Anne Majumdar

With sustainable tourism fast climbing the travel and tourism agenda, we’re discussing the topic with travel industry leaders and change makers and asking them how they think we can #Traveltochangetheworld.

In our latest ‘Travel to change the world’ interview, General Manager of Urban Adventures Tony Carne, shares his thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to sustain the industry and leave a legacy of goodness.

What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?

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I started travelling pretty much straight out of high school. I did the London thing and then never really stopped.

It was my passion for the travel experience that saw me end up in the industry. My first travel job was as an Outback tour guide out of Alice Springs taking people into central Australia on camping tours

Then I found myself at Intrepid Group as a tour leader in Egypt and got to live out in the Middle East for five years. To have those kinds of experiences where I was literally getting paid to travel was just brilliant.

Now I am more office bound but that hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for travel as a product and what it can do for people, their attitudes and their values. That’s what inspires me today and what I still love about the industry.

What concerns you about the industry today in terms of its long-term viability?

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There’s a very short-term thinking around profitability – it’s not just a tourism-specific problem. People want a report on daily share prices or quarterly earnings reports. That’s what makes news in the world and therefore people focus their attention on making sure those results are where they need to be.

But imagine a world where we have that as one focus, and then the UN sustainable development goals as an equal focus. If everyone got measured on all those things then we would probably live in a significantly different world.

Tourism particularly has so much to offer in terms of employment and opportunities for communities to become greater places, so it’s a shame that profitability wins out so often.

Beyond that, a lot more people are travelling than ever before. That’s not going to go backwards, that’s going to go forwards.

We’re already seeing a crush on super touristy places like Venice and Barcelona. There’s only one Eiffel Tower after all.

So, how is it possible for those places to maintain any level of authenticity if tourism continues to grow?

Maybe that problem will just sort itself out. Some travellers will of course still go to those places, but those wanting to avoid the crush will maybe deviate to other places. Perhaps people will start travelling to other areas which could really use some of the benefits from the tourism industry.

Some of these issues will sort themselves out, but others really need all of us to refocus our priorities a little bit.

 

Do you think travel can change the world?

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Absolutely, and in a couple of ways.

For travellers, the travel experience can help shape their world view, create empathy, connect them with people in different countries they may not otherwise interact with. It can shape values, the way they think of the world when they return home – so there can only be really positive outcomes for the world in general.

From the travel industry perspective, it’s about if we can all come together and work harder at making responsible travel a more mainstream concept. We’re never going to have a better year to do it than this year with the UN standing up and saying the most important thing we can do in 2017 is to concentrate on sustainable tourism for development.

If we can make that truly work and if all tourism can just be responsible tourism rather than having a separate term for it, then the world would be an infinitely better place.

 

Are you seeing positive change happening in the industry that you really admire?

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Lots of people are undoubtedly doing really great things.

And with the UN putting this to forefront and making this year all about sustainable tourism – you can’t get a better endorsement or opportunity than that

If, this year, we can focus people’s attention – governments and other stakeholders – on the opportunities that tourism can bring, then that’s going to be good.

Most large tourism businesses now have some sort of responsible or sustainable travel element to them and that’s a really great thing.

It’s just how much of a focus that becomes within those businesses that will ultimately determine the overall outcome of where we end up. A lot of us are all pulling in the same direction which is fantastic

 

What projects is Urban Adventures undertaking in this space?

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If we take it right back to the very start, the model we built here at UA is a responsible first model. We help local people start a business, creating something for themselves but also ensuring the benefits of tourism flow down to people who may not otherwise receive them.

We only work with local vendors to ensure the trickle-down effects of tourism – that’s our entire model.

This year will probably take close to close to 200,000 customers on trips across 94 countries which is really starting to spread deep into the world.

It’s something we’re super proud of and want to continue to grow.

 

What do you think is the biggest challenge the industry faces in terms of  ’sustaining’ itself?

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The biggest issue is almost a bit of an elephant in the room – that, in general, you need to fly places to travel.

Flying and what it does to the world in terms of global warming – nobody’s really talking about it. Nobody really wants to talk about it because the industry we have today is quicker and cheaper than ever before giving more people the opportunity to explore it

It’s created the industry, but it’s also potentially the biggest challenge we’ve got.

The other challenge is just getting everyone in all parts of the industry to really buy into the fact that running a really responsible, sustainable business is the way to go.

We hope to run a super successful business on all fronts – not just a successful responsible tourism business but a business that’s commercially successful. If we achieve our aim, it will get people to move to the way we do business, to potentially copy us in some way.

That’s not normally a great thing but in terms of this industry becoming all it can be and making the places we travel to better for the locals that live there, well if everybody had that mindset, then the world would be an infinitely better place.

We’re realistic enough to know we can only really move the needle if we can prove to the industry you can be a commercial success through what we’re doing.

 

Do you think travel can change the world? Share your comments below.