Full Webinar Transcript: Sustainable Travel in a Post-COVID World

by | Oct 5, 2022

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JourneyWoman Webinar to empower women passionate about sustainable travel from September 9, 2022

By JourneyWoman

This is a full transcript of a webinar held on September 9, 2022 with Carolyn Ray, JourneyWoman, Anna Pollock, Founder, Conscious Travel, Norie Quintos, National Geographic and Shannon Guihan, The Travel Corporation. More details and bios and listed here.

So just while we’re waiting, for those of you I haven’t met, I’m Carolyn Ray, the CEO and editor at JourneyWoman. This session is being recorded and it will be available on our YouTube channel afterwards. It’s also going to be transcribed. So please mute when I come into the call and – until the Q&A so that everyone can be heard. And while we’re waiting for folks to join I’d like to start with a land acknowledgement, which is something that we do at all of our sessions. 

At JourneyWoman, we strive to be a place where all feel welcome. We are committed to creating the safest place possible with the intention of helping to unearth the true value of every person who joins this community. We wish to acknowledge that the land we are standing on today is the traditional territory of many nations. And we wish to acknowledge and thank the first peoples of this territory and other indigenous peoples for sharing this land in order for us to continue our work today. 

I also want to acknowledge the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, a woman who lived a live in service to others, a rare jewel indeed, as I just heard on the TV broadcast. She leaves an enduring legacy of duty and charity that women all around the world will continue to enforce as we strive to make the world a better place. Not to mention, she was mother, a grandmother, a sister and so many other things to her family. So if you’d like to share any thoughts or condolences please do so in the chat. And Anna, as someone based in the UK I certainly invite you to share your thoughts as well. 

Today we’ve got a pretty full agenda. I hope you all can hear me. Am I coming through OK? The Wi-Fi holding up? OK, great. I just wanted to share a little bit about JourneyWoman because I know many of you are new to JourneyWoman. I want to thank you for coming. This month is actually our 28th anniversary. JourneyWoman was started in 1994, and it was started by a woman named Evelyn Hannon, who was arguably the first solo women’s travel writer in the world. She was writing about solo travel for women at a time when most travel writing was being done by men. And over 26 years, so when I took over JourneyWoman in 2019, her approach to travel writing had attracted thousands of women around the world who wanted to learn to travel solo and share their first-hand experiences. 

Evelyn passed away in 2019 and I was invited by her and her family to take over JourneyWoman. We remain in the top 16 travel websites in the world and our mailing list is still growing and I want to thank all the women on this call that have subscribed and invite those of you who haven’t to please subscribe. It’s a great way to show your support for what we’re doing. 

A lot of what we’re talking about today is the role of women in travel. Women make 80 to 85 percent of travel decisions. We comprise two-thirds of all travellers. Our impact is significant, and it goes well beyond our role as travel consumers. We are travel’s greatest influencers and decision-makers, and I believe that we can influence change through our decisions and our actions. 

As we look to the future it’s my hope that we’ll be more intentional in our choices, and that we can have time to learn and question things that we’ve taken for granted for a long time. We can make informed choices to combat over-tourism, climate change and be more ethical in how we engage with animals and wildlife and communities. So I believe women can do anything when we work together. 

We’re going to be launching a global survey in a few days looking at the impact and influence of women, and I invite you to keep an eye out for that so that I can make sure your voice is heard. 

Our event today is sponsored by Trafalgar Tours which is part of the Travel Corporation. I invite you to check out their women-only tours on their website. In two weeks, I’ll be going with sister company Insight Vacations to Italy and the Croatian Coast with Celine Cousteau. You’re welcome to join me, if you’d like to come, and of course we have Shannon here to talk more about what The Travel Corporation is doing to advance sustainable travel. I’m very grateful for their support. 

And I just want to mention it, you are also offered an opportunity to make a donation to the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund which supports projects engaged in the conservation of unique natural and cultural resources of Adventure Travel destinations. If you didn’t have a chance to do this yet, we’ll put the links in the chat so you can make a donation during or after this call, or in a follow-up email. And Norie is going to share some of the work that the ATCF is doing as well. 

So, enough of that. I want to get started and talk about the role of women and travel in a post-COVID world, and one of the questions we’re all asking is how can we help both places and people thrive? Over the last two years we’ve all had an opportunity to become more aware of the positive and negative effects of travel. And we want to travel more sustainably, the question is how.

So in May I had the honour of announcing Anna Pollock, founder of Conscious Travel as the 2022 recipient of the second JourneyWoman Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Women and Travel Awards held in partnership with Wanderful. This award is given in honour of the late Evelyn Hannon, who I mentioned earlier, the founder of JourneyWoman, and recognizes a woman who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to working and making the travel industry better. 

Anna’s unique approach to regenerative tourism, land restoration and shifting status quo thinking on sustainability reminds us that women’s voices are needed to create meaningful change. I’m thrilled that Norie Quintos, contributing editor to National Geographic travel media and former executive editor of National Geographic Traveller. We’ll be introducing Anna. And then we’ll have a quick panel discussion with Anna, Norie, and Shannon Guihan, Chief Sustainability Officer of The Travel Corporation and head of the TreadRight Foundation. In the interest of time, I’m not going to go through everybody’s biographies, but we’ll put the link in the chat so you can check on those later. 

