Anne Majumdar

Travel and tourism absolutely have the power to change lives for the better – it’s a powerful message that we are set to hear repeatedly this year.

Why?

Because 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development – a project launched last by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) at the International Tourism Fair of Spain, FITUR.

The next 12 months will be filled with activities designed to advance the contribution of sustainable tourism to sustainable development as a whole and to encouraging travellers to “Travel.Enjoy.Respect”.

“Tourism has become a pillar of economies, a passport to prosperity, and a transformative force for improving millions of lives,” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said at the launch.

“The world can and must harness the power of tourism as we strive to carry out the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

So what is this agenda all about?

In short, it’s a 17-point plan “to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty” and “to heal and secure our planet”.

Certainly an ambitious undertaking.

“2017 is a unique opportunity for us to promote the contribution of tourism to achieving the future we want – and also to determine, together, the exact role we will have tourism play in the sustainable development agenda, to and beyond 2030,” UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai said, also speaking at the launch.

So, to what extent is sustainable travel already on our agendas?

According to a 2016 study by global insurance provider AIG Travel, just over half of respondents (52%) said it is important to travel sustainably. But more than a third (35%) reported difficulty doing so. Of those, 50% said the main barrier was simply “not knowing how”.

In fact, a lack of clarity over exactly what sustainable travel means proved to be even more of an issue with 71% defining it as “minimising environmental impact”. While correct, thatt’s only a part of the notion of sustainable travel – the broader definition also includes economic and social elements.

“The results suggest a major opportunity for consumer education around this important cause,” AIG chief executive Jeff Rutledge said.

“International travel is more accessible today than ever before, and with this access comes a responsibility to positively impact the places we visit.”

And it’s not just about giving back to a destination. It makes good business sense too.

Another study released last year by Sustainable Travel International revealed “sustainable” travellers are extremely valuable to the tourism industry.

Its 2016 Role of Sustainability in Travel & Tourism report showed 60% of US travellers had taken a “sustainable” trip in the last three years and that they spent more (on average US$600 per trip), stayed longer (seven days compared to four days) and brought more benefits to local communities.

Those are figures definitely worth backing.

So if you still don’t really understand the concept of sustainable travel, worry not – you soon will. Expect this already hot trend to get even hotter this year.

KarryOn is proud to support this wonderful story as another fine fantastic example of our 2017 ‘Travel to change the world’ initiative. You can help by sharing this story to raise awareness and using the hashtag #traveltochangetheworld when you see a great example of good will or sustainable initiatives in travel.

Have you had a “sustainable” tourism experience yet? Are you seeing an increased interest in travellers wanting to make a difference?