Op-Ed: ‘Tourism’s future will be shaped by the growing interest in sustainable travel’ – Eric Drésin, ECTAA
Secretary General, The European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations (ECTAA)
While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the tourism industry, it has also presented an opportunity to rethink the way we travel and promote more sustainable practices.
Sustainability is a broad concept: it involves the responsible management of natural resources, the protection of the environment, and the promotion of economic and social well-being. Travelers may have a different level of understanding of what it means for travel to be sustainable and they may be more sensitive to one aspect than another.
In the post-COVID era, travel agents are seeing a growing interest in sustainable travel and tourism, as travelers become more aware of the impact of their trips on the environment and local communities. In response to this trend, many travel companies are either looking at or working on the improvement of their sustainability performance.
Here at ECTAA, we are particularly proud to actively contribute to an EU-COSME project called SUSTOUR. Thanks to SUSTOUR, 627 companies, including 42 Greek travel agents, are coached to become more sustainable. The project helps them reach sustainability certification or improve certain aspects of sustainability, such as carbon, plastic, supply-chain management or certification of shore excursions. This shows the increasing interest from travel companies to cater to the needs of customers.
However, the growth of sustainable travel and tourism will depend on a number of factors, including the availability of, the price and transparency of sustainable options, the willingness of travelers to switch to more sustainable forms of travel, and the actions of governments and the tourism industry to promote and invest in sustainability.
It is undeniable that the biggest challenge we are facing today is climate change and there is a high awareness among consumers to reduce their carbon footprint. The industry will have to gear up to provide reliable C02 emission data on travel products to help consumers make more informed decisions.
I’d also like to add that sustainable travel does not have to be more expensive. There are many low-hanging fruits for travel companies to make their product more sustainable without a lot of costs, such as reducing plastic, energy and water consumption, avoiding waste generation, involving local communities and eating local (vegan) food, etc. It is true that other sustainability improvements require substantial investments in the built environment and new technology (for example renewable fuels in transportation).
Turning to destinations, many around the world are implementing sustainable tourism practices and are working towards becoming more sustainable. For example, cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Stockholm are known for their sustainable transportation options, while destinations like Costa Rica and Bhutan have made sustainability a key focus of their tourism industry.
The Greek government has recently invested significantly in infrastructure to make Greece a sustainable destination. In addition, equivalent efforts have been made by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) to promote these developments towards consumers: Sustainable Greece is a successful platform highlighting and promoting the many sustainable initiatives across Greece.
I must say that it is irrelevant to determine who is the best in class, as long as we all move in the same direction and use resources in such a way that the needs of future generations can still profit from tourism.
The future of tourism is likely to be shaped by the growing interest in sustainable and responsible travel. Existing trends will continue and accelerate: use of digital technology, personalization of tourism offers, authentic and meaningful experiences, etc. Tourism will continue to grow, but in a more sustainable form, by adopting a low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathway.
At ECTAA, sustainability has become a key priority. We have signed in 2021 the Glasgow Declaration recognizing the urgency about the need to accelerate climate action in tourism. We will shortly publish our Climate Action Plan and are working with our Members towards the adoption of a Sustainability Roadmap.