“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
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.