2020 has definitely been off to a shaky start — literally. Since January 1st, there have been over 950 earthquakes in Puerto Rico alone. But in today’s new age of climate change, natural disasters like this are only becoming more and more common. So how can the tourism industry survive without harming our environment further? The answer may involve ecotourism — an opportunity for both marketers and destinations.
Your first thought may be to simply limit travel. But we often forget that many of the countries most affected by climate change-related disasters also rely on tourism to fund their recoveries.
Take a look at the Bahamas, where tourism brings in an annual $4.3 billion — 47.8 percent of their GDP. Without their tourism industry, the Bahamas’ complete recovery from Hurricane Dorian would be dramatically delayed.
And as Australia’s wildfires have merged into a 1.5 million acre “megafire,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison petitioned U.S. leaders to stimulate tourism by downgrading the urgency of their travel warnings.
Luckily, just a few days ago, the U.S. heeded Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison’s pleas to water down travel warnings to ‘Down Under,’ which has now been set to “normal.”
The bottom line? When climate-induced disasters strike, tourism can provide necessary economic boosts.
So as climate change continues to interact with tourism, marketers have an ethical responsibility to present tourism and travel brands within the context of our shifting climate reality.
But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this. After all, we’re talking about an $8.27 trillion global industry with a compound annual growth rate of 2.9 percent. So we’re going to need some creative solutions.
Choose Ecotourism: Don’t Encourage Tourism Where It’s Harmful
To start, marketers should be cautious about where they’re sending tourists. Promoting vacation packages to the Australian Open when Melbourne is shrouded in smoke puts your customers at risk.
Yet marketing other trips could put the destination itself at risk. Take Antarctica, where several new cruise lines have popped up in the last year to shuttle tourists to Antarctica — while it’s still there.
“Climate change is a chief reason for the increased interest in visiting Antarctica,” said cruise travel planner Mary Curry. “We truly don’t know if the region will ever be as magnificent as it is now.”
According to the New York Times, Antarctica cruise bookings have seen a 53 percent spike since 2015. But cruises aren’t helping the environmental situation at all.
As these cruises flood into Antarctica, they bring environmental troubles with them. A day at sea produces just as much soot as a million cars. And cruises dump toxic raw sewage into the open sea. It’s safe to say that cruises are not doing Antarctica or its wildlife any favors.
Let’s not forget to add that at other port city destinations, cruises also squeeze local economies with bullying tactics that create dependency.
So while cruises are still growing in popularity, environmentally and socially conscious marketers should look towards ecotourism and consider driving tourism where it helps instead of hurts.
Instead of Antarctica, why not promote midwinter trips to the Bahamas, where tourist money is needed to rebuild?
Or instead of a cruise, why not promote the ferry from Fort Lauderdale?
Let’s Rethink the Carbon Footprint of Each Trip
Travel marketers are in a unique position of power. They can encourage travelers to think about their trips in terms of the carbon footprint attached. In doing so, they can normalize the practice of choosing travel plans with lower carbon emissions.
Take a trip from London to Western France. A study by Responsible Travel calculates these five days would produce 183.5 kg (404.5 lbs) of carbon dioxide. That’s broken down into food (77 kg), accommodation (26.5 kg), and transportation (102 kg per flight).
The flight for a trip like this, from London to Biarritz, takes about five hours, give or take an hour depending on your layover time in Paris.
That’s comparable to a flight from New York to LA. But going by train, you can get to Biarritz in a little over 7 hours. It costs a couple of hours more — or affords you some extra work and nap time if you present it that way.
It’s a small time difference, and it saves your customer a few bucks: $121 for a train compared with $150 for a flight.
But more importantly, the train ride cuts the carbon cost of transportation in half, bringing the total carbon footprint of the trip down by 51 kg (about 112 lbs) of CO2.
It may not seem like a lot, but that saves the same amount of carbon emissions that the average US citizen produces in a normal day.
Sell Ecotourism For All It’s Worth
Now, let’s be real about something. Climate change is a much, much bigger problem than can be solved by having travelers take trains instead of airplanes.
Nevertheless, knowing that efficient rail travel effectively halves the carbon cost of a trip means that responsible travel marketers should be putting everything they’ve got into pushing rail service over flights.
It’s an easy sell. Trains are roomier. You can get up and walk around. They won’t dump jet fuel on a schoolyard full of children like a Delta flight did this week in LA.
There’s a lot to like. And better marketing can encourage the development of cleaner, cheaper, more efficient rail systems. It’s these systemic changes that have the power to combat climate change.
Tourism has certainly contributed its share to the climate change emergencies we’re now facing, and as the climate bites back, we need to rethink what it means to market travel responsibly.
People aren’t going to stop traveling. But let’s look more towards ecotourism and make sure we’re being mindful of the environment with every trip.
Note: This article was originally posted at Grit Daily by Tina Mulqueen and edited and syndicated with permission.