Tourism and hospitality were already undergoing significant shifts prior to the onset of the pandemic in 2020; the learnings of the last three years have sparked a deeper conversation not only about the importance of sustainability, but the urgent need for regeneration. The opportunity is there for businesses and travellers to leave a destination better off than before, and ensure employees, businesses, communities and ecosystems can flourish. Sustainability is now an essential lens through which we must frame all business design and experiences, and collectively find solutions to environmental, cultural, and socio-economic challenges of the world today.
The 2023 IMPACT Sustainability Travel and Tourism Conference explored how the travel industry can rebuild with intention to create a legacy for regenerative tourism in Canada. Key areas of discussion included reciprocity and partnerships, capacity building, climate action, and diversity, underpinned by IMPACT’s four pillars of Ecology & Environment, Community & Sense of Place, Culture & Heritage, and the Economy.
The overarching theme was a call to action to “Unite, Commit, Act.” Here are the main takeaways from the event, along with the steps businesses in Toronto’s visitor economy can take to further their own sustainability work.
None of us is alone on our journey towards sustainability. The global climate is changing rapidly and tourism is uniquely positioned to inspire and unite global citizens to work together. Many speakers highlighted the idea that tourism can be an antidote to the polarization of the planet. As tourism connects communities across the globe, there is hope that our industry can inspire greater, more collaborative change.
This collaboration is most powerful at a local level, especially when it involves consultation with local Indigenous nations, who have long practiced sustainability and land stewardship. “Nothing about us without us” emphasizes the value of ensuring representation across boards and committees and prioritizing diversity in the workforce. Many businesses have taken steps to educate their staff on Indigenous land stewardship and knowledge systems. The Trans-Canada Trail, for example, has a Truth and Reconciliation framework that guides their business decisions. They understand that Indigenous culture and history underpins all of the land that the trail covers, and they take every opportunity to convey this to trail visitors.
One roadblock that companies face when trying to adopt a sustainability plan, is knowing what commitments to make first. Caring for the environment is a primary pillar, as is building a community with a strong economy and culture. There are many organizations that can help businesses build a Sustainability Action Plan. From certification bodies like GreenStep and Biosphere Tourism, to consultancies like Bannikin and Synergy, and global benchmarking tools like GDS and ConnectSeven, there is no shortage of professional support available, with many of the tools offered at no cost.
Another step businesses can take in their community is to educate visitors on the local impact of their behaviour. A sustainable mindset at home may go on “holiday mode” when travelling. Tourism businesses can help visitors take on a more active role and inspire them from just being an observer or visitor to being an active and engaged participant. Leave No Trace is helping to do that with their work to inspire responsible outdoor recreation through science-based education and partnerships.
Robert Sandford, Global Water Futures Chair for the United Nations, shared that the UN expects 2030 to be the year we see the climate crisis hit the world as powerfully as Covid-19 did in 2020. This leaves us 8 years to act as an industry. In Sandford’s words, “our future will come by chance or by choice.”
The world learned what life was like without travel during the pandemic. It’s likely travel will continue to enjoy high demand in the coming years; this means any action our industry takes towards decarbonization will have an outsized effect.
Here are some steps we can take to seize control of the next several years:
Develop a Sustainability Action Plan: assess your current impact, set targets, engage your employees and stakeholders in setting out steps to get there, track your progress, and share your wins. For more on this, watch the recording from last year’s EDGE event.
Instead of focusing on finding the “right” kind of traveller with sustainable values, make sustainability the default option for all your guests. For example, require visitors to bring a travel mug or reusable water bottle rather than offering them a plastic one up front, or include a ticket for public transportation in the cost of your product or experience.
Create a sustainable procurement policy with targets for conscious consumption. When purchasing any products for your business, consider their full lifespan and ensure you have a plan for how they will be disposed of.
Reach out to your local Indigenous nations, who are the original hosts of the land your business runs on. Go beyond the Land Acknowledgement.
Bring diverse voices from your community to your table. Companies are more resilient when they engage with the local community on how tourism impacts them. Build feedback mechanisms and meet people where they are to help give community agency through participation.
Sign up to the GreenStep Sustainable Tourism 2030 Pledge and commit to improve your business’s sustainability performance.
With many support frameworks, education and systems available, tourism businesses are now able to adapt their operations today, to ensure we build back better. The work already being done across our industry is inspiring, and propelling others to unite, commit and act so that we can ensure travel will thrive well into the future. As we move forward together, we can make tourism a force for good.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead