Being my first time living in Europe, my heart was full of excitement to experience everything this part of the world has to offer. As soon as school started, however, I found myself travelling near and far every other weekend. My desire for adventure came to a halt when I saw the news that France had taken steps to ban short haul domestic flights. This quickly reminded me of my trip to Iceland.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go on exchange to Iceland and learn how this small island has been tapping into their natural resources and living in symbiosis with their environment. I was standing atop of the melting Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland when my professor explained to me that every year he returned, the glacier retreated further and further. Between 1973 to 2018, Vatnajökull has retreated more than 400 km2. It was at that moment, I realised the beauty this world has to offer is quickly disappearing. Not only was I inspired to explore far and near, I also felt a strong urge to rethink the way we travel and transform the tourism industry into one that is environmentally and socially conscious rather than consumerist and exploitative.
The good news is, travellers are increasingly conscious of their environmental impact and are actively looking to reduce it. A study from Statista projected that the ecotourism sector will grow from 181.1 billion USD in 2019 to 33.8 billion USD by 2027. However, 37% of sustainable travellers reported one of their biggest challenges is to minimise their environmental footprint.
In a recent discussion with Professor Eduardo Escobedo, who is a visiting professor at EADA, he pointed out that there is a dire skills gap in the tourism and hospitality industry. “Tourism industry is still at its infancy on sustainability, millennials have a higher level of consciousness on travelling more sustainably, but the key stakeholders in the industry are not ready to talk about a new business paradigm,” he commented. Whilst the demand for sustainable travelling is growing, the tourism and hospitality industry have yet to catch up with market needs.
Escobedo added that there needs to be a development of tools to understand the scope of impact from the tourism industry. When we consider the tourism industry, the main sectors that are involved are transportation, hotels and tour operators. A key player in this industry, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, have published criterias for hotels that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. They also operate by providing certifications to sustainable hotels, tour groups and destinations. However, I am apprehensive to trust the validity of such certifications, as the performance indicators are limited to qualitative measures only.
Currently, the Science Based Targets initiative have identified aviation, power, and buildings as sectors which they would publish guidance on. However, the guidance is still under development, and would require collaborative efforts from legislators at a country and regional level to reduce the sector’s environmental impact. From a legislation perspective, the tourism industry needs to make greater strides to define the scope and quantitative measures to reduce their environmental impact.
As a frequent traveller myself, the stark reality has not deterred my urge to explore new destinations. During COVID-19, I had the opportunity to stay in a yoga ashram for two months in British Columbia, Canada. I served as a karma yogi and worked in all parts of the retreat, which was my first time truly experiencing slow living and community living. The experience illuminated to me that the underlying value that drives us to travel is to expand our horizons. In conjunction with self development, travelling sustainably means adding value to our own lives through experiential learning and reflection, but also through community building and making a positive difference to local communities. We can see this reflected in the fact that millennials are increasingly starting to value personalised and unique experiences, building strong relationships, taking in awe-inspiring views, making a positive impact on the community. Even though the tourism industry is not transitioning to sustainability fast enough, travellers are able to make more ethical choices to reduce our carbon footprint.
Participant of Master in Sustainable Business & Innovation, class of 2023
Nicole is an outspoken, analytical and driven ESG professional pursuing a Master in Sustainable Business and Innovation. She graduated with a Bachelor's in Environment and Sustainability at UBC in 2019. She is passionate and engaged in developments regarding sustainable economic growth, environmentalism in policy making, the race to Net Zero and mobilizing systemic change. Outside of her professional pursuits, Nicole is a recently 500-hour certified yoga teacher. In her free time, she enjoys roller skating, hiking and attending small music events.