‘Sustainability’ is no longer just a buzzword in the tourism industry. It has become an important concept that is significantly influencing buying decisions for travellers worldwide.
This is according to Sherwin Banda, President of African Travel Inc., who spoke during a recent webinar organised by insurance broker SATIB. Banda explained that eco-tourism and wildlife conservation are the top two motivators for American travellers.
Said Banda: “Research shows that up to 82% of travellers in the United States are now choosing to buy travel experiences from brands that have a proven and vested interest in sustainability. They are seeking out experiences and companies that are focused on making a positive difference.”
It is especially the younger generations who are driving change regarding sustainability and who are actively looking for reliable resources to help them in this endeavour. He said: “Younger, more enlightened consumers will, at minimum, expect conservation to be a priority when buying travel experiences – not an after-thought. They want to spend their money and tourism dollars on supporting sustainable and responsible travel. This desire is definitely on the increase and all of the right questions are being asked.”
Keira Lee Powers, Bsoc.Sci & PDM focused in Political Science, Environmental & Geographical Science and Business Management and Director at SATSA agreed and said that evidence shows that children are playing a much bigger role in making decisions regarding holiday destinations and activities based on their knowledge and what they’ve deemed as the most important considerations.
Is regulation the way forward?
Unfortunately, according to Shannon Guihan, Chief at TreadRight & Sustainability Officer for The Travel Corporation (TTC), the enhanced discussion surrounding sustainability is both good and bad. She explains: “While there are lots of people talking about it, not quite as many are putting in the work to back it up. Our responsibility is to help the consumer navigate the evolution and many twists and turns without becoming disillusioned in the process.”
To identify the tourism players that are truly making a difference, SATSA recently developed the SATSA Animal Interaction Guidelines.
Powers explains: “We tried to put together a collection of accurate information backed up by statistics in a simplified way that would be useful to everyone, from travel suppliers and policy makers to travel agents and even travellers themselves.”
This led to the birth of the Decision Tree tool, a PDF containing six critical questions leading into one another, that make it easy for readers to, through a process of elimination, identify relevant exclusion zones when it comes to captive wildlife tourist attractions and activities. The tool has received critical acclaim, but SATSA is now facing the challenge of ensuring that everyone – especially tourists who are embracing direct bookings and making decisions without any expert support or guidance – know of both its existence and importance.
There is currently a huge divide amongst authorities within the conservation space on whether there needs to be strict regulations and accreditation programmes in place going forward into the future. However, the vast majority are insisting that self-regulation amongst travel agents and consumers is the only way to go.
“The whole point of sustainability is inciting behaviour change and encouraging suppliers to make the necessary adaptions, as opposed to banning or turning our backs on them,” comments Powers.
“It needs to be up to the agent and consumer to make the decisions, and up to us to empower them to make the right ones. A good analogy is that you can go ahead and put a guardrail on a mountain slope, but it’s still important for travellers to watch their step and to take the time to choose which mountains are the safest to climb with caution and through proper, ongoing research,” she adds.
Conservation beyond wildlife
Conservation reaches so much further than simply wildlife. Says Powers: “We need to be looking to the local communities, too. For example, making sure that the economic value chain goes further into the broader communities around the national parks, enhancing profitability outside of the fence in order to ensure that what’s inside the fence is protected.”
Sustainability will determine and shape the future of our tourism industry post-COVID. If all consumers, authorities, and suppliers focus on taking incremental steps in the right direction, the world, the industry, and the African continent will look a whole lot better tomorrow than it does today.