//The future of sustainable travel

The future of sustainable travel

Before Covid-19, sourcing commendable sustainable tourism products for clients had never been so easy. Here we take a look at a few countries’ sustainable tourism highlights, writes Karl Cushing.

A report by ABTA, published in February, found that sustainable travel concerns are playing an increasing role in booking behaviour. Animal welfare emerges as the major concern for family groups (66 per cent), followed by nature conservation (63 per cent) and the preservation of culture and heritage (61 per cent).

With the range of frameworks for destinations to develop sustainable tourism and the sustainable tourism certifications such as Travelife for Accommodation, there’s a wealth of choice to offer your clients.

Tour operators and travel agents can get further support through ABTA’s Better Places Programme.

Smooth operators
Some of the best practice can be found in the adventure travel sector. Take Chimu Adventures with its Pass It On programme, or G Adventures’ products created under its G for Good banner, or developed with not-for-profit partner Planeterra. 

Others helping ensure tourism benefits local communities include Intrepid Travel. Back in January the company, which has been carbon-neutral since 2010 and aims to become ‘climate positive’ this year, announced a partnership with travel publisher Lonely Planet, launching carbon neutral day- and multi-day Lonely Planet Experiences across 65 countries. 

More mainstream operators making it easier for agents to match clients with sustainable picks include Olympic Holidays. Its future brochures will feature a ‘Green Flame’ symbol flagging properties with solid sustainable credentials, such as Travelife Gold Certified Creta Maris Beach Resort, in Crete, with its zero-waste policy. TUI and Saga are among other firms investing in sustainability and both are engaging with Travelife. 

Airlines embracing the challenge include Finnair. In March, prior to lockdown, the carrier announced plans to halve its carbon emissions by 2025 year-end, switching to more sustainable aviation fuels and investing in new, more efficient aircraft with a view to becoming carbon neutral by 2045 (the airline has since approved changes to its Articles of Association, ensuring that sustainability is written into the core of its businesss).

Standouts among the major hotel players include RIU Hotels & Resorts – an excellent example of a chain that invests heavily in sustainability and opens their doors to external auditors. All of their 98 properties around the world are now Travelife Gold Certified.

South Africa
The country has made great sustainable strides since playing host to the signing of the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism back in 2002. 

The Cape St Francis Resort in Port Elizabeth is now Travelife Gold Certified. Safari lodges such as andBeyond’s Phinda, in KwaZulu-Natal province, enjoy enviable track records in sustainability, while Cheetah Plains (cheetahplains.com), which relies heavily on solar power, is to introduce electric-powered Land Cruisers on its game drives. 

Attractions leading by design include Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary, where an education centre is under development, and Cape Town’s Two Oceans Aquarium which exhibits only local species and has earned praise for its conservation and educational programmes. Both scooped gold in last year’s Africa World Travel Market World Responsible Tourism Awards, along with Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in Western Cape.

Over at South African Tourism current focuses include spreading the benefits of inbound tourism by showcasing ‘hidden gem’ attractions and smaller operators in lesser-visited areas. Another has it overseeing a programme of planting native spekboom plants to offset the carbon footprint of inbound flights. This after the tourism body announced late last year it had switched to using sustainable or recycled promotional materials in the UK market.

Agents pitching trips to the clean living, nature loving Nordic countries can rest assured their clients will be in safe, sustainable hands. Take Finland where the Helsinki’s Think Sustainably initiative helps visitors and suppliers reduce their environmental impact, and the tourism board’s ‘Be more like a Finn’ campaign features among recent efforts to show visitors the merits of the locals’ healthy, responsible approach to life.

Other green capitals include Copenhagen, which has adopted electric buses, solar powered street lighting and renewable energy projects, including a power station run on wood chips, as part of its drive to become carbon neutral by 2025. 

Sweden’s Lidö island, meanwhile, is now more commonly known as Zero Island in light of the tourism project of that name initiated by local energy company Neste. Since launching its ‘Zero Vacations’ offering the island quickly achieved carbon neutral status and now plans to offer Zero Weddings from the summer. 

Accreditation and labelling schemes help agents quickly identify suitable products. A good example is Visit Norway’s website where products are flagged with a tuft of grass symbol, or its Sustainable Destination labelling scheme.

Spanish tourism chiefs are among those who have adopted a taxing solution to greenifying the country’s tourism industry. 

Once tourism begins in earnest again, agents can do their bit by pushing clients towards destinations such as the Balearics, where revenue from the Sustainable Tourism Tax levied on visitors is helping finance eco-tourism projects such as the rehabilitation of Menorca’s Camí de Cavalls trail network and a new series of mountain refuges on Mallorca, such as Ses Figueroles in Escorca.

Prior to Covid-19, Barcelona was wrestling with overtourism. The city has also embraced the taxing of tourists, in part to support local projects and ensure locals receive a larger slice of the revenue that tourism generates. Programmes such as Barcelona as a People City and the Urban Mobility Plan seek to ease the pressure on the city’s heavily-touristed areas, breathing new life into tired old districts such as Sant Martí and Eixample, creating ‘people first’ zones where traffic and parking are restricted – something that other cities may adopt in the age of coronavirus. 

Other Spanish green heroes include El Hierro in the Canary Islands. The island aims to become ‘energy autonomous’ in the next four to eight years.

Costa Rica
As the country’s tourism chiefs will happily tell you, sustainability is not a practice but a way of life in Costa Rica which instituted its trailblazing Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) scheme back in 1997, measuring and rating suppliers according to their sustainable records.

Since then, Costa Rica has made great strides, reversing the earlier pattern of deforestation and creating a true wildlife haven, the country home to around five percent of the world’s known biodiversity. More than a quarter of its landmass enjoys protected status and the country also plays a pivotal role in driving regional projects such as the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor project.

Current government focuses include becoming the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2050 and working towards the goals set out by the United Nations, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Meanwhile, last year saw the UN award the country its highest environmental honour – the UN Champion of the Earth award – in recognition of its efforts towards conservation and combatting climate change.

Local operators such as Cayuga (cayugacollection.com/sustainability/) and lodges such as Kasiiya Papagayo have clearly taken the matter to heart. What’s more, clients can easily get involved in conservation efforts themselves at wildlife rehabilitation centres such as the Sloth Sanctuary near Cahuita, the Jaguar Rescue Centre near Puerto Viejo and Eco Centre Danaus. 

The July 2020 issue of ABTA Magazine is out now. In this issue, we consider the impact of two recent government announcements: the reopening of the hospitality sector and the proposed formation of ‘air bridges’. With these policies likely to encourage Britons to travel domestically and to select European countries, can we finally see the green shoots of recovery? Nathaniel Cramp explores Cornwall’s lesser-known beauty spots; Jenny Southan of Globetrender shares her insights into travel in the age of Covid-19; while, the Jamaican tourism board tell us the story of the country’s reopening. Click on the cover to read the magazine in full.