By Clare Jenkinson | Head of Sustainability, ABTA
For a future where tourism and destinations thrive, sustainability must be embedded in the recovery
Last October, ABTA launched Tourism for Good, a roadmap for rebuilding travel and tourism. The report explained the need to rebuild a more responsible and resilient tourism industry that benefits all those involved – and provided a framework for collaborative action on the environment, in destinations and communities, on human rights and animal welfare.
At the time, international travel had reopened to some degree. However, a lot has changed since then. We’ve had two more national lockdowns, and new variants have brought additional concerns and restrictions on travel. The pressures on the industry have mounted both for UK travel businesses and overseas destinations.
UK outbound tourism brings huge value including supporting jobs at home and abroad. As many as 526,000 UK jobs were supported by the UK travel industry and 2.7 million worldwide before the pandemic. The continued disruption to travel and tourism has brought this value into even starker relief. Like travel companies in the UK – many destinations won’t have received any income from tourism for over 12 months now.
The World Travel and Tourism Council believes 62 million jobs have been lost globally. With many remaining jobs in tourism currently supported by government retention schemes and reduced hours, these are still at risk until we see a recovery. Jobs in SMEs, which make up 80% of all businesses in the sector, have been particularly affected. Furthermore, as one of the world’s most diverse sectors, the impact on women, youth and minorities will have been significant. Research with informal tourism workers in Thailand, found that 94% of workers had experienced employment impacts due to the lack of international visitors and, as a result, 86% had experienced financial hardship leading to negative effects on mental health and quality of life.
The effects of the lack of tourism are clearly visible – for example, rubbish and plastic has been mounting up on beaches in Bali, as without tourism, hotels no longer have the resources to clear what has been washed up from the rest of Indonesia. Similarly, as 80% of UNESCO World Heritage properties have closed, this collapse in tourism income has wiped out budgets for maintenance and security. A loss of tourism revenue has harmed conservation efforts and led to increased poaching in many parts of the world. According to recent research by IUCN, the pandemic has led to fewer rangers, reduced anti-poaching patrols and environmental protection rollbacks.
This serves as a strong reminder to the industry and travellers of the tangible value of tourism. Holidays don’t just benefit the individual in terms of the chance to relax, enjoy new experiences or discover new places, managed well they can support jobs, communities, culture and biodiversity.
Destinations are rethinking their tourism strategies in the wake of the pandemic, and typically sustainability is fundamental to these new strategies, whether that’s ensuring local communities benefit from tourism, ensuring culture and nature are protected, ensuring climate resilience or measuring success by resident satisfaction with tourism. The importance of sustainability in the recovery is reflected in research from Travelife for Accommodation, the ABTA-run sustainability certification, where 90% of Travelife hotels agreed that sustainability was likely to be more important post-Covid.
ABTA is committed to working with our Members, their suppliers, destination authorities, travellers, the wider industry, and the UK government to build a more sustainable industry so tourism is a benefit to all. For Members, advice on our Member Zone is there to support them develop an approach that’s right for their business, covering issues across the environment and climate change, destinations, human rights and animal welfare. We know what needs to be done, we need to continue to work together to scale up action.