Image credits: Dino Reichmuth
News Article

Can Travel Become More Sustainable After COVID-19?

By Cas Biekmann | Thu, 04/16/2020 - 15:11

Non-essential travel has been banned in many countries around the world. This has led directly to a tourism drop to almost zero percent in many countries. While the effects are undoubtedly devastating for the industry, there is certainty that the pandemic will pass eventually. One positive benefit has been the perceived improvement in our environment. Will this situation encourage new trends moving forward?

By now, it is a famous headline. Various news agencies, such as The Guardian, reported that dolphins had returned to the waterways of Venice, one of Italy’s most visited cities. Factchecker Snopes put a bit of a damper on this cheerful news when it confirmed that animals such as swans had never truly disappeared in the first place. Furthermore, the dolphins were spotted hundreds of miles away in Sardinia. Regardless of this, even the most fervid cynic would have to admit that Venice’s waterways quite simply look cleaner already. And while dolphins are a part of Sardinia’s fauna, they are indeed appearing more frequently. For the first time in a very long period, humanity can see how nature bounces back when people go into hiding mode for a bit.

While this fake news mostly encouraged internet pranksters to photoshop dinosaurs in local parks, there are more tangible benefits in record. Scientists are providing hard facts: the BBC reported that satellite data clearly shows a decrease in nitrogen dioxide pollution. These lower numbers mark improvements for many European countries such as Italy and even led to a record for clean air in India. Although encouraging, a global health crisis is not a sustainable solution for climate issues. Instead, by adapting how we use resources and travel can make these positive shifts permanent. Researchers at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden (LUCSUS) partnering with the University of British Columbia, argued that three personal choices can be made to reduce our footprint: we must reduce air and car travel and cut down our meat consumption.

Nature Climate Change published a study in 2018 that showed 8 percent of emissions originate from tourist travel. Even though airlines are looking into more sustainable alternatives, these will come too late to reach the Paris Agreements. The BBC interviewed Shannon Stowell, CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. She agrees that large amounts of tourists is a problem for the environment, for which there are solutions. “Overtourism is just another form of overconsumption,” he said. “I'm fine seeing tourism numbers lower overall and the quality of tourism increase, where people understand the destination better and have a positive impact on it versus overcrowding, pollution and wildlife habitat loss – which are all outcomes of too much tourism,” he added.

There are already trends developing that could support an approach based on sustainability and responsibility. Digital tours, for instance, are becoming more commonplace. Examples reported on this website included the Easter-inspired initiative of Jerusalem’s famous Via Dolorosa. Now, The Guardian reported that a 5,000-year-old Egyptian tomb opened its doors for virtual visitors as well. Entry is completely free and there are no waiting lines.

Nonetheless, a large number of countries still rely on tourism for income. In Mexico, tourism constitutes about 8 percent of the GDP. Positive change, however, can still happen if people still travel en masse. All they would have to do is travel more responsibly. Forbes reported yesterday about the rising trend of small, private tours to a variety of destinations. By focusing on the quality of the trip and only allowing smaller groups to enter any given area, a minimal negative footprint is all but guaranteed.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
BBC, The Guardian, National Geographic
Photo by:   Dino Reichmuth
Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst