Simon Reeve is an explorer, author and TV presenter who is passionate about responsible travel. In this exclusive article, he talks to us about the impact of the pandemic on the travel industry and tells us how we can all play a part to ensure we travel more sustainably in the future…
Whether your ideal holiday is snorkelling in the Maldives, going on a thrilling safari in Kenya, or drinking rum punch in the Caribbean, many of us are dreaming of the moment when travel restrictions are lifted, and we can head off on holidays and adventures. The global travel industry has taken a hammering during the pandemic, with empty resorts and millions out of work. But at least we know that lockdowns and travel restrictions appear to have been of some benefit to the environment. With most of us grounded, skies are clearer, seas are cleaner, and in some parts of the world, wildlife has been retaking empty tourist towns. There were even said to be coyotes playing in the streets of San Francisco.
Before the pandemic, many of us already had mixed emotions about flying and travelling because of the impact on the planet. With the end of the pandemic now possibly in sight, thanks to the scientific cavalry arriving on the scene with millions of vaccines, can we learn from the positive environmental impact of the virus shutdown to travel more sustainably and responsibly in the future?
Many of us already choose to offset our flight emissions, usually by investing in environmental projects around the world. Personally I was sceptical about these schemes, until I saw how offsetting was creating forests in Costa Rica. Booking to fly by the most direct route also helps because most flight carbon emissions are emitted during take-off and landing. Yet, there is a dangerous perception that tourism is just a huge problem for the planet. Although I am not ignoring the environmental consequences of us jetting around the globe, we also need to remember the fundamental importance of travel.
Our best chance of protecting wildlife is often in national parks and marine protected areas. These places are like Wildlife Arks, and hundreds of them are partly or entirely dependent on money for tourism to survive. Whenever we visit, whether on a day trip or a week-long safari, we are charged an entrance fee, which helps pay the salaries of rangers and provides petrol for the engine in the fishing patrol boat. Many Arks have suffered terribly during the pandemic. Billions of dollars of tourism revenue, critical money for communities that live in and around biodiverse regions, have evaporated as the pandemic kept potential travellers at home. The result, in many parts of Africa, Asia and South America, has been mass layoffs among park rangers and conservation groups, reduced enforcement patrols and dramatic increases in poaching.
Conservation International has warned: “There is a misperception that nature is ‘getting a break’ from humans during the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, many rural areas in the tropics face increased pressure from land grabbing, deforestation, illegal mining and wildlife poaching.” Responsible tourism can actually help conservation by giving people in poorer parts of the world an economic incentive to protect what we all value and love. As Nelson Mandela said: ‘Ultimately conservation is about people. If you don’t have sustainable development around these wildlife parks, then people will have no interest in them, and the parks will not survive.’
Many of the world’s best hotels are steadily reducing their environmental footprint. I’ve stayed in hotels that are running their own conservation schemes, directly funding wildlife protection, providing village schools, and creating artificial new coral reef to protect marine biodiversity. In the Maldives, I’ve been underwater with a dozen graceful manta rays, who were safe from fishing boats because locals were making more money from tourism. In Kenya, where tourism employs more than a million people, I’ve heard again and again how income from safaris helps persuade communities to value their wildlife.
The more we can do on our holidays, the further we stray from the sun lounger to experience the real destination, the more likely we are to put more money into the local economy, and often the local environment, while hugely benefitting ourselves because we have richer and more rewarding experiences. In the aftermath of the pandemic, travel and sustainable tourism can once again employ guards and guides and give local people a reason to protect and preserve iconic wildlife. Our tourism pounds, dollars and rupees can help wild places to survive.
Kuoni has been at the forefront of responsible travel for many years and we believe small changes can make a big difference. You can find out more about our range of eco-conscious hotels and offsetting flights through Gold Standard by chatting to our Personal Travel Experts.