Norie, I’m going to turn it over to you. 

Norie: Thank you so much, Carolyn. I am honoured to introduce this amazing person. She is a seer and a sage who recently has received deserved recognition and accolades, but you know, she spent many years like a voice crying out in the wilderness about the need to completely reimagine tourism. It was lonely work, I’m sure, but little by little her words have taken hold and are taking hold.

Anna Pollock, recipient of the second JourneyWoman Award for Lifetime Achievement

I spent my career in various roles at Nat Geo, as senior editor, executive editor, and editor at large. Pretty much you name it, as well as my consulting role as a freelance editor. So essentially deeply immersed in the world of ecotourism, sustainable tourism, responsible travel before they even became buzzwords. 

I first met Anna in Chiapas in Mexico about 10, 11 years ago. I gave a speech at the Adventure Travel world summit. I can’t even remember what she talked about, but I do remember it was outdoors and it was like day and night, before and after. It somehow connected all the dots. Suddenly everything kind of fell into place and made sense. I was already on a path to – I was already on a path heading in the right direction, but Anna’s words really informed my vision and it helped cement my future course. 

Back then she really was the only one taking these ideas of transformation and regeneration that were being kind of talked about in academic circles and economic terms or even in spiritual terms, but she was the only one applying it to travel and tourism. Everyone else was kind of talking about incremental change, and she was talking about something so radical kind of – you know, the very re-imagination of travel from a commodity to really a life force.

Anna tells it like it is, there’s no greenwashing, there’s no pandering to the industry, and she’s still doing it. You know, in a world of influencers she’s the best kind of influencer there is. She has influenced other influential people like Carolyn, like Shannon here, and so many others, and hopefully like you. Because we all have our sphere of influences – we all have our spheres of influence, and we all can do something to heal this beautiful but fragile world. And it will take all of us. 

So friends, I present to you my mentor, my friend, Anna Pollock. Over to you Anna. 

Anna: Wow. Wow, Norie thank you so much for an amazing introduction. Now I’m really nervous. A little gobsmacked – I think that’s a word still in use. Very, very kind of you. 

And yes it has been a long time, I’ve had the privilege, the good opportunity to work in tourism for – it’ll be next year 50 years, actually. And I started out doing research and strategy and what have you. But gradually over a long period of time, you know, I had the opportunity to often take the bird’s eye view, the big picture view, and that really is – appealed to me because actually I was educated to think – I had a fantastic education in England growing up. But I like to join the dots, I like to see patterns. And so, you know, that’s really what I’ve spent the last few years trying to do is making sense of what’s happening around in the world and then interpreting that and applying some of that into the travel sector. 

So many of the ideas that I do bring are not mine, I wish they were, but they are things that – ideas that I’ve absorbed looking way beyond travel, way beyond tourism. But I keep coming back, as Norie so articulately said, to an appreciation of just how – the potential that tourism has to be a significant change agent. 

And what’s interesting is just when you think about the impact of travel over the last 20 years, how big it seems to have become, and yet at the same time when you look at the proportion of people on the planet that are able to travel, for example, internationally is really quite small. I did look up the statistic the other day but it had a number of zeros and points and now I get muddled. So I’m not going to give it to you, I’ll send it to you. But it’s very small. 

And every one of us that is able to participate in seeing the world and several countries a year actually are part of a really small elite. And so if we can really model good travel behaviour then we can have a big impact. 

So, I’d like just to say not only a thank you to you Norie, but to Carolyn for all of the wonderful things you’ve written about and enabled some of my ideas to get spread, particularly among my fellow women travellers, and also to say how nice it is to see Shannon again and be a panel with you. 

So now I’ve been asked only to speak for 10 minutes, I’ve probably already used up five minutes of that, but bear with me. I thought that instead focusing on the nitty gritty, the practical at the beginning of this, I’d do what I really enjoy doing, and that’s seeing the bigger picture, and really looking at new ways that we can approach this question of, how do we travel well over the next few years? What is the right way to travel? I think that was the question that Carolyn wanted to look at. And because every single trip that we make is unique, is just like ourselves, we’re unique, but the trips we make are all made for different reasons to different places, I thought it would be useful if I could introduce some general principles or ways of thinking that will help you or us when we make our individual choices next time. 

And there’s a reason why my business is actually called Conscious Travel, because I actually think that the context in which we’re having this discussion is one in which we all have to start to wake up. Right? To become very aware of what is happening around us. Understanding what is happening around us, and acknowledging the criticality of become that aware as it were. 

And secondly, acknowledging that each one of us has a responsibility because every single person, every thought, every action that we take does, in fact, matter. It contributes to the whole. You can’t just say, oh, I’m taking time out here. So that is now – scientists are all saying that everything is connected, everything is entangled, everything affects everything else. But the choices that we make have to be conscious choices. We have to be informed choices. We can’t just go on autopilot, for example, because that will simply make things far worse. 

