As travel revives, industry leaders must address their sector’s impact on the climate and on local communities. Otherwise, the sector risks attacks from the media and becoming a “poster child of something pretty negative,” says the top boss of tour operator Intrepid.
The travel industry has been riveted by the pandemic. But it risks reputational damage if it reverts to practices that contribute to overtourism, social inequities, and carbon emissions.
“If we follow this line that growth and visitor numbers are the only metrics of success, we’re going to find the tourism industry attacked pretty strongly by the global media,” said James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel. “We definitely need more advocacy. If we don’t do something, tourism is going to become the poster child of something pretty negative.”
Thorton was speaking on Thursday at Design the Future, a Skift online summit. Intrepid, a Melbourne-based tour operator, recorded four years of record top and bottom-line growth through 2019.
“Intrepid doubled its revenues in the four years leading up to Covid,” Thornton said. “Some of that was because of the stance we took on the sustainability agenda, such as removing carbon from our trips.”
Intrepid is hoping to ride a wave of increased consumer interest in environmentally aware travel. In March, investor Genairgy took a minority stake in Intrepid to help the group become a $1 billion adventure travel company by 2025.
Thorton, in his talk with Global Tourism Reporter Lebawit Lily Girma, also said the travel sector needs to win back the trust of many communities. Locals need to be shown that the sector can be a positive ally.
Thornton cited Scotland as a positive role model.
“They’re taking a holistic approach, with measurement of the environmental impact of tourism,” Thornton said. “They’re trying to encourage tourism that has a lighter physical impact and more benefit and money running to local communities.”
This is an article by Sean O’Neill, originally published by Skift.com.