“Flood the world with hope, optimism and action” – that is the mission statement of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Held each year on 22 April, the initiative acknowledges the importance of environmental protection. Driven online by the Covid-19 pandemic, its half-century anniversary feels all the more poignant.
Since travel restrictions were put in place across the globe, there has been a noticeable reduction in some air pollutants as a result of the drop in traffic. In a few short months, the world has gone from debating overtourism, to no tourism, as nations have closed their borders to focus on their citizens’ health and safety.
However, the effect on the tourism industry has been profound, with millions of jobs lost since the world stopped travelling. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has called for a co-ordinated approach to the industry’s recovery, and is similarly emphasising the need for hope, optimism and action.
This week, it launched the #TogetherInTravel campaign, in a bid to galvanise support and keep wanderlust alive from home. The WTTC is inviting travellers to share their holiday memories on social media using the TogetherInTravel hashtag – thousands of images so far have included Machu Picchu, Cappadocia, Miami, Nova Scotia, the Netherlands, Iran, the Scottish Highlands and Rajasthan. It is hoped that the momentum will contribute towards the recovery of an industry in peril, by offering an opportunity to daydream from home.
Speaking to i, WTTC President and CEO Gloria Guevara emphasised the human scale of the crisis: “one out of four jobs created last year were in our sector. It is not just big corporations, a lot of those jobs empower women.” The campaign is reinforcing the optimism that would-be-holidaymakers can continue dreaming about travel while they wait for restrictions to be lifted.
Guevara believes that the campaign has the power to help rebuild communities and reduce poverty and that it is only now that the industry is on its knees that we are seeing its value. When asked whether the slow-down was offering relief to over-touristed destinations, she countered that it is these destinations that rely on tourism most and are consequently suffering the impact and that “the issues they faced were largely due to a lack of planning and engagement with communities.” Her sentiment is that recovery should see a move from public-private partnerships to public-private and community partnerships to address these concerns, with a sharp focus on destination stewardship.
She also posed the question about the effect that a reduction in tourist numbers is having on conservation: “are we going to see animals killed and trees felled in the absence of sustainable tourism?”
Ultimately, this is a crisis the world – and the travel industry – was unprepared for. The WTTC last year published a report on crisis preparedness and the importance of governments collaborating with the private sector for the safety and security of travellers, communities and destinations. Guevara feels that because we were not ready for Covid-19, the reaction has tended towards isolation: “I don’t see governments sharing information, I see nations trying to survive, but not coordinating, and that is crucial.”
Ultimately, it is coordination that the #TogetherInTravel campaign is reinforcing – that travel connects us and while borders have been reinforced by the pandemic, travel has the ability to transcend divisions. As the campaign’s video states, “when we have to stay apart, travel can bring us closer”. And as the anniversary of Earth Day reinforces, we have an opportunity to stop and consider how our travel choices affect the planet – good and bad – and to travel more consciously when we are able to again.