Many travel companies have incorporated sustainable principles within their businesses. Now it’s time for collaboration between companies to extend this, says Graeme Jackson of the Travel Foundation
I’m often struck by the great work being done by individuals, NGOs, charities and businesses to ensure the tourism sector is a creator of wealth and protector of environments in the destinations on which it depends.
However, if we were to ask how far the sustainability efforts of the industry as a whole have gone, “not far enough” would not be an unfair assessment.
That is not to undermine the huge strides being made by the passionate people trying to change tourism for the better.
But in many cases the industry is still playing catch-up with other sectors.
That is hardly surprising given such complex supply chains, varying business models and cultural and regulatory differences.
At the recent World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Summit in Abu Dhabi, we heard that governments are beginning to recognise tourism as the economic powerhouse it is.
With such power, of course, comes responsibility. How we respond to meet the challenges as well as the opportunities that arise from more than one billion international border crossings a year will cement or doom the industry’s future.
The sector should expect increased scrutiny from customers, peers and governments. Doing business in an ethical, transparent, sustainable way will be key to future growth and prosperity.
That will mean challenging a “business as usual” approach and building new models of working - and it cannot be done by a few people in isolation.
For an industry run on tight margins and focused on selling next season’s (if not, next week’s) holidays, the idea of investing time and money in challenging the status quo may seem daunting if not foolhardy.
But that is exactly what a number of forward-thinking organisations did 10 years ago when they founded the Travel Foundation.
It may have been easier for individuals and companies to go off and ‘do their own thing’ when it came to sustainability (an offset here, a tree planted there...), but the industry got together to seek common solutions to problems, and it’s this spirit the industry needs more of now.
A huge amount has been achieved over the last decade, yet big challenges still lie ahead.
If the next decade is to see a broader move towards sustainability, we need more businesses to get involved in the sustainability conversation, to look beyond their individual commitments and work together to tackle common issues.
Take our Taste of Fethiye project, which seeks to improve the economic impacts of tourism in this region of southwest Turkey - helping hotels to source fruit and vegetables from local farming communities and creating a resilient, local supply chain.
It simply couldn’t have happened without a group of usually competing tour operators working together, and with stakeholders in Turkey, to influence and change supplier practices.
Greater sustainability, in every business in every sector, is in our interests professionally and personally.
If we can put our differences aside on just one thing, let it be this.
Let’s collaborate, share and adapt to ensure the industry and the destinations we care for have a bright future.
Graeme Jackson is head of partnerships at the Travel Foundation
Get involved in the Travel Foundation’s Make Holidays Greener month (July 2013) - a chance to celebrate the industry’s sustainable successes and create a buzz around more switched-on tourism. thetravelfoundation.org.uk/greenerhols
To find out about opportunities to collaborate and ways of supporting the Travel Foundation’s work, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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