So the second thing I just want to say without getting into any detail is that the challenges that we face right now are far more than climate change. And climate change will come up today and how do we contribute to reducing its impact? It’s a whopping, wicked challenge, as they say. But these challenges, like climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the inequality of wealth distribution, the weakening of democracy that we’re starting to see in some places, they’re all just symptoms of systems that are actually unravelling. And they’re unravelling not just because of failing economics or in some countries a failing political system, they’re unravelling for a much deeper reason, and that’s relevant to our conversation. And that’s because we’ve been, as humans over the last several years, have been persuaded to see ourselves and our relationship with the planet, with other life forms, in a certain way that isn’t accurate, isn’t going to help us anymore.

And I’m going to just spend my 10 minutes trying to get you to start to see what the nature of that change in seeing and understanding and perceiving is, because I think if you get that you’ll have all of the guidance that you’re going to need when you have to make very specific choices. 

So, let me give you an example. Even when we were having our discussion about what we were going to be discussing, that’s Shannon and Norie and Carolyn and myself, there was often reference to this thing called the tourism industry. And it’s very common when you start to talk about the challenges, you talk about industries and systems like education and the automotive industry and the food industry. 

Now the very fact that we do that is an indication of where the problem lies. Because when we do, we inevitably assume that there is some order and structure in those industries that can be controlled or managed by someone with the power and authority to do so, and that’s why we often end up blaming somebody, because we think they have the power and authority to make the changes. 

The probably is, this is a totally inaccurate and false assumption. The world doesn’t work that way. Tourism and hospitality is not an industry. It’s one big colossal network and I think you all know what networks are because you’re doing it all the time. It’s connections of individual people that are doing certain things and in that sense is kind of like an ecosystem, and that word ecosystem is now being used more and more, or it’s like a community, or it’s like a big family. The same could be said of the food system, for example. 

But we’ve been trying to see them as machines, as things we can put boxes and lines and say this affects that, or economic engines. I want you to let go of that way of seeing and instead start to think very organically, very differently. And imagine them instead to be much acting and being much more like, for example, a forest or a field of grass or a swarm of fish, for example. Because every one of these networks are actually natural and alive. They are living systems. No one is in charge. There is no – there are no experts, for example, in a forest running around telling the critters there to – in the soil or the leaves on the tree to do what they do. Every part or every life form in a forest makes its own contribution to the health and appearance. So that’s why I say what you say, think, do, the choices you make will affect the way that tourism evolves and changes. 

It’s not going to come from some expert or some bunch of high-paid consultants – they don’t actually exist in tourism, there are no high-paid consultants, unless it’s McKinsey but that’s an aside. Play along for me just for a minute. I’d like you just to think of, if you have on near you, a forest, just see what it is. What’s it made of? Or if you haven’t got a forest near you maybe you have a garden. What’s in the garden? How do you see that as a living system? And if you haven’t got that then think of a houseplant that you might have. 

And take a little longer and think to yourself, what are the conditions that are needed to ensure that that forest is healthy, that it can thrive? Just you know, just think, you don’t have to write it down. But I think most of us would say, well, the forest needs sunlight, it needs water, it needs soil etcetera, etcetera and so on. But you can start to see what a living system needs. 

So, sorry, I’ve just lost my place, but that will recover.

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Now ecologists tell us that every cell in every plant, every plant and lifeform in that garden or that forest is actually designed to contribute to the health of the whole forest. Making that contribution is not only its purpose, but also its insurance policy. In other words, I have to make sure that the family that I’m part of is healthy and doing well if I want to be healthy. And it’s a core principle of nature that every part must be contributing to the health. 

So that’s the question that we must apply when we’re saying how do we travel well? How in our travelling can we be contributing to the health of this community called tourism or the health of this place that we’re visiting, or even the wellbeing of the person we’re interacting with? 

So maybe to give you a better idea of this I’ll just ask you to think of another system that happens to be failing right now. What many of us are becoming aware that the food system that feeds 7.8 billion on the planet is also a system that’s beginning to fail. And worse still it’s failing in some of the most affluent countries of the world. We see that in our health statistics. Non-communicable diseases like obesity and cancer, health failure are growing like epidemics alongside viral infections. The rate of toxins in water and food is rising. And the nutritious value of what we eat is actually dropping. Land is becoming degraded, and adequate supplies of clean water are failing. 

Now, why is it failing? The food system is failing because many of its members and participants are not caring for the health of the whole. They’re extracting. They’re taking what they need out of it and not putting enough back to ensure its health. So we now know that if we want to have nutritious food we have to have a system that nourishes the soil that’s part of the soil, that’s part of the system. The farmers who grow our food, and the consumers who eat it. In other words, all the participants have to contribute to and benefit to that system. 

So now I’ve given you an idea of another system, come back to travel. Pre-COVID our system was beginning to fail as well. Even though a small proportion of the population were travelling internationally, many destinations that were enjoying a degree of success, think back to places like Venice or Barcelona or Berlin, were really having trouble with that success. There was congestion, there was environmental impact. There were many negative social impacts. The economic benefits were not being shared as well as they could be, and tourism certainly wasn’t paying the true cost associated with its impact. 

So the reason I’m going all this long route is to say that travel wasn’t always nourishing – and I love that word nourishing, it’s more organic – but it wasn’t nourishing the destination, in many cases it wasn’t nourishing the host – think of all those overworked, underpaid people – as well as it wasn’t always nourishing the guest. 

