, country-wide responsible tourism master planning and public sector collaboration. “In this era of climate change, responsible travel is no longer an option, it is an imperative. Given this reality, CREST remains committed to its original vision of transforming the way the world travels.”
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