Why tourism desperately needs a new performance metric

Man selling watermelons at a local marketat a local market

Since Covid, platitudes on greening and reinventing tourism have echoed globally across the industry. A general consensus exists among destinations and tourism businesses that the industry must “build back better.”

It’s not a novel debate. It rings that way now because of the pandemic’s brutal impact on travel. But let’s take at face value — once more — this industry-wide clamor to make travel more sustainable. How will tourism determine “building back better” on the other side of recovery? Surely it cannot continue pretending that its success lies in arrival numbers and contributions to gross domestic product?

Yet as vaccine distribution accelerates and consumer confidence rises, governments are already back to projecting visitor numbers and counting tourism jobs recovered, while comparing performance levels to 2019.

“There is still the challenge of rethinking the measurement of tourism,” said Judy Kopher-Gona, founder of Kenya-based Sustainable Travel & Tourism Agenda, noting that “mega data” from international organizations obscures the reality on the ground. “We will not move forward unless these lead organizations change the way they communicate, because they influence governments, and governments influence their destination management organizations.”

Tourism desperately needs new performance metrics if it is to transform into a more climate-smart, socially sustainable and equitable industry across its supply chain. Is it just a matter of acknowledging that and identifying the metrics? Or does the industry need to have a major reckoning on tourism’s problematic post-colonial construct? Can tourism reset without uprooting?

A host of missing metrics 

Pre-Covid, there was a disturbing lack of gumption from the travel industry at large in addressing climate action. There’s more hope since the pandemic, including newly launched Tourism Declares and Future of Tourism initiatives that unite various segments across the industry in finding scalable solutions. Intrepid Travel’s environmental impact specialist, Dr. Susanna Etti, said the most important thing now for stakeholders is having a measurement plan. ”Without quantifying your emissions, it becomes immensely challenging to quantify the effectiveness of your reduction,” Etti said.

But there’s no time left to choose a single climate solution — offsetting, net-zero goals, carbon removal, organic farming for carbon sinks — we need all of them, according to Christina Beckmann, vice president of global strategy at the Adventure Travel Trade Association. Beckmann also leads Tomorrow’s Air, a collective of travelers advocating for carbon removal and scaling up negative emissions technology.

This is an excerpt from an article by Lebawit Lily Girma, originally published by Skift

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