The $1.2 trillion travel industry, which moves more than a
billion international travelers around the globe each year, has both the
opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to cleaner, greener and more
respectful travel practices, according to the United Nations World Tourism
And with that in mind, for 2017 the organization has
launched a yearlong "Travel. Enjoy. Respect." campaign aimed at
educating travelers about how to reduce their environmental impact.
"Global tourism is really big business ... but
sustainable tourism still only represents a small fraction of the global
industry," said Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the UNWTO, which
declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
According to the UNWTO, tourism generates an estimated 5% of
global greenhouse gas emissions, and tourists consume much more water while on
vacation than they do at home. With the number of global tourists expected to
reach 1.6 billion by 2020, issues such as waste generation at resorts and on
cruise ships, overfishing on coral reefs to feed visitors and the impact of the
ballooning global travel industry on local cultures is cause for concern, the
Thus the UNWTO is working to inspire a sea change in the
travel industry, a message that appears to be resonating with some travel
companies that have responded by committing to changing the way they do
"We've definitely, over the last 20 months, shifted our
business mindset from short-term financial results to a much longer-term
perspective focused on people and the planet," said James Thornton, the
newly tapped CEO of global tour operator Intrepid Group. "But to really
make a material difference we require scale, which means we will need to grow.
So I honestly believe that the growth and purpose are really indelibly linked.
Those two goals of growth and purpose beyond profit over the last 20 months
have definitely shown us that having a purpose beyond profit can actually be
Canadian tour operator G Adventures was motivated by the
UNWTO's year of sustainable tourism to develop an initiative aimed at inspiring
agents and their clients to use travel as a force for global good.
At the end of 2016, the company launched a search for six "Ambassadors
of Change" to be selected from travel sellers who submitted applications
about their ideas for sustainable travel solutions. For example, the agents
were asked, "When it comes to travel and tourism and its potential to make
our world better, what big change would you most want to see and why?"
G Adventures received more than 350 applications, from which
they ultimately selected the seven ambassadors. They ranged from Sally Black,
founder of VacationKids in Pennsylvania, who is passionate about family travel
and education for children around the world, to Myrna Arroyo, a certified
sommelier and adviser with Largay Travel in Baton Rouge, La., who said she
believes in providing opportunities to experience the culture of a place
through its culinary traditions.
In their role as ambassadors, the travel advisers are being
asked to support G Adventures in its participation in the U.N.'s sustainable
tourism campaign, to be involved in the launch of a forthcoming "Travel
Better" online learning platform that G Adventures is developing, and to
promote greater awareness of the benefits of sustainable travel, including
through social enterprise projects that the tour company supports and
incorporates in its tours.
Collette, which has a long history of company philanthropy,
is now working to take those efforts a step further with a foray into what it
calls "impact travel," according to Nicole Diebold, senior manager of
corporate giving at Collette.
Last year, the company hosted a trip to Ecuador that offered
travelers the opportunity not only to engage with local communities but also to
contribute and offer assistance through gardening projects and other volunteer
This year, Collette will lead a volunteer-oriented tour in
South Africa, during which travelers will help restore preschools and donate "hippo
rollers," water transporting tools that can carry up to 20 gallons of
water. The plan is to have three such trips next year, including to Ecuador and
South Africa, plus a third to a yet-to-be-determined destination.
The UNWTO's goals for the International Year of Sustainable
Tourism for Development fall into five key areas: inclusive and sustainable
economic growth; employment and poverty reduction; resource management,
environmental protection and climate change; cultural values, diversity and
heritage; and mutual understanding, peace and security.