I have been watching the inevitable happen. Counter-intuitively, in very recent times, I have also gasped as the unimaginable took place, even in the face of inevitability. (More about both below.) It’s a tale of two giddies: one a chortle of satisfaction, knowingly but privately I-told-you-so, and the other a forced and nervously aghast giggle-choke of fear.
And yes, both have to do with responsible travel, yesterday’s launch of Responsible Travel Week 2018 and, later in the month, the Impact Travel Alliance’s multi-hub event looking at Building Sustainable Cities Through Travel.
Over the last couple of decades, it’s been comforting to witness a broad and concerned awareness take root of the impact humans make on this planet, in all ways but especially when we travel. I’m not talking only about consumers suddenly demanding mindful travel opportunities – if anything, consumer consciousness has been slow, despite the steady drumbeat about human-driven climate change – but of meaningful, beneficial and dare I say inescapable change across many pillars of the travel industry.
Ever more media outlets are tackling tough issues by showcasing sustainable tourism practices and products. Journalists, bloggers and other content creators are a growing force of commendable mettle, reacting to ethical abuses in the industry and demanding redress. A critical mass of tour operators and hotels is taking the lead in crafting tourism product that hits all the right responsible marks: relying on local and conscientious supply chains, training and hiring from within the immediate marketplace, highlighting experiences, places and institutions that represent the nature and culture of a community, and so much more. And, of course, new associations and alliances are energizing the industry around the value of good tourism. No less than the United Nations set aside 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
The end result has been the anecdotal rising tide that lifts all boats and improves all hopes.
Which brings us to one of the first boats ever in the water. Called Responsible Travel Week (aka RTWeek), it began its 10th annual muster yesterday, and is something of which all players – newcomers and old-timers – should take note as the topics and interests it tackles, once marginal, are increasingly taking center court all year round.
Responsible Tourism Week 2018
Since its inception in 2009, Responsible Tourism Week has fostered the belief that “All travel and tourism can be more beneficial to locals and visitors.” The challenge it then poses is for all of us to “figure out what to do.” In keeping with that dynamic, participation has always been free (with donations accepted) and the hope has been for people to engage through “contributions, comments, upvotes, news of upcoming events, meet-ups and questions.”
The brain child of Planeta, which was developed by Ron Mader in 1994 as a pioneering online reporting tool about conscious travel around the globe, RTWeek hit my radar in 2010, its second year. I wrote about it then and went on to cover it in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. While I was aware of it from 2015-2017, I am happy again this year to shine the spotlight on its ongoing mission to help us “fall in love (again!) with responsible travel.”
What Can You Do During RTWeek 2018?
Follow #RTWeek18 and tune in to the Facebook event page to learn about topics of interest, opportunities for collaboration.
Also, here’s a helpful visual!
Building Sustainable Cities Through Travel
Inspired by UN Global Development Goal 11, local events will take place on February 27 in Chicago, Marrakech, NYC, Toronto and Tucson, with further activations on February 28 in Austin and March 1 in Kathmandu, to highlight the best of innovation in their cities.
In New York City, the event will highlight hidden gems that are innovative examples of sustainability in the city; in Toronto, the team has put together a video challenge; in Kathmandu, the team will focus on engaging youth to discuss an integrated practical approach to sustainable tourism in Nepal; in Austin, the team will lead a tour and talk at the new library in the city, and more.
Impact Travel Alliance is a global community aimed at helping to improve the world through tourism. Its goal is to reshape the narrative around sustainable tourism, and help consumers understand that sustainability can be applied to any type of travel.
Hope Lost (Not Quite)
Musters like RTWeek and the ITA’s multi-hub event are more important than ever. The tides are indeed rising (and lifting all boats), but not always in the ways we like. Ocean waters are rising. So are global average temperatures. And local tempers in places all around the globe where “overtourism” has negatively affected quality of life and quality of visit.
At a time of improved understanding of how to mitigate the harmful effects of human travel on earth, governments and businesses bafflingly continue to measure and celebrate the gross numbers of travelers crossing international borders – now more than a billion per year since 2012 – rather than analyze and improve the systems in place that could manage so much traffic and perhaps even turn it into a powerful force for good. Sure, there have been major efforts by large players to tap into that zeitgeist, but none that have made any serious systemic impact. Yet.
Add to that the ongoing plunder being orchestrated by newly empowered pro-corporate, anti-science political forces, particularly in the U.S. (but hardly limited to it), and the rising tides are more like a brutal bath of ice water gumming up the machinery of earth- and people-sensitive progress.
In the face of such powerful headwinds, it can be hard to cling to hope. We do have critical tentpoles in place, such as the Paris Climate Agreement (no matter what absurd position the U.S. government takes), but there is still a whole lot of canvas blowing around.
And so gatherings of thinkers, transfers of skills, the sharing of best practices and the cross-promotion of ongoing efforts to build more powerful mechanisms and structures must continue.
That is the value of RTWeek and the Impact Travel Alliance multi-hub events.
Please think about adding your energy and knowledge to any and all efforts to understand and reverse the damaging impacts of travel. We can fall in love (again!) with responsible travel!