What with the royal family’s use of private jets hogging the headlines, you’d be forgiven for missing Prince Harry’s launch of Travalyst, an ambitious sustainable travel initiative founded in partnership with industry giants like TripAdvisor and Booking.com. But it should’ve been higher up on the news agenda.
This is a vital step for our industry. Far from being a knee-jerk reaction to recent criticism over the royal family’s carbon footprint, this initiative has been under consideration for several years.
Prince Harry has long illustrated that he’s got an excellent nose for nationwide and global issues that need intervention. It’s encouraging that he’s identified the environmental impact of tourism as a time-critical challenge that needs a powerful spokesperson.
It’s very apparent that our industry is finally in the crosshairs of climate critics. That’s a good thing. We need to start making significant positive changes to the way we run our businesses. We need to take this seriously.
There is a climate crisis, and aviation is one of the fastest growing contributors to world-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Air travel is growing by five per cent a year. Without ring-fenced investment in new tech, electric planes are a pipe dream for the next few decades.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: carbon offsets are not effective. They’re a distraction. Reduction in flying and massive investment in sustainable tech are the only ways to reduce the aviation industry’s impact on the planet.
Overtourism is another issue that Travalyst plans to tackle. Overcrowding in Venice and Barcelona pushed frustrated residents into furious protests that we’re all familiar with.
But here at Responsible Travel, we know that this is just the tip of the (rapidly shrinking) iceberg. We mapped almost 100 destinations that show that overtourism affects far more places than the well-documented cruise cities, from Yosemite National Park to tiny islands in Germany.
It looks like Travalyst will concentrate on a third issue, too: the global crash in biodiversity. There is no industry-wide plan to tackle the biodiversity loss to the national parks we visit, the oceans we sail across and the skies we fly in.
With so many issues to focus on, well-meaning initiatives like Travalyst can quickly become paralysed. I hope that the initiative focuses on the most urgent issues: climate change and biodiversity loss.
Of course, tourism spans all manner of social, economic and environmental issues. But climate change and biodiversity loss are the two that threaten our immediate future. They’re things that our industry directly affects – and things that we can directly control our impact upon.
Prince Harry’s launch of Travalyst is encouraging, but it has also raised a few red flags. I was concerned that, before wider consultation started, Prince Harry noted that tourist growth is not a problem. He also appears to consider that the carbon offsetting of flights is a solution.
Climate scientists and progressive responsible tourism businesses like ours would seek to offer a different opinion – that carbon offsetting is, in fact, a dangerous distraction.
And let’s consider the businesses already involved. They’re familiar faces: Booking.com Chairwoman Gillian Tans, Skyscanner chief executive Bryan Dove, TripAdvisor co-founder Stephen Kaufer, and Visa chief executive Al Kelly.
Between them, they have a broad influence with customers. That’s brilliant. But while they’re some of the travel organisations most in need of advice on sustainability, they are some of the least likely to be able to affect the impact of tourism on the ground.
As Prince Harry noted, he will need to add other stakeholders and create a board of advisors, including government ministers, destination managers and some of our leading responsible tourism businesses.
Travalyst would also have to determine its relationship with other bodies seeking to achieve similar aims, both here and abroad. The Travel Foundation, Department for Transport, Abta’s Destinations & Sustainability team and sustainable development initiatives like The Long Run could all be great stakeholders in this initiative.
Collaboration is key. Neither governments, tourist businesses or destination managers can solve the issues independently.
To address the problems we face, Travalyst could well be what we need – a project capable of bringing together multiple stakeholders and experts. Prince Harry has previously shown great vision and convening power, so he’s a most welcome addition to the conversation about responsible tourism as it cranks up a notch.
As of yet, there aren’t any declared plans for the initiative, other than a promise to “change the impact of travel, for good”. We’re told it’ll become clearer over the next 18 months.
Responsible Travel – and any tourism business that believes our industry is reaching climate crisis point – will be keenly waiting to see what plans emerge from Travalyst. And we’ll be there to help, learn and adapt our business as necessary.