It seems that everyone is talking about overtourism in Europe lately, and with good reason. Inundating hot-spot destinations with hordes of tourists is not only frustrating for locals, but it also degrades the experience for visitors.
Gavin Tollman, CEO of Trafalgar, points out another side effect of mass travel that is increasingly on the radar of today's travelers and across the industry itself: sustainability.
In fact, according to the most recent Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report, which surveyed more than 12,000 travelers in 12 countries, 87 percent of all travelers said they want to travel sustainably.
The question is, what does travel sustainably actually mean?
"We've defined three crucial pillars that need to work together to ensure the sustainable future of tourism supporting people, places and our planet," Tollman said, adding that the company's JoinTrafalgar environmental initiative has been evolving over the past decade.
Under what he calls the "planet pillar," the company takes a multipronged approach.
"In our offices, this includes the elimination of single-use plastics worldwide, and outside the office, we offer e-documentation options to our guests, and we plant a tree for each guest that chooses e-docs.
"We also give back to the planet on behalf of our agent partners, donating trees and inviting our partners to join us for beach cleanups in many of our regions."
To truly make an impact, though, Trafalgar also focuses on "people" by working to preserve cultural heritage and "places" by helping local communities realize the economic benefits of tourism.
In Europe, for example, the company joined with the National Trust to purchase the remaining nearly mile-long stretch of the White Cliffs of Dover, England, to protect the natural habitat as a landmark for future generations.
Trafalgar supported the National Trust in building a sustainable visitors center at the Giant's Causeway, a Unesco World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland, after a devastating fire.
The company also helped preserve the art of hand-weaving workshops at Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti in Perugia, Italy. The goal of the initiative, which included establishing educational tools for spreading the tradition of Jacquard loom weaving and building e-commerce capabilities, was to provide a stable source of income for the community-based cooperative by bringing Trafalgar travelers to the studio.
"Since the start of our work with the Laboratorio, they have seen the number of visitors triple in just a few years, providing them with a new stream of income," Tollman said.
In Salzburg, Austria, Trafalgar guests not only can stay in the Schloss Leopoldskron, but the company has contributed to the renovation efforts of the palace, which served as locations for "The Sound of Music" film, "ensuring it remains a protected national historical monument for the city of Salzburg and the surrounding areas," he said.
Finally, across Europe and globally, Trafalgar offers Be My Guest immersive local experiences that include hosting travelers for meals in local homes.
The idea behind the program is to help "sustain local communities and traditions by ensuring that the people and places we visit remain thriving, healthy and vibrant far into the future," Tollman said, adding that the majority of Be My Guest experiences take place outside of major cities in smaller communities.
Overall, the increase in environmental and cultural awareness makes sense, even if you leave altruism aside. Like the goose with the golden egg, if travel ultimately destroys the very destinations we promote, however unwittingly, the future for the industry is clearly in peril.
"Through our JoinTrafalgar initiatives, we invite customers, our trade partners, our internal team and anyone associated with our business to join our movement," Tollman said.
Of course, he isn't saying that Trafalgar holds a monopoly on environmental awareness, but he does encourage travel advisors to choose the companies they work with mindfully.
"Be conscious and become educated about suppliers who are truly engaged in sustainable tourism and the conservation effort. Knowledge is power, and being able to sell brands that offer something different and make a true difference is crucial."