“Change for good” - Cheap words or hard actions?

As travel slowly begins to return, it is important not just to dwell on the negatives that

the pandemic has caused, but to also highlight some of the potential lasting and

positive effects. Whilst at the same time, touching on some issues around potential

opportunism. Greenwashing is likely to grow alongside the changing industry trends,

and therefore awareness of such issues needs to also grow.

What has concerned and interested me most in my year of studies, is identifying

those organisations that say they are contributing to positive change, versus those

that are actively involved (now) in positive change.


The travel industry is one of the largest employers in the world, and pre COVID-19,

was growing at an exponential rate, leaving many disruptions in its wake. It seems

that we needed this pandemic for people to realise the urgent need for the industry

to reset, re-think and “build back better”. Consequently, we have witnessed a rise in

the use of phrases such as; sustainable, ethical, responsible, regenerative,

conscious and purposeful travel.

 Although each of these phrases differs in meaning

in one way or another, the main purpose behind them is not too dissimilar. They

seek, not only to reduce environmental impact, but also increase local economic and

social benefits. All in all, using travel as a positive force of good.


And the good news is that it’s not all words and no action. I have seen many new

initiatives develop over the last year that are driving this new force of good. Many

organisations have committed to offset their carbon emissions and scale back their

waste. However, these should be seen as the bare minimum of change. It is those

organisations that are going further and pushing the boundaries even further that are

the ones that need to be applauded as our true and future industry leaders. We have

seen start-ups that seek to increase local economic benefits, by reducing their

commission rates and handpicking their suppliers to ensure leakage is reduced.

Many organisations have become B-Corp certified. There have even been cases

where destinations have increased their community development initiatives, assisting

community groups, once so dependent on tourism, to diversify, enabling other

streams of income, whilst also building in much-needed resilience against any

additional future shocks.


Alongside this growing trend of sustainable/responsible tourism on the business

side, it can also be felt on the consumer side. Many new studies have identified that

there is a growing consciousness here, with tourists becoming more aware of what

organisations are doing to create positive change. With this change, we will no doubt

see an increase in greenwashing, where organisations overplay and over-report their

positive impacts, with the simple goal of increasing their profitability.

This greenwashing can not only be achieved through marketing, but also through the

use of certification schemes, which again, has been on the rise over the course of

the pandemic. On the whole, these schemes are a force of good, helping to raise

awareness and educate businesses on how to move towards a more sustainable

future. There are however, many cases where these certification organisations do

not have the capacity to check on every member to see whether they are actually

seeking to improve their operations, or merely just using it to increase their

revenues, leaving the members largely alone to live up to these values of their newly

acquired logos.


Now, more than ever, it is vital that organisations are transparent in their reporting of

both their positive and negative impacts. Setting future goals is an effective way to

help improve on their positive impacts, as well as gaining the confidence in asking

difficult questions relating to their suppliers' operations. Overall, the bottom line is to

put the rights of the local communities and the environment in which they live on an

equal footing as their commercial goals, as these two strategies become increasingly


This need for actual change (and not just cheap words or future promises) is now

more pressing than ever. And this change is vital in securing the medium-term

sustainability of both our planet and of the many organisations that help us explore

it’s amazing and varied wonders.

Author: Alice Gill


Alice spent two years working in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia and is

now in her final stages of a Master’s Degree in Tourism Management at the

University of Westminster, London.

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10th September