So I hope you like this concept of nourishment. It has so many dimensions, and now we’re beginning to ask the question, success isn’t just about making a profit but it is about contributing to the health and wellbeing of the system we’re part of. So that has many dimensions, economic, it has social, emotional, physical and even spiritual. 

So let’s address this question in that context. I would suggest that in every stage of our trip, and it has these beautiful stages and I love the work that Shannon has done illustrating these different phases of travel. When we start to dream about a destination, then we start to move into planning. We then arrive and have those first impressions and we’re often tired and exhausted, so sometimes they’re somewhat distorted. But we then get a chance to explore and experience the place that we’re visiting and the people we’re visiting. 

And then the next stage in that is we come home. And we start to then share our experiences with others. Every step at every stage in that journey is one in which we can be making conscious choices that basically answer the question, how am I nourishing myself and the others? So I think there are three parties we need to think of. How can you nourish yourself on a trip so that you’re making a trip with the intent of nourishing and growing personally in some way so that you come home healthier physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually so that that trip is really fulfilling. 

But then also ask yourself the question, on a one-on-one basis when you encounter another person, how is my behaviour potentially nourishing that other person? It could be as simple as they received your smile and your word of gratitude. It’s lifted their day. I run a B&B by the way – on the side. And one of the most exciting things is when someone says, oh those scrambled eggs are just amazing. You know, it suddenly just makes all the effort of getting up at 6 in the morning and getting everything worthwhile. It’s not trivial. You know, it’s very important. 

And then the third part is how can we nourish that community that we’re visiting? And by community I don’t just mean the people but also all the other life forms that are there. And that’s the, if you like, the framework. 

So on a practical note I don’t think that we should stop travelling because of emissions alone. We’ll – hopefully we’ll talk about the whole issue around how we can mitigate the effects of our travel. Too many people now are utterly reliant on our travelling. We, the small percentage of people that are privileged to do that. But I do think we can travel more consciously, mindfully, a little less frequently, we can travel a little less far, less often and so on. And we can start to, you know, use different forms of transport. And I’m hoping we’ll get into the nitty gritty because I’ve been too philosophical probably. But I don’t know whether this has been at all helpful, but the reality is, we are a very powerful living dynamic network that can change, can evolve, but it’s really very much up to us individually as to whether that happens. And I’m excited therefore to have this lovely conversation with you and I hope I haven’t gone too long.

A woman traveler with backpack at the airport

According to Anna, sustainable travel starts with evaluating how we travel, how far, and how often.

Thank you, Carolyn. And there’ll be lots of questions and I can get into the nitty gritty then. 

Carolyn: Thank you, Anna. I’m going to expand our screen here a little bit and add Norie and – I guess me too. And Shannon, to this – to our little discussion. So we want to use this as an opportunity to talk about a few things, and also take any questions that you might have. 

I wanted to first start by welcoming Shannon and thanking her for coming today. She is the chief sustainability officer and head of The Travel Corporation, which is a family of 40 travel brands that operate worldwide. It’s an enormous job. She leads the development and implementation of their five-year sustainability strategy and climate action plan. And she also oversees the TreadRight Foundation, the Travel Corporation’s not-for-profit dedicated to supporting projects under the Foundation’s three pillars of planet, people, and wildlife. Thank you Shannon for coming and joining us today. 

Shannon: Thank you for the invitation. I’m in good company. 

Carolyn: We wanted to start with a little bit of a Q&A, and one of the things I’m going to kick us off with, and Anna you talked about this a little bit in your introduction, but who’s responsibility is it to create sustainable change? And I’m not sure who would like to start with an answer to that. But there are many players in this ecosystem or this network. Where does the burden fall?

Anna: Shall I have a go? 

Carolyn: Yeah, have a go. 

Anna: Well I was hoping I was making the point that in a living system where everything is interconnected and interdependent, virtually every individual is where it starts. So nobody can duck this one. OK? 

Now, traditionally we have a tourism industry that has said, we will (missing audio) … practices if we’re convinced that the market wants it. And Shannon I think you’ll agree with that that for years they were saying there’s no market for this green stuff. Right? They don’t care. The tourist just wants to sit by the pool and have another pina colada and so long as we can do that at a price that makes a profit we’re fine. 

The reality is all of the data now is suggesting that the visitor is much more conscious, in fact, I would say the marketplace for change and for responsible behaviour is way ahead of the businesses and it’s way ahead of the politicians particularly. 

So, we now have to really make a point of upping that pressure that this is what we want. So how do you do that? I’ll let the others chime in, but to me let’s start with the traveller. The consumer. We’re a market economy. Surely we have to start putting more and more pressure on the supplier to make those changes. But there are others, as you say, others. Anyway, I’ll stop. I talk too much. 

Shannon: If I may just pop in ever so quickly, I often get asked about the market demand, and the challenges – there’s sufficient data to suggest market intention, there is not a lot of data to support market behaviour, if they’re actually making the purchases. And so while I do believe the market demands it, the business case, if any of you out there are still seeking a business case, that I will use for any business leaders I’m dealing with, is resiliency, and that is that this is necessary, it has become business critical. We’ve obviously known now what the cessation of travel will do to businesses and the industry and those who rely on it and communities. And so my approach is always to equate sustainability with resiliency if we still want to be able to travel, full stop. Then this is business critical. 

