In my last blog of 2017, I looked back at some of my personal responsible tourism highlights of that year. I’ve been on holiday for most of the time since then, and judging by the lack of tourism industry news in my newsfeed so has most of the travel world. For my first post of 2017, therefore, I’ll risk making a few predictions about what those of us who talk about responsible tourism will be talking about in 2018…
1. Overtourism stays top of the agenda
Yes, I know Overtourism was 2017’s cause celebre, but it isn’t going to go away this year. Nothing has been fixed. More people are becoming tourists. The same destinations are still attractive, just to even more people. The difference is that last year overtourism could be presented as a time-stamped phenomenon. This year people just might acknowledge that while tourism remains designed the way it is, it is an ever-worsening way of life.
2. Carbon pricing becomes an ever-closer reality
Just as the industry doesn’t like to talk about overtourism too much, so it doesn’t really enjoy talking about Climate Change. It continues to understate the impact of all our trips on global warming, while overstating their economic contribution. But more and more people around the world are doing the maths, and more and more countries and companies are adopting forms of carbon pricing. It won’t be legislated across the industry this year, nor will there be much effort to prepare people through voluntary mechanisms. But in 2018, the inevitability of counting the cost of carbon in our trips will get yet another record-breakingly warm year closer.
3. Backlash against orphanage tourism gathers pace
Over the last couple of years, there has been a welcome and necessary growth in awareness about the problems that sending volunteers to orphanages causes. As I wrote in my blog looking back at 2017, at the end of last year “World Expeditions, Projects Abroad and Intrepid Group all said they were pulling out of orphanage tourism”. I’d like to hope that this year we see this trend accelerate, as companies seek to get out of what is increasingly becoming a bad look for their reputation.
4. Big Travel Tech firms take more responsibility for certain aspects of their power
In 2017 there were numerous stories of big travel tech making dramatic moves that suggested increased commitment towards leveraging their scale to create impact. Airbnb launched bewelcome, a free version of its site to enable hosts to provide accommodation to recently arrived refugees in certain destinations. Instagram began to flag up warnings when people tried to take and share selfies with various endangered creatures. Both Expedia and Tripadvisor developed resource portals providing expert advice on travelling more responsibly. Booking.com launched its Booster accelerator to support innovative sustainable startups (and upscaled considerably the size of its scheme for 2018). Claiming neutrality is really not an option. To not take a stand is to implicitly condone. I hope, that the coming months sees these tech giants, who hold huge sway over how we choose to go on holiday, further using their ability to guide us in more responsible ways.
5. Specialised impact OTAs gain higher profile
The big platforms get all the press, but just as they were once disruptors, they are being disrupted. A few years ago, when the new smaller upstarts were simply offering a different product – whether it was specialising in luxury, beaches or self-catering, it was easy enough for the big guys to swallow them up when they got big enough. But many of the platforms exciting me most aren’t only unique in terms of what they offer, but also how they are run. The likes of Visit, Vayando, Lokal and Fairbnb are designed to support social entrepreneurs, empower women and redistribute wealth. They make commitments about where their money goes and whom it helps. If they get really popular, would their bigger, more establish competitors change their own structures to counter the newcomers’ more impact-focussed business models? As a bellwether, it will be interesting to see how Airbnb’s acquisition of accessible tourism platform Accomable at the end of last year affects its approach to accessibility across its main site.
Cape Town runs out of water
If there is one thing I really hope doesn’t happen in 2018, it is Cape Town’s Day Zero – the fast approach day when its dams run dry, and the city has to impose even more stringent water conservation measures than it currently is doing. Tourism hasn’t caused this crisis, but the industry has long been acknowledged to use a disproportionately high share per person per day. If overcrowding through tourism has been causing unrest, what impact will travellers’ resource profligacy have on how locals who are suffering daily water rationing greet them?
Will hotels adopt increasingly stringent measures to get tourists to engage? Overtourism has been affecting destinations around the world for longer than the last 12 months, but only once it reached a certain point did it become an industry-wide discussion point. How will the wider industry change its approach to resource use in response to what is happening in Cape Town? Will anyone transform how they plan and operate their hotels and destinations to ensure that, however distant the threat might seem today, they don’t suffer a similar fate?