Innovation That Matters

5 Ways to Approach Sustainable Travel in the Coronavirus Era


Key takeaways from the latest 1% For The Planet event on the future of travel and tourism in a post-COVID world, with an introduction by James Bidwell, Chair Springwise and Chair 1% For The Planet UK steering committee

On 24th June, as part of our series of 1% For The Planet events, we gathered over 100 people from across the globe to participate in a virtual discussion about the future of travel and tourism. 

What a time to be engaging in this dialogue. As some of the world emerges from lockdown much of the world is sinking deeper into this exponential and existential crisis. Travel and tourism have been one of the most disrupted industries by COVID-19. 

Travel and tourism are also one of the most disruptive negative forces impacting our natural environment and the health and wellbeing of our planet.

This topic merits a far more complex debate than we could cover in only 60 minutes, and this article aims to summarise the key points which emerged amongst our speakers and participants, as well as the direction of travel for the industry, in particular from a sustainable perspective. 

My take, having spent a decade working in the tourism industry and having been fortunate enough to travel the world over the past 30 years, is that travel and tourism will continue to contribute massively to diversity, cultural understanding, education, a global outlook and to contribute to a more harmonious and peaceful world for all. 

However, the travel industry cannot and must not continue to have scant regard for the damage it does to the natural environment. 

There is a huge opportunity post-COVID to reset, to create a new paradigm which is genuinely sustainable, where travel and tourism are framed in a more planet-friendly way and where people think before they “jump on a plane”. 

With the industry on its knees, governments across the globe should consider following the lead of the French Government and link airline bailouts to their environmental policy and strategies. 

In the context of a sustainable reset, we may travel less but we will most certainly enjoy it more and do less harm.

— James Bidwell, Chair Springwise and Chair 1% For The Planet UK steering committee

James was joined at the June 24th webinar by Soraya Shattuck of the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, Kurt Weinsheimer, the Chief Solutions Officer at Sojern, and moderator Madelyn Postman who also sits on the  UK steering committee for 1% For The Planet. 

1. Slower, deeper travel experiences

If done well, travel can open our eyes to the value of nature, different cultures and the interconnectedness of all of us. The panellists made the point that in a post-COVID world, it is vital that we shift our mindsets from bucket-list ticking to a more thoughtful, deeper approach to travel. 

We need to stay for longer in the places we visit; engage with local communities, and give back to them. When travelling with children, teach them about where they’re going prior to travelling and what to take care of whilst they’re there and help preserve the environment in doing so. 

In attending a basket-weaving class in India, or a pastry-making lesson in Paris, you are experiencing life as a local, understanding it, and helping communities thrive who will, in turn, care more deeply for the environment around them. 

At Springwise we have spotted many innovators and startups who aim to help communities affected by tourism. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cape Town Tourism has released evocative adverts aiming to pull tourists back once they are able to travel, in order to help the local community, and Fairbnb is a co-op that works with neighbourhoods and renters to create an ethical alternative to Airbnb.

We also recently shared a first-hand account of what a more mindful approach to travel can be like, from a writer who experienced lockdown while travelling through New Zealand. 

2. It’s everyone’s responsibility

It’s easy to place the responsibility we have towards the environment and local communities when travelling on governments and big businesses. But in accepting that each individual traveller has a role to play, we can help to mitigate the negative aspects of the industry. 

Soraya said that whilst tourism brings in massive revenues to local communities and helps to fund the wages of rangers and other wildlife preservationists who protect local species and the environment, communities can be overwhelmed and the environmental cost of travel and tourism is massive. Do your research on the most environmentally-friendly travel companies, and which ones give back to and engage with local communities. 

Springwise has spotted many innovations making it easier to this, such as the Tooki app which identifies the most sustainable restaurants, hotels and travel means when you’re travelling, and a travel company that has imposed a carbon tax on itself.


3. Think global, act local

The panellists agreed that younger generations are certainly becoming more aware of the need to travel sustainably and drive the demand for sustainable change. 

Having an interesting, environmental edge, such as this eco-friendly portable hotel concept is a major requisite for many young people and it’s important for the big players in travel and tourism to lean into this. They need to be transparent about what they are doing to be more sustainable; can they, for example, afford to send their employees on trains instead of planes, saving on carbon emissions? 

Moreover, after months of remote working, is it necessary to travel around the world for work at all anymore? At Springwise we have certainly noticed a plethora of innovators seeking to make the remote working experience more viable, such as this creative design company that allows you to personalise your remote office space and an app in which you can interact in virtual offices

In being selective about the environmental and ethical practices of the travel companies we use, we put pressure on companies and businesses to live up to the same standards and open up conversations between governments and local communities.

4. Make sustainability part of the recovery plan

It is likely that, as the travel industry begins to reopen, there will be an immediate upsurge in cheap, accessible holidays in popular destinations, as tourist boards and travel companies try to rebuild themselves after the pandemic by offering discounts and cheap travel. 

After being inside for months, travellers will likely be eager to travel at the expense of the environment and other considerations. However, Kurt shared data that shows this is most likely to be short-haul and localised, with long-haul, international travel unlikely to return to normal until around 2023. 

As we begin to rebuild the travel industry, we must make sure that sustainability forms part of the recovery plan; it is incumbent upon everyone to make the change permanent, to refuse to return to normal, to explore your local area rather than travelling afar, and to check the policies of your travel companies. Mitigation isn’t the solution.

5. Travel is a privilege

As the COVID-19 pandemic has made our worlds smaller than they have been for a long time, it is vital that we remember how privileged we are when it becomes possible to travel again. 

This means travelling lightly in terms of the environment, and deeply into the communities we enter. All travellers — governments, businesses and individuals — are stewards for the planet, and we must give back in any way we can. If done correctly, travel and tourism can be uniters and educators, employers, and drivers of empathy and change.

Written by: Holly Hamilton
Introduction by: James Bidwell