From harnessing technology to creating sustainability tourism 'ambassadors', governments and thought leaders around the world are re-examining how the world's population explores planet Earth and all it has to offer, as discussed at the Sustainable Tourism Strategies Session, part of the Dubai World Expo 2020 Travel and Connectivity Business Forum under the People and Planet Programme.
Several experts shared tried and tested approaches and plans for balancing physical travel and environmental and social impact. A common thread was that community integration and cross-sector collaboration are imperative to make travel and tourism more sustainable.
Speaking on behalf of the second most tourism-dependent nation in the world, Sherin Francis, chief secretary of Seychelles Tourism, said their strategy focuses on being transformative: "Our journey towards greater sustainability takes on a different meaning, as it involves the survival of the nation. You don't have many options when you are threatened by climate change, so continuous education with our partners has been key... and our vision is to use travel as a powerful tool for positive awareness.
Through a partnership with Global Impact Network, visitors to the Seychelles can become sustainability ambassadors during their travels, measuring and sharing their positive impacts. The country has a number of initiatives and programmes focused on sustainability, including the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label (SSTL), which aims to incorporate sustainability practices into hotels' business operations to safeguard Seychelles' biodiversity and culture. SSTL has seen hotels encourage guests to skip the gym and participate in the nation's traditional dance or offer sustainable meals that use only locally sourced ingredients.
Meanwhile, Bhutan offers a high-value, low-volume tourism policy. In addition to visas, the country requires all holidays to be booked through a Bhutanese tour operator or one of its international partners, with a dedicated sustainable development fee included that directly funds the government's sustainable development initiatives.
Dorji Dhradul, Director General of the Bhutan Tourism Board, explained: "The heart and soul of this high-value, low-volume tourism policy is that we promote tourism in Bhutan while safeguarding its environmental, cultural, social and economic sustainability... and when combined with the development philosophy of gross national happiness, it offers a holistic experience for visitors with income for the people and the country, avoiding over-exploitation and allowing visitors to connect more deeply with themselves and nature. Tourism policy has always gone beyond numbers, rather finding the middle ground, and we hope that our model can play an important role in the world of sustainable tourism".
Luis Araújo, President of the European Travel Commission, Portugal, said: "We believe in tourism as a force for the good of our country and for the well-being of our people. We launched a plan that would reduce our carbon footprint, where all activity would have to meet the new demands of preserving the social and cultural authenticity of our communities, protecting biodiversity, increasing business profits... and has to focus on the 17 Sustainable Development set of goals".
Portugal, which aims to have 90% of its hotel, restaurant, car rental and travel agency business with waste management, energy and water efficiency measures, is now looking to redefine tourism and travel standards. For example, legislation is being adapted so that hotels seeking five-star ratings must have implemented sustainability principles as well as luxury services and features.
The audience also heard about new tourism economies and developed tourism economies whose strategies mirrored each other.
Nadjati Soidiki, CEO of the National Investment Promotion Agency, Comoros, described how the Indian Ocean country is building its tourism offer through investments in new ecotourism projects, while ensuring that nearby communities can continue to develop their artisanal and agricultural practices and training that supports and is part of the tourism sector.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica, where renewable energies power 99% of the country's electricity and where more than half of the national territory is covered by forests, is at a stage of stability and maturity. Alberto López Cháves, general manager of the Costa Rican Tourism Institute and head of the Tourism Qualification Standards Committee, said the nation is now focused not only on protecting the environment, but on making all processes in tourism fully sustainable, including improving the quality of life of communities around tourism projects.
Vincas Jurgutis, Deputy Minister of Economy and Innovation of Lithuania, which is Europe's largest fintech hub and a leader in mobility and ridesharing, described how the country is applying its technological expertise to the tourism industry to create a 'global sandbox', saying: "Lithuania has been hit hard by the COVID pandemic, and we must ensure sustainable recovery, growth and resilience. We have only two natural resources: fresh water and human intelligence, and we rely on the latter to find a solution. We realise that things will never be the same again, but that doesn't mean they have to be worse; they can even be better.... We are opening up our travel industry data when it comes to tourism heatmaps, infrastructure and any information needed for businesses to develop their ideas and become more resilient... We don't believe strongly in global competition, but in global co-creation. We can create the future we want together.
The Expo 2020 Travel and Connectivity Week addressed essential topics such as how to balance the impact of our expanding digital world with our physical reality, and changing direction to redesign mobility for more connected and inclusive societies.
Text, photos and video: Expo Dubai 2020.