Although I also will roll my eyes if I get asked about the business case, if I’m being perfectly honest. But that’s the direction I’ll go in. 

Anna: Yeah, good point.

Norie: And I’d like to say something about the role of travel media, as a member of travel media 

Unfortunately, travel media often asks like a promotional arm of the travel industry. Promoting destinations that advertise and often we loathe to call out the bad actors, especially if they’re advertisers. So I think we need to talk – you know, talk to travel media here, we need to take more seriously the journalism part of travel journalism, and give voice to the voiceless. 

And who are the voiceless? Often times it’s the place itself. You know, nature. This is the character that doesn’t often have a voice. So I do think that – I’m going to call out myself and other travel media here, we need to take this more seriously. And what, you know, does the average traveller do with regards to travel media? Read with a grain of salt. Read things more critically. You know, what can – what is being left unsaid? Who is not being represented? Perhaps the people and the place itself. 

And also what is the tone of the pieces that you see kind of come through your feed? Is it acquisitive? You know, which is all about taking – bad. Or is it inquisitive? Which is all about learning. Good. So I will just leave that there. I think the other point to make is we often in travel media have this bucket list mentality which I think needs to be kicked – let’s kick the bucket on the bucket list mentality. There’s an excessive focus on the bucket list, creating kind of FOMO or YOLO you know, fear of missing out, you only live once, which has definitely contributed to problems in over tourism and rampant consumerism. 

So, when we see that, remember that it’s – that it’s media trying to make you feel that way so we can kind of consciously take a step back and say, OK, I don’t actually have to do what I’m being asked to do. Leave that there. 

Carolyn: Great point. What about the sense of urgency around this. I mean Anna you’ve been doing this your whole career and thinking about new models for tourism and travel, do you feel that, you know, the urgency – we feel it the way we should feel it, or is it still – is there more that we should be thinking about there? 

Anna: Well my personal feeling is that the travel industry is way behind many other sectors right now in terms of really understanding some of the basic principles and practices of sustainability. I think it has been slow, the adoption of things like the sustainable development goals that data suggested we are underperforming in that sense. 

So, you know we are – just the very structure and nature of mass tourism requires, you know, it’s based on our demand for novelty – but it basically is a growth-dependent model that’s being practiced at the moment. The emphasis is very much on numbers. It’s not on net benefit. So for that reason, I think people are very much addicted to a certain way of thinking. I mean name me a destination who’s seriously changed the key performance indicators. They’ll still be expected to produce more visitors next year and recover from the pandemic and exceed pre-2019 numbers. It’s just built into our DNA.

So you know, what we are talking about is fundamental shift in how we measure success, and that I don’t see being really fully understood. I’d be very interested in Shannon and Norie’s position on that too. I haven’t given up but I’m not encouraged as much as I could be. 

I didn’t mean to throw cold water on this.

Shannon: No, that’s okay, I agree, I agree. In fact, when I look for models and best practice when I need them, I don’t look to our sector. I will always look externally for those who are using the SDGs which is important in my workplace, the framework for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the global goals. They are an existing framework and they’re something that is embraced by our sector at a very high level, but not at a meaningful level. They’ll look at the goals and they’ll say, I support zero poverty because I go to XYZ. 

Well, that’s not actually how the goals work. You need to use the framework for the goals, you need to use the targets and measures and implement them in a meaningful capacity for the destinations that you operate in. So no, we’re not sophisticated on that. It’s a real shame. Really. 

Anna: I think the – I’ve been saddened at the way that the concept of regeneration, which is really a very rich concept, I’m not going to discuss it at length, but has just been over-simplified, and the travel media have played a role in that, I think you’d agree Norie, into somehow it’s all up to the traveller to leave a place better than they found it. I mean that’s asking an awful lot of the traveller. I’m asking you on an individual basis to make conscious choices to support activities that are going on that you think will help make that destination a better place. But to expect a traveller to arrive and spend their entire trip wondering how they’re going to improve it, it just doesn’t make sense to me. But that became a very easy soundbite. You know, leave it better than it was. 

If the host, the supply side of the industry were doing the same thing, and taking a real genuine interest in the communities in which they’re located, then that would be fine. But that goes back to your earlier question, where does the responsibility lie? So in some respects I’m saying we’re all responsible, in another way I’m saying at the moment I would like to see more action come from the supply side of the business. 

Norie: I think there are some examples to highlight. I’m thinking of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, which is the result of, you know, many people over many, many years coming together and working on a landmark protection agreement and pioneering an economy around conservation. Now it probably isn’t perfect, but a key part of what makes that work is tourism. And so visitors can participate in protecting the culture of, like, 26 distinct First Nations and then in a swath of rainforest the size of Ireland. 

And so I do think there are some good examples out there – 

Anna: Oh plenty. 

Norie: And then looking at community-led tourism, I think there are many places and tours where the local community not only benefits, but leads and tells a story that they want to tell. And I think there’s some great examples all over the world. 

