Sustainability was top of the agenda before Covid-19 arrived and it will now ultimately define its recovery, building a better environment for all

A better, more sustainable travel industry is likely to emerge once Covid-19 disruption recedes. It should be an industry continuously improving through competition. But it should be one that listens more to employees, staff and partners and emphasises local knowledge, a recent hospitality industry webinar highlighted.

This will dovetail with tourist expectations, which seem to have shifted due to the ongoing health crisis. Bidroom CEO Michael Ros said during the I Meet Hotel ‘Sustainability, People, Prosperity and the Environment’ webinar in early Jun-2020 that he feels travel behaviour will change after the pandemic recedes. “Tourists may travel less, but travel better,” he said.

Claudia Lisboa, a technical coordinator at the UNWTO said during the same session that sustainability was best driven by competition in a hospitality sector which should now seize the moment. “We have the opportunity to rebuild and come back better,” she explained.

However, genuine sustainability has to be part of that build back. It is best advanced by competitiveness in the marketplace and taking a holistic approach, according to Christof Burgbacher, managing director of Consulting-Elemterre.

Indeed, society, economy and environment should be centre stage, he suggested during the session. Operators should work with local stakeholders, favour local employment and avoid conflict with the local community. Post-Covid tourism should avoid creating a negative impact, as has been seen in over-touristed places such as Barcelona, Venice and Edinburgh, he explained.

Above all proper sustainability needs hospitality worker engagement. When frontline staff are empowered and engaged they become ambassadors for sustainability. They interact more positively with guests, explained Mr Burgbacher. “Nobody knows a place better than local employees,” he said. This also improves guest satisfaction, as guests like to feel they have a voice and are being heard.

Sustainability remains just as important as it was as we started this easily forgettable year. But, which cities around the world are recognised for delivering sustainable travel options for arrivals? A new ranking from travel agent Tourlane highlights the world’s top cities for a sustainable break and Berlin, Germany and Europe are clear frontrunners on a city, country and continent basis.

Tourlane’s experts curated the ranking based on eight categories: accessibility by train; public transportation; low car ownership; green space; the ratio of locals to tourists; clean air; renewable energy usage and recycling. Here we feature the top ten, but you can see the full listing here: ‘The 50 Best Cities for Sustainable Travel’.

The ‘travel less, travel better’ phrase is now being highlighted more and more when predicting post-Covid-19 travel trends, just like the now pretty accepted ‘new normal’. But, will it become the mantra for future travel? Looking back we saw packed airports, crowded beaches and long queues at popular tourist attractions, but will these now be replaced by socially distanced bubbles and longer socially distanced queues?

“Sustainability must no longer be a niche part of tourism but must be the new norm for every part of our sector,” said World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) general secretary Zurab Pololikashvili when addressing the recovery during last week’s World Environment Day (05-Jun-2020).

The travel industry must remerge from the Covid-19 crisis with sustainability at its heart, the UN’s agency for tourism declares and it has published ‘One Planet Vision for the Responsible Recovery of the Tourism Sector’ document to showcase a vision for a more sustainable future for travel.

It is structured around six lines of action to guide responsible tourism recovery for people, planet and prosperity, namely public health, social inclusion, biodiversity conservation, climate action, circular economy and governance and finance.

A responsible recovery is needed to build back better tourism. “The Covid-19 crisis has emphasised the need to strengthen the resilience of the tourism sector and awakened a sense of unity and interconnectedness among tourism stakeholders,” highlights UNWTO in the report.

“This crisis has highlighted both the fragility of the natural environment and the need to protect it, as well as the intersections of tourism economics, society and the environment like nothing before in history. It represents an opportunity to accelerate sustainable consumption and production patterns and build back better tourism,” it adds.

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