Leaders envision a more Earth-friendly industry, post-Covid

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The veterinary team at Shamwari Private Game Reserve tag a Cape  Buffalo to track the impact of drought on the herd.
The veterinary team at Shamwari Private Game Reserve tag a Cape Buffalo to track the impact of drought on the herd.
Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

As the global pandemic-related travel shutdown drags on with no end in sight, there's also seemingly no end to speculation about what the new normal will look like and what travel trends will emerge.

One thing seems clear, though:  things will never go back to "normal."

And leaders in the sustainable travel movement hope that means more ethical, responsible travel when we all get back out there.

Last week, G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip, the famously vocal critic of mass market and luxury products that focus on amenities over destination, released a minibook, "Unlearn: The Year the Earth Stood Still," advocating for travelers and travel companies to use the travel shutdown as a much-needed reset.

And his counterpart at Intrepid Travel, CEO James Thornton, told me in a recent interview that it would be remiss for companies not to use this opportunity for good.

"It's very important that companies rebuild themselves better, that we emerge from this crisis more responsible and ethical," he said.

While Poon Tip specifically calls out some luxury products, there are certainly many that go above and beyond in supporting conservation, the environment and their communities in spite of all their fabulous amenities.

That commitment was on full display on my last trip before the pandemic with African Travel, which included a three-day stay at the new luxury tented camp at Shamwari Private Game Reserve, one of the largest on South Africa's Eastern Cape.

While the reserve offers several types of luxury accommodations across its seven lodges, its mission for the past 25 years has been to take lands that were decimated by hunters and settlers and restore the historically wildlife-rich area's ecosystem.

In addition to game drives, we spent one morning with the reserve's conservation and veterinary staff, where we learned about their aggressive fight against poachers and toured their wildlife rehabilitation center.

We even got to watch the team tag a Cape buffalo, which they will track to learn more about the impact the area's drought is having on the species.

It's just one example of how much luxury tourism supports conservation in Africa and beyond.
And from Cancun to the Maldives, luxury resorts large and small support everything from sea turtle to manta ray conservation.

Likewise, many travel companies have established foundations, such as the Travel Corporation's Treadright Foundation to support these efforts along with the communities they visit.

It's an effort that gained steam across the luxury sector  after the global financial meltdown in 2008.
But that doesn't mean they can't do more.

From crisis comes societal change, and this pandemic will no doubt cause more people and companies to take a close look at sustainability and social awareness.

As my favorite Facebook meme from the Covid-19 shutdown says, "It's like the Earth sent us all to our rooms to think about what we've done."

Let's not waste the opportunity.

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