So I do think there are these points of light really all over the world that we can, if we look for them, look to them as models. But you’re absolutely right, I think there are – it certainly shouldn’t be left just to the traveller because our influence is significant, but it’s certainly not enough. You need to look at the hospitality industry, the travel industry, the airline industry, governments and you know, really it’s going to take all of us. 

Shannon: And I think that’s sort of a good point to bring up, you know, where I sit as an industry player, I do believe the responsibility first and foremost lies with us because we carry and offer – forgive me, I’m sorry. We carry and offer guests to destinations and we are in many cases the first point of content – contact to be able to get perhaps new travellers appreciating what it means to be sustainable if you will, through our operations. 

At the same time you have an industry who’s not as progressed as other sectors when it comes to understanding sustainability, and you have a media who is looking for that soundbite, and I will express great frustration on being asked my thoughts on differences of definitions between regenerative, sustainable, transformative – I don’t care what you call it. I truly don’t. And I will tell anybody that who cares to catch me on top of my milk crate. What is important to me is what you’re doing. And I don’t find – so you have consumers saying, are they practicing regenerative, are they practicing sustainable? I don’t know, I don’t want to feel bad. You have travel trade or the sector that are saying, well I need to find the right word because I want to catch the most media hits. And I want to catch the most – but really what matters is what they’re doing specifically and are they achieving it? And are they telling you about their successes or failures? By they, I mean the sector. 

And I think that that is a little academic. It’s not very sexy sustainability reporting. But it’s critical. Even if a guest just looks to see, do they have measurable time-bound goals and are they telling us how they’re doing on them? And if you can check that box, if that’s as deep as you want to go it already shows a good deal of commitment to transparency and measures. And that goes a long way and that’s what we need to see more of in our sector. It’s really challenging, our industry’s about 70 to 80 percent small to medium size enterprises. They can’t put the resources into measures. But organizations such as mine can and all of our competitors must.

Elderly woman holding corn kernels in her hands. How can we think about regenerative travel?

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Anna: And every place has a destination management organization that could also be helping aggregate that data. 

Shannon: They could but – yeah, sorry. 

Anna: A lot more pressure on the suppliers to be starting to get involved in practical programs where they can demonstrate their caring. Because to me ultimately it comes down to non-technical words. Do you really care about the health of this place or are you just extracting from it? And that’s why I think business ultimately needs to take responsibility because they’re the ones that are – they’re making a living out of it right? You know, you and I are living in a place but someone else is making a living, and tourism is notorious for people arriving with capital and expecting to get a return on capital, but they don’t necessarily put very much back. 

So you take a resort like Cancun, for example, in Mexico, 80 percent of the income leaves Cancun. It doesn’t even stay there. And yet they’ve been subsidized and invested in by the state as well as private sector investors. But most of the money that’s coming is now going out. That’s wrong. That’s a failing system. That doesn’t make sense to me. So one of the questions you could be asking if you’re planning is how can I stay in places that are locally owned and run? And how can I find out where some of the money flows to? Are these – what I’m eating procured locally? Are these souvenirs just been shipped in from China? That kind of thing. 

I mean these are all basic questions. You’ve got a very intelligent audience, so I’ve sort of hesitated to go too much into them. But local ownership and a local sense of identity and pride are really important. And if you find that, you will have a more enjoyable experience anyway because people just want to share.

Carolyn: You’ve segued into our third question which is just some tips – 

Anna: I do that. 

Carolyn: It’s great Anna, it’s great. And I also want to ask Shannon too, because The Travel Corporation does tours and river cruises and all kinds of things, is there anything you would recommend as, you know, something you’re proud of in the portfolio that you think is kind of bringing to life what we’re talking about? 

Shannon: Yes, there is. You know, there was a question earlier about certifications and do they play a role. And I do believe for certain members of the sector they do play a role, destination specific. At the same time guidelines and frameworks around certifications are very valuable. And so what – something that I’m quite proud of is our Make Travel Matter Experiences™ program. So we took an existing framework, the Sustainable Development Goals. We took the target for 11 of those 17 goals and from those targets we created our own criteria for what sustainable quote-unquote tourism experiences are. 

And we developed these set of criteria to really – the purpose was to guide our own internal teams, but it became much more than that. It took on a life of its own. So we now have product and operations teams – forgive the use of the word product, it’s internal, but experience and operations teams who specifically seek out travel experiences that aren’t traditionally on the travel list. They celebrate local communities. They really try and feature what makes a place a good place to live, because at the end of the day if you’re not a good place to live you can’t be a good place to visit, and try and encourage those experiences that support what a place is today and social and environmental justice. So you know, a walking tour of London led by refugees who now have employment because of the tourism sector. 

That’s what tourism is right now. And that’s what it should be. And so now our internal teams, everyone from our sales teams can explain to you what they are and how they play a role in their job. And that to me is deeply satisfying and pretty exciting. It’s really shifted our whole buying pattern. And guests really resonate with it and they appreciate it and they understand what the SDGs are themselves, and we’re able to educate on sustainability without – can it be a bummer? Let’s agree, it can be a bummer. And we still need to deliver that education in a way that makes people feel good. And so when you’re participating in these experiences and learning most people tend to feel good.

