Virtuoso's plan to support sustainable tourism

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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

With concerns growing about overtourism, industry leaders have been increasing their focus on sustainable business practices that aim to protect the environment, local people and cultural treasures.

To advance that cause, Virtuoso last week release a white paper, "Sustainable Tourism: From Trend to Transformative Movement," to amplify the success of early adopters in this movement and to promote sustainable practices in travel planning.

The challenge before the travel industry is real, the paper declared. It said that in 2015, there were 1.2 billion international tourism arrivals, and billions more domestic tourists. Those numbers are expected to nearly double by 2030, prompting former World Tourism Organization secretary general Taleb Rifai to ask, "Will tourism bring us one billion opportunities to make the world a better place, or one billion disasters?" 

Virtuoso said that question, which was posed as the United Nations named last year the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, was the impetus for Virtuoso last fall to convene a summit of travel advisers and partners who have been leading the sustainability movement, to figure out ways to better promote responsible tourism.

The paper outlines Virtuoso's plan to advance this goal through new programs focused on preferred partners, member advisers and consumers.

For Virtuoso's partners, it calls for creation of a database of their sustainability success stories and best practice that would be easily available for Virtuoso-affiliated travel advisers to use in crafting itineraries for trips that give back to local people and the planet.

For advisers, it proposes increasing sustainable tourism awareness and training; establishing an interest group for Virtuoso travel advisers and partners; and creating a sustainability specialist designation.

For consumers, it calls for more education and promotion of sustainable tourism, as well as making it easier for them to find agents and travel partners committed to responsible travel.

At the summit, travel suppliers highlighted sustainability efforts in three areas: environmentally friendly practices, protection of cultural and natural heritage and social and economic benefits to local people.

Participants included the Brando in French Polynesia, which runs on 100% renewable energy; the Travel Corporation, whose Uniworld division pioneered the criteria for environmentally friendly river cruising; Ted Turner Expeditions, which is restoring wilderness across more than 1 million acres in New Mexico; and Aqua Expeditions, whose ships' doctors deliver medical supplies and health care to remote Amazon villages during port calls.

Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch said he believed Virtuoso's role is "to be a catalyst in the travel industry, helping to drive positive action for sustainable tourism, and shining a light on Virtuoso partners and member who are leading the way."

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