Sustainable tourism is no longer a niche market, but a growing, burgeoning industry. The United Nation’s recognized 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, and a new report from Travel+Social Good argues that sustainability is the future of travel. Period.
“2017 has been appointed The International Year of Sustainable Tourism by the UN as a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability – economic, social and environmental, while raising awareness of the true dimensions of a sector which is often undervalued”
-UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai
The travel industry is growing and evolving faster than ever, and travelers are becoming increasingly connected to each other and to local communities. This increase in travel is putting a considerable toll on the environment and natives, and travelers themselves are becoming increasingly aware of these changes. Travel has the potential to be an incredible force for good, but it’s up to travel organizations and individuals to keep travel accountable and take action for the positive change in communities that we want to see. Below are some of the biggest takeaways from Travel+Social Good’s new report, highlighting new trends and tactics from its 2017 summit
1. The Travel Industry’s impact on the planet and people is growing exponentially
Travel’s impact is growing, but with this increasing demand comes an increasing burden on local communities and the environment. In 2012 alone, travel’s indirect impact on the world economy totaled to a staggering $1.2 trillion, and employed 1 in 11 people. These numbers are only growing, and at an astronomical rate. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, by 2025, one in eight households will travel internationally, and the number of trips taken by people over 65 will more than double to over 180 million annually. Travel organizations have started to make communities the focus of their business, whether it’s by hiring locally, encouraging employees to travel internationally, or forming travel groups focused on themes or sustainability areas. Travel that doesn’t positively impact local communities is ultimately unsustainable at the rate that international travel is growing.
2. Digital storytelling makes travelers more connected than ever before
It’s no secret that the internet changed everything. The 2017 Global Economic Impact and Issues Report showed that over 80% of travel planning is through the internet, and 33% of users use travel blogs for advice. Organizations are going to have to become adept at storytelling and marketing to millennials online, as most of their information comes from peers and the internet. The narrative is being shaped by travelers themselves instead of major travel companies, so more niche areas are being put in the spotlight, including sustainable and responsible tourism. Understanding how to incorporate this market as part of the tourism industry is essential to growth. One only need to look at the rapid growth of Airbnb’s experiences to see this in action.
3. Transparency is key to a sustainable business model
According to the 2017 Global Economic Impact and Issues report:
“Increased mobile connectivity will drive more travellers to seek new sources of information that will help lead them to new experiences in new markets.”
As information becomes increasingly accessible, travelers will seek out companies that are truly making a difference, not just saying they are. Travel organizations will have to be prepared to provide hard statistics and data about the local and environmental impacts of their tourism, and how they’re looking to remedy it.
4. Travelers are looking for a travel experience that offers personal and professional growth
Travelers aren’t just looking for a pretty view or a moment to relax. Research shows that travelers are looking for personal growth and development as a result of travel. At the same time, there has been a surge in “bleisure” travel, or mixing business and leisure. In fact, 62 percent of millennials are likely to extend their business vacations to gain cultural experience, seeking out positions that allow them to travel and see the world. Traveling can be an excellent opportunity to learn a new language, gain a different skill set, volunteer, and boost your resume. A generation obsessed with multi-tasking now has the wallet size to fund their own travel, and they are no longer satisfied with an average vacation: they expect personal growth.
The future of the travel industry is changing faster and faster. 2017 brought in four key changes for organizations and companies that deal with travel and tourism. As travel’s growing impact becomes apparent, tourism is increasingly focusing on being responsible and sustainable, with an emphasis on supporting local communities. Digital storytelling is connecting travelers and making information more available. This compels organizations to cater to a generation that relies on transparency and crowd-sourced research to find the best option. Finally, travelers are looking for personal growth, whether that’s by giving back, adding a new skill, or increasing their network, and organizations must consider this need when offering travel services.