Anna: Exactly. 

Carolyn: I know we’ve got a lot of questions in the chat and I want to get to those, but I do want to ask Shannon one question which we talked about which is around carbon offsets. And you know, for many years we’ve heard this is something the traveller can do to kind of offset the impact of our travel. I would love to hear your perspective on this. And I just watched the John Oliver segment, he talked about this too, so I’d love to hear what you think. 

Shannon: It’s heady. It’s a big topic. I will say that our priority first and foremost is a reduction of what we produce through renewable energy, new technology, limit energy use, shifting to electric vehicles, so reductions, reductions, reductions must come first. We are simply producing too much carbon dioxide. 

Now. Some people will find the guilt tax of offsets helps them. There are some really wonderful carbon offset projects, and I don’t think it was fair to lambaste all carbon offset projects because of the co-benefits and biodiversity, community support, employment, engagement, regenerative agriculture, afforestation, etcetera. That said, the market mechanism of selling offsets is certainly flawed. So that makes it a very difficult topic for a lot of people who are time-poor and want to do the right thing to engage, and I can appreciate that, I really can.

So in short, I do think the projects, many of them are very worthy. I prefer nature-based solutions by and large. At The Travel Corporation we do engage in some offsets. We are really shifting away from offsets towards nature-based solutions that might not be accredited just yet, but yet very valuable, such as kelp farming in the northeast through Green Wave and using natural wave action and volcanic [unintelligible 00:54:04] through Project Vesta to increase the [unintelligible 00:54:07] ability of the oceans on carbon. 

It’s all very technical. If in doubt you can – and I encourage you to find and support a local conservation grassroots projects who need your money in the region and who are doing wonderful things.

Carolyn: Thank you. 

Anna: But this – if I can – I agree with you 100 percent on that Shannon, but this is where the supply side of the industry can start to become aware that they’re part of a larger community or a larger system and they can find those projects. You know, we need more of these projects and it should be locally run. The problem with offsetting right now, as you said the other day, is that it has been taken over by the industrial market system. And so crazy things are happening unnecessarily. You know, pine trees are being planted on farmland because they can get – the venture capital companies can get credits. It’s crazy. And now when we lambaste it, as Oliver’s done, you’re just throwing the baby out with the bathwater as well, if I can mix my metaphors. 

So it’s again, it’s about becoming conscious, becoming aware, asking the right questions, and not doing something because everyone else is doing it. 

Shannon: I think it’s focus on the work and appreciate that the carbon offset market started from a good place but like most things – 

Anna: It’s been exploited, you know. Yeah. So I’m with you. It’s the local projects. For example, that’s a good segue, is it not, into – Norie, you know the work that you’re doing with the Adventure Travel Foundation. There are lots of projects there.

View through the airplane window

Shannon would like to see a shift from industrial market carbon offsets to more local grassroots conservation projects

Norie: Yes, yes, that’s actually what we focus on. A lot of them end up being nature-based climate solutions. But it’s not so much that we – you know, it’s connected to the climate change without necessarily being officially a carbon offset. You know, we’re bombarded by so much information, and I don’t want this bombaration, if that’s a word, to stop people from acting. Because I think sometimes it’s like, oh my gosh, is that wrong? 

So I don’t think we should be necessarily caught up in good details. You know, what Anna said, always comes back to me. In the end, we know what we’re supposed to do. We know what makes good travel. We – you know, come from a place of kindness, empathy and wanting to do right. And I think it does boil down to doing your best and doing it. And if – fine something else comes back to tell us, OK, well that – we need to change, then we adapt. But I do think that a lot of this paralysis that we often have comes from this always wanting to do – we want to do the right thing but then there’s so much information that tends to bombard us. 

What I like to do, my hack is to hang out with people like you all who do a lot of this work, and to figure out who the travel companies, the operators, the businesses that are attached to that. And to me you are doing the work for me, and these are the places that I tend to write about. Look at the people in this webinar. Some of them I know are associated with wonderful destinations and wonderful people.  

So that’s my hack because there’s so much out there. 

Carolyn: That’s great. I know we’re getting to the last few minutes here. There are some questions in the chat. I’m just wondering if Norie, Anna, Shannon, is there anything there that you want to tackle specifically that you see there? Because we’ve covered a lot of ground in the last 45 minutes or so.

Anna: I don’t know that I’m wrong here but I feel that as travellers we need to be talking to other travellers and not in a way that sort of forms any judgement, but you know, just start to raise these topics in – you know, we often find ourselves when we’re travelling sitting around a table with people we’ve never met before, and as you get to know them you can always introduce the topic, you know, what have you found really interesting about this – you know, just again, go back to good conversation. 

And so you can just sow seeds in people’s minds that maybe they’re ideas they hadn’t even thought of before. Or have you been to – have you been just down the road? There’s a guy there that’s working with the turtles or – I always have no examples in my head when I start to speak like this. But you know, start to share what you know about good projects in the area. Become an ambassador for them while you’re there with the other guests. Because chances are many people will not have heard of them. You’re already half aware, you’ve read great articles and Norie and so on. And – but the other people are sitting around the breakfast table may be completely clueless and all they can think they have to do is get to the pool again. They’re missing out. Missing out terribly. So why not become a local ambassador while you’re there. 

