Let’s face It, 2020 was a pretty miserable year all round. It didn’t really matter who you were – with the exception of Jeff Bezos – nobody emerged from the year unscathed. The travel and tourism sector was particularly hard hit, with international flights and holidays ground to a standstill. There was a surge in domestic tourism towards the middle of the year, but the second wave of Covid-19 has put paid to that as winter arrived.
So what about this year? It would be great to predict that travel will rebound in 2021 with the vigour of a child on an over-inflated bouncy castle, but the reality will be different.
Many parts of the world have either banned international travel or placed onerous restrictions upon entry, meaning the keenly awaited recovery is yet to come. Domestic tourism should continue to fare better than international, but a whole sector upturn is largely dependent on the success of the vaccines and the establishment of a robust health passport scheme. Whatever happens, the face of tourism will be considerably altered.
At least for the medium term it will become increasingly difficult just to jump on a plane, bus or train and wing it. Many destinations will demand onward tickets, insurance to cover any Covid-19-related complications and a full itinerary, including proof of hotel bookings. The immediate future of travel is looking a lot less spontaneous as well as more digitised.
In the long-term, travel could become more clean and green, especially since more and more travellers are showing that they want their holidays to be more beneficial – both to the host destination and the planet.
For many, community-based, sustainable and eco-tourism have been phrases synonymous with a PR-driven greenwash aimed to salve the conscience of travellers sipping cocktails on perfectly-manicured beaches. But the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) released research from October 2020 which showed that more than half of consumers believe that the travel industry should reopen in a greener and more sustainable way.
That doesn’t just mean banning single-use plastic and placing a sign on your bed asking for your sheets not to be changed. The traveller of the 2020s wants their holiday to be more meaningful, whether that involves acquiring a new skill, or forging equitable relationships with the host community. Travel Begins at 40 fully supports these kind of measures when they come from the heart rather than the pocket.
But can you support a sustainable and eco-conscious tourism project in the Maldives, if your carbon footprint getting there is contributing to the climate change that will submerge the same islands beneath rising ocean levels within many of our lifetimes?
That, says Professor Geoffrey Lipman, is “like changing the deckchairs on the Titanic”. He is the man behind SUNx Malta, an organisation which established to promote climate-friendly travel. Part of the SUNx programme is a Climate Friendly Travel Ambitions Registry, where organisations can register their carbon plans in order to achieve the Paris Agreement 2050 targets, and last year SUNx Malta launched a diploma in climate-friendly travel which I enrolled in having no idea what to expect.
I discovered that there is a lot of hope within the travel and tourism sector. Many grassroots organisations are offering sustainable tourism products that contribute to the development of the local community. Internationally there is an expanding network of people committed to making the industry carbon-neutral by 2050, through initiatives such as carbon offsetting, sustainable aviation fuels and, by 2035, hopefully the first hydrogen-powered plane.
It might not seem like it at the moment, but there is hope that travel can rebound and in a much more positive direction than it was heading before the pandemic struck. Let us all play our part to ensure that the travel and tourism sector has a clean and green future.
Featuring great travel writing aimed purely at independent-minded travellers over the age of 40, Travel Begins at 40 is a website for people who aren’t content to follow the crowd and want to travel responsibly and imaginatively. In 2021 it launched #SustainableSunday, a series of articles about sustainable and regenerative tourism and we will be sharing a selection of these in Charitable Traveller.