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Jamie Sweeting, Planeterra: Travel to change the world

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.

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, Jamie Sweeting, president of Planeterra, 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 was lucky enough to get into SCUBA diving when I was a teenager through a club we had at my school.

As soon as we got out of the dingy lakes in the midlands of England and started taking trips (my first big one was to Corsica in the Mediterrarean) it just became obvious to me that we should be protecting the environments we wanted to go and enjoy as tourists.

This led me on a journey to build a career around conserving nature and supporting local people in the places travellers like to visit.


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

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I love to travel and to enjoy natural and cultural experiences all over the world.  Turns out I’m not in a minority!

We now have people taking over a billion international trips a year, and in China alone over four billion domestic trips will be taken this year.  The more people reach “middle class” status the more they want to explore the world around them.  I think its part of who we are – in our DNA so-to-speak.

Personally I think this is fabulous and I’m not one of those folks who says we should travel less, far from it, I’m all for travelling more.

However, we do need to work on ways to travel better.  This means doing less harm to the environment and doing more to leave more benefits to the host communities in the places we want to visit.


Do you think travel can change the world?

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I think travel can change the world in a number of different ways.

It can change your world by allowing you to gain a greater affinity for this little blue planet of ours and the peoples who call it home.  For example, I’ve been blessed to spend considerable time with different indigenous people from different regions of the world.  Slowing myself down to experience their way of life, ways of interacting with nature and their diverse cultures has improved my life immeasurably.

Perhaps even more than this though we can participate in an industry that has the potential to raise millions of people out of poverty and allow them to sustain their own lives through engaging in the global tourism economy.  This is what we focus on at the Planeterra Foundation and we have been able to help change the world for thousands of disadvantaged and often marginalized people living in tourism destinations in over 25 countries.


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

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I think the industry has come a long way in the last 20 years when it comes to ‘doing less harm’.  This is both notable and admirable.

I worked with and in the cruise sector for a number a years and the progress they have made in terms of environmental stewardship is tremendous – did you know the largest cruise ships in the world actually send no waste to the landfill?!

However, I think that as an industry there is so much more that we could be doing to ‘do more good.’

Are we really doing an adequate job of the stewarding the resources that make up our product – namely the places we take people to visit and the people who live in and around them?

We can and must do more or our industry will be in peril.


What projects is Planeterra undertaking in this space?

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Planeterra is all about helping to bring community/non-profit social enterprises into the tourism value chain.

How does this help?  By working with marginalized women, disadvantaged youth and indigenous communities to help them build their own tourism businesses we are able to empower them to sustain their own livelihoods and not rely on the charity of others to get by.

For example, we have an amazing partner called Ingan Tours in Tully in Northern Queensland.  We’ve helped this aboriginal community tourism business to set up Café Chloe at the historic Tully railway station.  This business acts as a youth training centre providing hospitality work experience for teenagers from the local high school.  It also provides a fabulous cultural experience for travellers interested in learning more about the Jirrbal tribe, their history, customs, culture and life experiences.


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


As I’ve mentioned, tourism is big business and is only getting bigger each year.  At the same time we are not doing enough to look after the places we like to visit and the people that live in these places.  This is by definition unsustainable.

When left to its own devices, tourism has proven to be rather parasitic – devouring its host as it grows.  We can all name places we used to visit as a kid that were great that have been ‘spoilt by tourism’ – this really doesn’t need to be the case.

If every traveller and every travel company simply put more effort into supporting local people and promoting more local businesses, I believe that we would create a community of folks with a vested interest in protecting the very assets of that place that travellers want to come and experience.

Airlines, cruise lines, hoteliers and tour companies can all work harder to buy local and hire local.


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