Shannon: I couldn’t agree more with that. And if could add that the topic of sustainability for many is overwhelming and frightening, and perhaps they know – they, forgive me for generalizing – that this is something that one needs to pay attention to and one needs to move forward on, but are too nervous because they don’t want to appear that they don’t know to ask the question. This is something that we find is coming up a lot. 

And so, you know, I think you and I have discussed this last recently, but there is a – how can we make the topic accessible? Because it isn’t. People’s eyes glaze over. In some cases. Again, gross generalizations. But I think that it’s also a really powerful tool to be able to share with your peers, be it travellers, colleagues, whatnot. What it means for you in your day-to-day life so that you can sort of demystifying living a little more lightly. I think that’s really valuable, especially in the pretty polarized world. 

Carolyn: Yeah, I was just going to say, I’ve had some amazing experiences recently – well yesterday and Moravia, Colombia, which is a city that was built on a garbage dump and what’s being done to transform that area. There’s so much available to us, and I think I would like to see more of the JourneyWoman readers looking for places like that, not following the path of the top 10 this and go find those really unique experiences that are being led by people in the community that will just be the most meaningful things you’ve ever done. It’s incredible. There’s so much out there. 

Norie: And I would add that you don’t really even have to go far. You can have these incredible immersive sustainable experiences even in cities. Some – the cities that you know, there’s some great cities in Europe and in Canada doing amazing work in this area. I see Gillian Chester on the chat here and – Winnipeg, it’s an amazing city in the middle of Canada. She got me to go there in the middle of winter, and it’s one of those places that’s expanding this concept of the season. You know, you don’t have to go just in the high season. It’s expanded that concept of the season. It’s centred so many things on kind of a gathering place for 6,000 years. The forks. And it’s a place where you – you know, they recycle 80 to 90 percent of everything that’s made there. So they’ve really become a model city. 

So in places like that where the infrastructure is there to support visitors, those are wonderful places where your footprint will be very light. 

Anna: There’s a very important point made in our chat. Basically saying that you know, she’s a Filipino brown woman and an immigrant – I’m not quite sure where you live, but there are so many aspects of the travel industry which are extractive and exploitive. I mean let’s be real. The travel industry is in my opinion the velvet glove of globalization. You know. In the old days they sent out missionaries and they did a lot of damage. And now we often send out a lot of tourists who can do equal amount of damage, thinking they’re doing good. You know what I mean? 

So I’m not in any way supporting that at all. I think the more that we can inform ourselves of the history of places and be willing to draw attention to the fact that these places are the end result, in some cases, of very – of huge oppression and exploitation. And show an interest in the reality that people are living. And/or what their parents have been living and their grandparents and so on. That to me is then when we start to connect as human beings. But to gloss it all over and just, you know, have a nice holiday and not want to get involved in those issues is completely contrary to everything I’m trying to talk about in terms of nourishment and reciprocity. 

But I’m very, very pleased that you raised it and that we have to have these conversations. And if you’re unhappy with what I’ve said, please drop me a note and shake my thinking. 

Carolyn: Great. Any last thoughts, Shannon, Norie? 

Shannon: There’s a few advisories and operators who are asking sort of pretty direct tactics, if you will. And I’m pretty black and white and I can talk tactics all day long. We’re out of time. Perhaps find me on LinkedIn and I can share some resources, things that we use for trip planning, ways that you can implement – support regenerative agriculture in a region. Just pop me a note and we’ll chat. 

Carolyn: Yeah. And I want to mention that Trafalgar and Insight and The Travel Corporation are also part of our Women’s Travel Directory, and I know that as part of that you’re one of the larger operators in our directory, it’s mostly small businesses around the world, and your offer to support and help the smaller businesses I think would be very well received. And I know they’d be appreciative of that because we all want to do – learn and do better. So thank you Shannon. 

Norie: And I just would want to say that as – some of the volunteer work that I do as a board member for the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, I want to thank you Carolyn, and to everybody here for the contributions that you are doing on that behalf. I think the ATCF is a great example of how the industry, in this case, the adventure travel and outdoor gear industries and travellers like you and me can partner with grassroots communities in fragile places to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And so with your support we have provided grants in the last five years of more than half a million dollars to 33 organizations in 27 countries.

And aside from the grants themselves, we’re buildings a community so that grant recipients can co-create solutions with each other, and also with travel companies and outdoor gear campaigns so that there’s kind of a maximum impact. And all of this is powered by you. So this is the power and potential for travel. And again thank you Carolyn for making this possible. 

Carolyn: Well thank you all. You’re all my idols and I’m so thrilled that you were able to join today. And again, Anna, this all started because of you. I want to thank you and I look forward to learning from all of you because this is where I want to point JourneyWoman going forward, and I know I have a lot to learn but I invite anyone to reach out to me as well and share ideas or stories or anything at all that I can help with, I’m here to help. So thank you all. Have a lovely weekend wherever you are. 

Shannon: And thank you. It’s been wonderful. 

Anna: It’s really been great. Thanks a lot. 

Norie: Thank you so much. 

Carolyn: Bye everyone.

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