GLOBAL TRAVEL CHANGES POST COVID
Embracing a green transformation will be central to a recovery in international tourism post the Covid pandemic – but South Africa was only rated 46 out of 99 countries in a recently released Euromonitor International Sustainable Travel Index.
Developed to help destinations and travel businesses shift to more sustainable and purpose-driven tourism models in the wake of a change in what international travellers would be looking for when they begin to pack their bags once again, the travel index comes with a stern warning from the authors of the report – domestic tourism can help with recovery in the short to mid-term, but radical change will be essential in building resiliency and agility to futureproof the sector.
The Index rated the 99 countries using seven key pillars which make up sustainable tourism – environmental sustainability, social sustainability, economic sustainability, risk, sustainable demand, sustainable transport and sustainable lodging.
“As new variants of COVID-19 emerge, recovery for the travel and tourism industry becomes less linear. Travel bans, restrictions and new health protocols still pose challenges and the pandemic unveiled flaws and limitations in volume-driven tourism models. Instead, social and environmental values will be at the core of new strategies,” the report authors warned.
As destinations around the world slowly begin to reopen while protecting local communities and preserving livelihoods, there is a growing awareness among consumers, businesses and governments for the need to prioritise not only profit but people and the planet.
Even though South Africa scored 46, it was nevertheless the top performer when it came to African tourism destinations. Overall, the leading countries were from Scandinavia and Europe with the 10 poorest performers being Guatemala, Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Morocco, Vietnam, Mauritius, India and Pakistan.
The importance of sustainability when it comes to future international travel is closely linked with another study – the Euromonitor Consumer Lifestyles Survey, fielded January 2021. This noted that 66.4% of consumers globally want to have a positive impact on the environment through their daily actions in 2021.
STAYING AHEAD OF THE TRENDS
According to Euromonitor International, a key challenge for travel players is identifying what changes will be short term versus long term, making it vital to understand consumer attitudes, behaviours, values and beliefs.
“The pandemic accelerated digitalisation in the form of online shopping, virtual experiences and working from home, alongside greener travel habits like walking and cycling. Where possible, domestic tourism substituted international travel. For regions like Western Europe, 22% of executives do not expect consumers to return to their pre-crisis travel habits. This is a result of increased pressure on middle-income households combined with a greater awareness of the negative impacts of tourism.”
The problem is that travel falls short in its level of commitment to change. The authors of the accompanying report note that sustainability is not a new concept in the travel industry. However, only 55% of travel businesses surveyed implemented some form of sustainability strategy compared to 70% of consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries in 2020.
A thriving natural environment is one of the main prerequisites for a successful and sustainable tourism offering. The environmental sustainability pillar contains five categories – climate, natural assets, pollution, energy and water. This pillar addresses the overall health of a country in terms of the environment, biodiversity and natural resources under threat due to climate emergency and highlights the fact that tourism is a heavy user of precious resources such as water for bathrooms, pools, golf courses and spas, leading to water supply and management challenges that can lead to conflict with local communities over resources.
Mozambique holds the top ranking for environmental sustainability due to the number of national parks and protected areas run by communities. These conservancies protect biodiversity through nature-based tourism, offering an alternative source of revenue to poaching.
A case study supplied by Euromonitor International identified the Ahi Zamene Chemucane (AZC) as an example. Founded in 2009, this is a community association for the sustainable management of natural resources. The government of Mozambique gave local communities exclusive rights to manage two large and important conservation areas: The Maputo and Ponta do Ouro Marine Reserves, both known for diverse wildlife.
In partnership with the Mozambique Ministry of Tourism and the National Tourism Institute, with financial support from international development institutions, the AZC worked with local communities to develop the area for sustainable tourism, including the construction of an eco-lodge that trains and employs locals in hospitality and conservation. The profits are funnelled back into the community which acted as a lifeline to local families in 2020 when restrictions due to the pandemic created food shortages.
GOING BEYOND THE OBVIOUS
While it is almost a given that African destinations such as South Africa scored highly when it came to biodiversity and natural resources, this study also hones in on some key weaknesses.
Pre-pandemic, social sustainability came second to the environment. However, governments, consumers and businesses have now shifted their focus to people and communities.
“The social sustainability pillar has since become an important component in determining a countries’ ability to have fair and equitable societies. For the index, social sustainability encompasses access to resources, food security, poverty, happiness, freedom, equality and education,” the authors of the report. say.
It also looks at the overall context within which the tourism sector is located in a particular country.
“One area often overlooked is whether a country is overly dependent on tourism which makes it vulnerable to external threats such as natural disasters, terrorism or pandemics which can put jobs and communities at risk. The economic sustainability pillar therefore considers a country’s relative economic performance based on its tourism dependency, debt levels, hospitality employment and business readiness to gauge strengths and weaknesses,” the authors explain.
In this Travel Index, connectivity and mobility are key factors in enabling sustainable travel and tourism, especially where transport accounts for a significant share of the industry’s carbon emissions. The sustainable transport pillar takes into account a country’s dependency on air travel compared to rail and other modes. The higher the dependency on air, the more negative a weighting has been given due to the higher CO2 emissions per passenger.
However, the index did have some good news for Sub-Saharan Africa with countries like Tanzania, Cameroon, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria noted for making great strides in their sustainable transport offering.
BUILD BACK BETTER TOURISM
Euromonitor International Sustainable Travel Index may highlight important details but it concludes with an all-important final reminder.
The authors point out that there is a clear change in mind set to resist returning to a volume-driven travel and tourism model. Instead, stakeholders are rallying together to ‘build back better’ through value creation from sustainable tourism. As momentum grows in the run up to COP26, consumers, travel brands, destination marketing organisations and governments continue to align their desires to avert the climate emergency.
Embracing environmental and social initiatives, giving back to local communities and spearheading positive outcomes must be championed and integrated into the visitor experience to create shared value, pride, trust and loyalty. Sustainability will differentiate and elevate the experience for consumers, while driving competitive advantage and agility to guarantee long term success.”