Back in 2015, the UN announced that 2017 would be the year of sustainable tourism for development. This effort is meant to promote sustainable economic growth, social inclusiveness, resource efficiency, and will foster cultural values and mutual understanding. The question arises, however, as to how the travel and tourism sector is set-up to achieve this goal throughout 2017 and the effort and initiative that it will require in order to be successful.
Transition of Tourism into the Digital Space
One method that contributes to sustainability and being more responsible with resources is the ever increasing transition of travel and tourism to the digital space. Technology doesn’t just make travel easier and more efficient for travelers, but it also “accelerates the shift towards a more sustainable sector,” as the UN claims. These innovative projects, technologies and initiatives work towards changing consumer behavior and business models, make travel more safe, easy and efficient, and help to improve tourism growth for destinations that depend on it. Furthermore, some of this technology and business models help to reduce natural resource waste – for example, e-tickets and travel itinerary apps transforming travel into a paperless industry.
Caring to Share Stories
There is also emphasis being placed on a social responsibility to care and share. This is based on a network of individuals all committed to advocating for sustainable travel throughout 2017, influentially using their positions to convince others to make greener travel plans. For example, as the UN explains the initiative, this is a bunch of industry professionals, like “chefs, sommeliers, tour guides, guest house owners” and many other who engage with tourists on a daily basis, can “advance tourism development” and “make a difference in their communities” by contributing their voices and sharing their stories.
The idea behind this is a push for an industry-wide effort to think and act with sustainability in mind and to reduce carbon emissions. Those who work in and around the travel and tourism industry have a unique position and special opportunity to directly contribute toward this effort for positive change and development. Moreover, the tourism4development2017 website, which is the main platform for this sustainability effort, is opening up this platform to a global audience to contribute their own stories to the conversation as well. Visitors merely have to fill out the form and upload their story to the website. Of course in order to have a bigger role in influencing sustainable tourism, you can go much further than sharing your story on one website. As an avid traveler or an individual who is passionate about this year’s sustainability goal, you can add your voice to the conversation by sharing your stories, insights, and encouragement or advice via a sustainable travel blog as well as across social media platforms. With so many great services out there that make blogging accessible to all, this is a high-impact contribution that requires little effort. The more that sustainable travel is presented to the global community throughout the year, the higher likelihood that it will be considered and adopted.
A Zeitgeist of Travel Consciousness
There also appears to be a cultural zeitgeist of travel consciousness that makes “right now” the perfect time for a push towards sustainability in the travel sector. Travelers in general have a certain heightened-awareness of environmental effects on the world that they long to discover. In their Travel Predictions for 2017 article, Booking.com mentions that travelers will have a higher appetite to discover in 2017, especially for embracing undiscovered environments, or those that are disappearing. These are destinations like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or the Arctic and Antarctica, as these places are drastically changing due to climate change and there is a strong desire to see them before they are completely gone or are drastically changed forever.
Image by homas Jackson / Stone / Getty Images
This consciousness is driving both travelers and businesses in the to be more environmentally responsible. This means travelers choosing more eco-friendly travel options, as well as choosing destinations that can most benefit from the economic growth of increased tourism, as well as tourism companies offering more eco-friendly tour options and hotels and lodgings offering more eco-friendly accommodations. These efforts are expected to increase over 2017, along with special discounts and offers from booking and transportation companies for eco-travel. Even further, Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), mentions in his ITB Berlin 2016 Opening Ceremony speech that efforts will be seen “to advance policies and business strategies” and to put “climate change mitigation, effective resource management, poverty reduction and inclusive growth” at the center of tourism development.
It seems that in 2017 we are more poised for success than ever before to see real change implemented in sustainable travel. Only time will tell how it all plays out.