James Thornton is CEO of Intrepid Travel, a tourism operation that aspires to “balance purpose and profit” while growing a sustainable, experience-rich travel market.
Over the past two years, destinations have seen a record drop in arrivals. But as summer approaches and pandemic restrictions ease, the idea of travel is once again on everyone’s minds.
The question arises: will we all have the same ideas we are used to about where or how to travel? We’re all excited to see our sector recover, but will the recovery tip the metric far in the opposite direction, i.e. will domestic tourism quickly revert back to overtourism?
The pandemic was a good opportunity for our team to assess how we can continue our efforts to combat overtourism, and we’ve seen this spread to others as well. I hope we see a more balanced approach and that more organizations will join us in urging steps that governments, tourism boards and travel companies can take to manage tourism and build travel responsibly.
Example: Faced with the prospect of a return of excess tourism, the Netherlands Council for Tourism and Conferences has created incentives to focus visitor experiences on local communities rather than just on the total number of visitors. This decision to move from “destination promotion” to “destination management” is part of a larger pledge to ensure that every Dutch person benefits from tourism by 2030.
I think we will see more countries follow suit with such balanced and responsible approaches.
As we start putting travel plans into action this year, more consideration is needed about where our money is going. We need to be more aware of how much to stay in the community by, for example, staying in family-owned hotels, using public transportation and interacting with local communities.
There are some steps travel advisors can take to ensure responsible travel:
• Consider companies that specialize in smaller group travel.
• Research and screen providers of travel services and ethical amenities you book.
• Verify certificates and validate claims made by suppliers.
I would urge other tour operators to build partnerships that support responsible travel. For example, our relationship with the Mediterranean Experience Network for Ecotourism (MEET) supports responsible and ecotourism while giving travelers the opportunity to explore well-protected, less-visited areas around the Mediterranean.
MEET develops high quality ecotourism experiences based on four aspects: awareness, community, conservation and connectivity. This partnership has linked us to expand our responsible offering by leveraging a network of suppliers with compatible approaches to travel.
There are, unfortunately, too many “certificates” that look great but aren’t really reliable. When booking a travel company for your clients, look for strong, widely recognized, and most importantly, independently verified testimonials for the good work they claim to have achieved.
It looks like 2022 will become the year of the European summer. At the moment, overtourism has not yet returned, in part because capacity is not yet fully restored. Part of what keeps tourism in check – ongoing Covid restrictions, concerns about delays and cancellations, staffing issues with airlines – will eventually be addressed and resolved. And when they are, we will want to work to ensure that travelers and destinations do not return to the unpleasant overtourism conditions that plagued many destinations before the pandemic.
As we go through this year and the year after, there’s no doubt we’ll feel rewarded by seeing how happy people are to get out to travel again and try new things, cross countries off their lists and learn about other cultures. But some travelers will again fall behind old habits and book choices based on what they see on social media.
As we emerge from the fog of the pandemic, we are all reassessing the way we live our lives and where we attach importance. A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer the answer. We know that consumers have choices when considering where and how they travel; Let us help them make responsible decisions that truly benefit their host communities and ensure a more enjoyable experience as they explore the world once again.