By Dr. Freeda Maria
2022 looked promising as people were contemplating little respite, to travel and see some normalcy, with fingers crossed!
But to dire dismay, the news of the third wave of Omicron, the tourism industry will probably have to wait for a comeback like the pre-pandemic times. What everyone is left with is an obvious choice to undertake conscious travel; options that throw good sustainability standards.
The World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC) reported that in 2020 a total of 62 million jobs were lost, representing a drop of 18.5% and leaving just 272 million (334 million in 2019) employed across the Tourism sector globally. WTTC also confirmed that Domestic visitor spending decreased by 45%, while international visitor spending went down by 69.4%.
From dismal statistics that were being strewn, there was still hope for the Travel, Tourism and Hospitality (TTH) business, for the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, (MoT, GoI), had come out with schemes that had one of the best intentions of quality tourism promotion; besides in-bound, the focus was on Domestic Tourism.
To boost domestic Travels, the Government had introduced some of the finest of programs, viz., Dekho Apna Desh, Swadesh Darshan Scheme, Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD) under the Incredible India 2.0 campaign; which not only focused on ‘footfalls’, but spoke of enhancing tourist experience and employment opportunities in a sustainable fashion. These programs had come into existence by 2019 and the Indian TTH eco-system was looking for a phenomenal opportunity when Covid-19 struck.
Moreover, the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) Report of 2019 had ranked India at 34th Position (out of 136 countries) (Up from 40th position in 2017). “India showed the greatest percentage improvement to its overall TTCI score, which has helped it become the only lower-middle-income country in the top 35,” the report said and lauded its natural and cultural assets and price competitiveness.
From a sub-regional perspective, the nation (India) has better air infrastructure (33rd) and ground and port infrastructure (28th), international openness (51st) and natural (14th) and cultural resources (8th). This meant, that India was in a phase of a phenomenal increase in the number of visitors both domestic and international. With more visitors relying on sustainable tourism products for visitations. Referring to the findings of the research conducted by booking.com, 56% of the visitors agreed to the fact that they will seek out more rural, off the beaten-track experiences to immerse themselves into the outdoors. The nuance of sustainable tourism would be cherished and will become the need of the hour.
Many states in India are doling out sustainable tourism options viz., states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, in no order of ranking or importance; who have to be leveraged at the State Administration level.
Gujarat Tourism has gone a step forward to usher in Global certifications and accreditations that will further the cause of Global visitors by encouraging the Tour Operators to get certified under the GSTC norms through the 2021-25 Tourism Policy. This will ensure a thought process change in the way Tour Operators, Hotels and Tourists, will become Ambassadors of Sustainable Tourism promotion. The draft sustainable tourism roadmap of the ministry of tourism has clear mandates to adopt to the GSTC Criteria. The Strategy is yet to see the light of the day.
A recent survey by booking.com shows that 83% of the travellers are to make sustainable travel a priority in the future and over half the global travellers (53%) acknowledged the desire to travel more sustainably as a direct result of Coronavirus. For instance, the TUI group shows a preference for GSTC certified hotels – 9.2 million TUI customers stayed in hotels certified to a GSTC-Recognized standard (81% of TUI’s Hotels) in 2018. Online Travel Agencies (OTA) are developing plans to provide consumers with indicators in search results of certified hotels.
It comes with great respite; an official working group has been launched by GSTC (Global Sustainable Tourism Council) to augment the functions of Globally agreed on principles of sustainability in the Indian subcontinent. Global Sustainable Tourism Council was initiated by the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation), and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), USA. It provides for global standards for sustainable travel and tourism; as well as providing international accreditation for sustainable tourism Certification Bodies.
This apart, the industry players and giants in the sustainability business have made large promises, as major companies set more aggressive targets around metrics like carbon emissions, water, and waste. The year that went by saw great ideas emerging out of industry leaders and governments to go past the pandemic and show resilience. Concepts like travel bubbles, net-zero models, staycations, transformative and regenerative tourism, tourism for communities and circular economy, sustainable gastronomy, decarbonising: all in the context of sustainable travel were coined and spoken of.
Governments were chalking out agendas and plan to tackle this grave situation, considering the employment loss. Some notable initiatives that are worth a mention are the Paris agreement climate emergency and sustainable tourism Agenda, Turismo de Portugal launched Tourism Sustainability Plan 2020-2023, the Swisstainable scheme launched by Switzerland, Utah and its Red Emerald Strategic Plan.
On 9 November 2021, at the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow (COP26), UNEP and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) launched ‘A Net Zero Roadmap for Travel and Tourism’ – an ambitious plan for the tourism industry to reach net-zero by 2050. The new roadmap sets targets and benchmarks for the travel industry and offers practical recommendations for businesses on how they can achieve their net-zero targets. This leads the tourism, travel and hospitality businesses to work towards sustainable certifications, ecolabeling and even self-certifications in many a case; thence, keeping the businesses in tune with Global norms.
Moving away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources could greatly reduce tourism-related emissions. Hotels could and will usher in measures to improve energy efficiency, while new ones will have to be built using sustainable design practices. Airlines can improve existing aircraft technology by retrofitting and reducing weight, which increases fuel efficiency and lowers emissions. The cruise industry can reduce emissions by upgrading existing ships (through HVAC and lighting upgrades) and designing new ships to maximise energy efficiency.
“Climate action needs a dramatic step-up if we are to have a shot at limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C,” said Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of UNEP. “The travel and tourism sector has a big stake in decarbonization because a destroyed planet serves no one’s purpose.” The tourism sector has a widespread economic impact. Its revival and longevity will be critical to ensure its continued contribution to livelihoods and economies – but only if it can be made sustainable.
(The Author is Consulting Editor- Sustainable Tourism with Conscious Carma and is a Member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s India Working Group)