Why the world needs to redefine tourism now!

Are you one in a billion?

If you travelled internationally in 2015 then you are. In fact you are 1 in 1.2 billion. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation that’s how many international trips were made last year. And by 2030 it will be nearly 2 billion.

2030. 2 billion people. Spending just over $2 trillion, in all corners of the world. 2 billion people, experiencing new cultures, sharing new friends, creating new business. 2 billion people providing jobs and an income for 400 million people.

By 2030, Travel & Tourism will be 11% of the world’s economy. Each and every person who travels will play a part in this story of growth, adventure and experience.

But will this story have a happy ending?

When we’re on holiday we can consume double the amount of water we do at home, and can create up to three times the amount of waste. We can alienate local communities by wearing inappropriate clothes, or by going to areas they hold sacred. We can trample on precious biodiversity, or visit places that cannot cope with our presence. We take 32 million flights creating 781 million tonnes of carbon each year.

2030. 2 billion travellers. 4 billion footprints.

We are already seeing the challenges play out.

Overcrowding [Angkor Wat, Venice]
Tension between hosts and visitors [Barcelona]
Biodiversity loss [coral reefs, mangroves]
Impacts of climate change

We need to change how we think about travel if we really want to be sure that the positive impacts outweigh the negative.

The notion of travelling ‘sustainably’ or ‘responsibly’ is certainly not a new one. Since the Brundtland Report first coined the term ‘sustainable development’ in the late 1980s, tourism’s role has been promoted, questioned, and debated. Economic vs environmental impact. Foreign vs local ownership. The visitor vs the visited.

Amongst academics, the international development community, businesses, industry organisations, and NGOs the debate has raged for 30 years. Groups and individuals from around the world have dedicated themselves to raising awareness of the issues around unchecked tourism growth, providing solutions, campaigning for change, and developing new ways of doing tourism that ensure positive impacts.

Across the globe, there are great examples of sustainable tourism in action. WTTC’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards highlight but a few.

But of last year’s 1.2 billion international travellers, how many knowingly or unknowingly took steps to travel more responsibly?

Evidence suggests relatively few.

Speaking at WTTC’s Global Summit in Dallas, USA, last year, ocean campaigner Fabien Cousteau said: “I look forward to the day when there is no sustainable tourism, just tourism”.

As the realities of climate change begin to emerge, social and political tensions rise across the world, and resources become scarcer in the face of growing populations, there needs to be a step change in how people undertake their travel.

We need to combine the forces of those thought leaders who have been driving the sustainable tourism agenda for so many years, the businesses who provide the means for tourism to happen, and the experts who know how to deliver sustainable development on the ground, with the power of the people who travel.

The seminal phrase of the Brundtland report was “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

We need tourism now and future generations will need tourism. Not just for jobs, livelihoods, and economic growth, but for peace, community, and wellbeing.

It is no longer enough to congratulate ourselves on what we are doing well, or point fingers at what we are not doing so well. We need to pose the tough questions and find the solutions together. What sets tourism apart from other sectors is the fact that most of us who work in it, are also consumers of it.

We each have a perspective but we are in it together. From now on it needs to be “just tourism”.

Let’s get talking about how to make this happen. #RedefineTourism