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Sustainable Travel in the Post-COVID World

A hoarding that says "COVID-19 Essential Travel Only"

Sustainable Travel in the Post-COVID World

The tourism sector has been one of the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A report by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) published in June 2020 estimated that the tourism industry would face a decline of 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals and place 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk in 2020. The UNWTO continues to state that international arrivals fell by 72% in January-October 2020 over the same period in 2019, with Asia and the Pacific has recorded a decline of 83% in arrivals

Tourism often covers many businesses, and the overall ecosystem, surrounding travelling, booking, lodging, and ancillary services, suffered a detrimental impact last year. 

According to new reports, Nepal’s tourism sector was touted to face USD 330 million in loss due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Whereas the entire value chain linked to Travel & Tourism in India is likely to lose around US$ 65.57 billion, with the organised sector alone likely to lose US$ 25 billion, the Confederation of Indian Industries reported

We spoke to two experts – Dr Pradeep Mehta, Director of Central Himalayan Institute for Nature & Applied Research, and Raj Gyawali, founding director of Social Tours, both of whom are partners to Ennovent’s Fair Trails venture (Fair Trails aims to bring the benefits of sustainable tourism to rural communities in developing countries), to understand better how to infuse sustainability and resilience in the tourism sector. 

Shift to Domestic Tourism

In recent months with the easing of lockdown protocols, domestic tourism has seen a marginal surge in India and Nepal. Dr Pradeep Mehta says, “After November, domestic tourism has increased in hill stations and along the coast such as Goa. However, international tourism continues to be badly affected.” For example, nearly 40-45 lakh tourists reportedly travelled to Goa during its peak season over Christmas and New Years Eve.

Nepal also opened up for trekking tourism in the latter part of last year. Raj Gyawali agrees that a similar recovery seems to be happening in Nepal. However, he is quick to add, “Domestic tourism has been great for small hotels and businesses. However, for bigger hotels, it does not help. Several operations continue to wind down.”

While the loss of livelihoods has been significant, Raj also brings our attention to a more critical issue – health and wellbeing, both for potential tourists and the local community running businesses. He says, “At this point, it is important to train local people to understand how transmission happens, and that everybody could be a potential super spreader.” Gabish Joshi, Country Director of Ennovent Nepal, agrees and adds another dimension to this issue. He says, “While trekking tourism has opened up in Nepal, we need to have better guidelines and safety standards. We need to develop health experts-led standards to implement safe tourism.” 

Restarting Tourism Correctly

Gabish says that the way we restart tourism should be more thoughtful. “We should not repeat the same mistakes we made earlier”, he says. He insists that we need public policies that ensure overtourism does not happen and that health, safety and hygiene protocols be followed. It is vital to build confidence among potential tourists and empower service providers regarding the entire ecosystem’s health and safety. 

Raj talks about proactively preparing to restart tourism. “We have created protocols and training guides and are working with lodge owners and others to educate them”, he says.

Bringing our attention to sustainability in travel, Raj says, “Now is the time to focus on sustainability. When we have a little time to breathe, we have to understand how to make everything sustainable eventually.”

Gabish stresses the importance of community engagement to rebuild resilient and sustainable tourism. To ensure true sustainability, the tourism industry needs to work alongside governments and communities while continuing to focus on climate change mitigation and the wellbeing of local communities. 

In Ennovent’s Fair Trails Himalayas venture, we build a model where most project benefits skew towards the local communities. In our first Fair Trail, the Snow Leopard trail, we employ local guides, implement stay in lodges, and all trekking activities are carried out by local agencies that are “Fair Trails” certified. We insist on fair payment and the best possible insurance for the local trekking staff. Trekkers also receive an opportunity to create value by making a direct financial contribution to promote sustainability projects along the trail that ensure tangible benefits for both the local communities and the snow leopards in the region. 

While the recovery for the sector could take a long time, at this point, we also need to understand the potential of the industry to educate communities in raising health and safety standards. Raj says, “Tourism has access to resources and information from around the world. We can actively work towards educating and protecting the communities. Protecting the local communities should be at the heart of all initiatives.”

As we continue to adapt and attempt to find solutions for a resilient recovery of the tourism sector, keeping the conversation alive is vital. We now have the time to rectify the errors of the past. If you work in the tourism sector and are interested in collaborating with Fair Trails, please connect with us at office@ennovent.com.

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