Travel and tourism is one of the world’s largest economic sectors, contributing to U.S. $8.8 trillion to the global economy in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. And unlike most industries, travel and tourism is truly a cosmopolitan one. It fosters curiosity, encourages exploration, and advocates for the delights of cultural differentiation to be found in every corner of the globe; it’s a champion for humanity and celebrates diversity and adventure.
It’s also vulnerable to the macrotrends the world is facing today: stoked international tensions, geopolitics, climate change, and even changes required in infrastructure, technology, and logistics. As industries go, travel and tourism is on the frontline of navigating these tricky waters.
But as we saw at Skift’s 6th annual Global Forum, it’s stepping up and leaning in to tackle some monumental challenges and consumer shifts, and arguably changing the way companies, customers, and communities are co-existing.
The rise of sustainable travel and ‘voluntourism’
With its global purview, expansive reach, and impact across virtually every accessible locale on the planet, travel and tourism has been championing local communities and ecosystems in recent years. The industry is striving to reduce its carbon footprint and exercise sustainability practices on its own accord, outside of government and regulatory bodies.
While ‘airline shaming’ has become a popular phrase to condemn carriers and travelers for their large contributions to CO2 emissions annually, many airlines have been making significant reductions and efficiencies in the way they operate. For example, Delta has been carbon neutral since 2012 after its decision to freeze its footprint. The airline is already 25 percent more efficient, and they are planning to continually improve. As Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines put it, the planet is “as important a stakeholder as anyone else.”
Or look at ‘voluntourism,’ where people are traveling great distances to give their time and effort to rebuild, maintain, or improve local ecosystems. In fact, from April 26-28, the Faroe Islands literally closed its doors to tourism for maintenance. And they had the help of 100 people from 25 countries who joined forces with locals to “lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future for their unspoiled lands.” This is just the beginning, as similar efforts are happening elsewhere, from reforestation and the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, to startups like Saira Hospitality focused on empowering and building sustainable local workforces.
Connecting human and digital experiences
It’s easy to forget that every traveler is a person. Every beach, mountain, forest, or exotic destination is someone’s home. And every service – from greeting guests to flying an airplane to concocting a poolside cocktail – is someone’s job.
This sentiment was evident in interviews with chief executives from companies like Hilton, Delta, TripAdvisor, and Amtrak. Whether it was CEO Christopher Nassetta’s belief that core to Hilton’s mission is “people serving people,” TripAdvisor’s commitment to the refugee crisis, or Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson’s comments that “rural America cannot be abandoned,” there was unequivocal emphasis on people being fundamental to these companies’ futures.
Alongside this people-first mentality is also the technology that enables it. The sheer size and complexity of the travel and tourism sector has had a tremendous impact on enhancing the customer experience through technology and digital channels.
Look no further than Carnival’s Ocean Medallion, which leverages IoT and wearable technology aboard its cruise ships. Or Booking.com’s vision for the ‘Connected Trip’ and its early partnership with Libra Association to achieve a proposed eponymous global blockchain digital currency, Libra.
These actions, and countless others, have led to largescale technology adoption and have forced other industries, organizations, and communities to follow suit.
Putting purpose and participation first
The travel and tourism industry has the power to not only bring purpose and meaning to our experiences, but also to inspire active participation among local communities and customers. We may be on the precipice of uncharted territories as a species – be that leaps in technology, extreme weather, or progress itself – but the power of people and the decisions we make, the causes we support, and the communities and organizations we choose to engage with can influence and shape where we go from here.