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May 6, 2020

When people face catastrophic situations in which they think they might not survive, but do, their usual response is to resolve to be better. 

This very human reaction takes on timely importance as the travel industry faces its own near death and how we in the US fit that notion into a celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week, an annual  tradition in May when travel and tourism professionals celebrate the value travel holds for our economy, businesses and wellbeing.

Should we use this occasion to applaud an industry that employs and is enjoyed by millions of people worldwide, or should we acknowledge its fault lines and commit to improvement?      

The point of travel is to have experiences outside of the norm, to be enriched by cultures different from our own, and to marvel at the vast natural resources of the big blue planet.  Galivanting aside, travel is also a powerful economic force, globally contributing approximately 2.9 trillion U.S. dollars to the GDP in 2019.

Almost two decades into the 21st century, we find ourselves in a time and place, enviable to many, where travel has become a highly accessible commodity.  Before the COVID pandemic, the United Nations World Tourism Organization predicted that international tourism would increase to 1.4 billion in 2020, a 56-fold increase in 60 years.      

This abundancy of travel has improved the lives of many, stimulating economic development, and creating lifestyle experiences almost beyond the imagination.  It has also caused over-tourism, pressure on natural resources, negative experiences for visitors and locals and a concern for the loss of cultural identities.     

Fixing the woes of travel is a long, complicated, and expensive process and every part of the industry – including the traveler – has a role and responsibility.  Fortunately, solutions are at the ready to make travel better.    

To be sure, technology and innovation will be major drivers of change enabling all modes of transportation to lower CO2 emissions and lessen fuel dependency.  Greater collaboration between DMOs and travel providers will result in affordable and eco-friendly travel products.  And, on the visitor side, education and thoughtful guidance can lessen the negative impact of too many people in the same place at the same time. It can also encourage visitors to embrace change in normal travel patterns and better understand the imperative to be more respectful of local landscapes and people.

Another human trait is to forget resolutions after life altering experiences and slide back into bad habits. For the survival of travel and the wellbeing of all people and places, we cannot let that happen.  Let’s find new reasons and ways to celebrate the National Travel and Tourism Weeks of the future with a healthier and sustainable travel industry. 

 

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