Tourism needs new stories

Tourism needs new stories

Across Europe, the beginning of August signifies the beginning of the long summer holiday. Children are all off school for several weeks. Parliaments shut for a while. Stuck for anything to write about in this absence of ‘news’, newspapers fill their pages with ‘silly season’ stories.

We are all in need of a rest. The news has become relentlessly grim of late. Where previously we looked forward to the summer bringing warmer weather, increasingly we worry how hot it will go. As we cut down the Amazon, the Arctic burns.

We are in need of new stories. There are only so many grim tales people can take. Some argue we need to give up hope of solving climate change in order to look at our society’s inevitable extinction honestly in the face, grieve its loss, and prepare intelligently for whatever story comes next. Others reply that without hope our human story’s characters have no motivation to try.

Can tourism help us find the stories we need? It will be difficult. It is necessary. And – just maybe – it can work.

It will be difficult because so much of this industry is tied to the creation of the problems that got us into this mess. In the world of social media, tourism has become for many the ultimate must have – yet also utterly disposable – accessory. Air-travel relies on fossil fuels. Across the world, our industry’s development comes at the expense of the lives of local people, moved from their homes so we can play for a bit. We have become an over-budget blockbuster – all merchandise and wow factor locations at the expense of character or plot.

It is necessary because if we don’t do it, we will become a pariah, seen like smoking, oil, plastics, factory farming, and – increasingly – flying. Look at the ads – the stories – that once promised all these industries solutions of freedom. Now they hide behind plain packaging and secured walls. Could this be our future too – tourism’s last resort?

But it is also necessary for other, much more positive reasons. Stripped away of all the commercialising, the pointless plastic souvenirs, the tick box FOMO, the binge flying, tourism is at heart something very, very special, and increasingly needed. It is the wish to step away from work, discover new things, meet new people and spend time in nature with one another, doing things we love. It is good for the soul. If the provision of all this becomes a pariah, we really are doomed.

For much of August, many of us who spend the rest of the year ‘making’ tourism will be spending some time being tourists. We should enjoy every single minute of it. Switch off the emails and stop for a while.

Our return to work in September will soon be faced with a Global Climate Strike from September 20-27; the UN Youth Climate Summit on September 21; and the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on Monday 23. October will see the return of Extinction Rebellion, with 12 days of actions starting on October 7. In late November and early December the UN Climate Conference (COP 25) takes place in Chile. We will be back in the news again.

We’re going to need some new stories.

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Jeremy Smith is the editor of sustainable tourism news site Travindy.com. Author of recently published Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018). As well as writing a fortnightly blog for WTM's responsible tourism website, he works with responsible and sustainable travel businesses, developing their communications, brands, marketing and digital & social media strategy. He is co-author of Rough Guides' only guidebook dedicated to responsible tourism, Clean Breaks - 500 New Ways to See the World. Before that he was editor of The Ecologist, the world's longest-running environmental magazine. Travindy - https://www.travindy.com Latest book - cabi.org/bookshop/book/9781786394194

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