With every crisis comes change, and many predict that the reboot of sorts for the world and the travel industry would swing the pendulum towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable form of tourism.
Hoping for a real mindset and behaviour change in the travel industry is Hamish Keith, CEO at Exo Travel.
“We hope that one of the silver linings of this very dark storm that is still raging around us is that people will think more carefully about how they travel and who they travel with. We know that there is an inevitability to people traveling more responsibly and more carefully and we also know it takes time before habits change," said Keith.
Anthony Lim, president at Asia at The Travel Corporation (TTC), which operates a family of brands including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, believes demand for sustainable travel experiences will grow.
“As the world begins to recover and travel was on pause for the past year, clients are now more mindful in travelling responsibly and will be inspired in making a positive impact in the destinations and local communities they visit,” he remarked.
“Also, they will be choosing more consciously a preferred travel company which has established sustainable travel guidelines and initiatives.”
Like most businesses, TTC has used the downtime as take stock of its environmental footprint and establish road maps for a greener future, reinforcing the company’s stand to stay the course with the development of its new five-year sustainability strategy, How We Tread Right, covering issues such as climate change, food waste, diversity and inclusion, and animal welfare.
“If there was a silver lining, the global pandemic has enabled us to very much focus on the implementation of our strategy,” said Lim.
It’s a similar story for another sustainability-focused company, Abercrombie & Kent, with regional managing director, Southeast Asia, Belinda Shillcock, saying: “During this period, we have focused on product development and how we can provide the most sustainable and memorable travel experiences.
"When the world is ready to reopen safely once again, Abercrombie & Kent Southeast Asia is ready to offer our guests sustainable, slow travel experiences throughout the region — staying longer, travelling deeper and ensuring lasting and more meaningful engagements with the people and places that we visit.”
But true sustainability in tourism goes beyond environmental protection, these industry veterans pointed out.
It’s also about “fair income distribution, protecting the sense of place and operating responsibly whilst giving back to the communities we visit”, said Shillcock.
As well, the pandemic has inevitably popularised the use of single-use plastics again, an area these tour companies are keen to reduce when travel reopens.
Exo, for example, will continue to promote reusable water bottles, provide reusable masks and support local projects to provide sanitisers made with sustainable materials.
“While Covid has massively impacted our business, disrupted our industry and will no doubt change the way people travel, we see sustainability as a long-term mission that transcends this crisis,” concluded Keith.
Ock Pop Tok, a social enterprise in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Contiki
Top sustainable tours in Southeast Asia
Anthony Lim, The Travel Corporation: "Contiki’s Big Indochina Adventure, Asian Adventure and Laos & Cambodia Uncovered, featuring the social enterprise Ock Pop Tok in Luang Prabang, weaving enterprise who aims to empower women through their traditional skills and promote Laotian textiles and crafts across the globe. One of the goals of Ock Pop Tok is to make weaving a viable career option for women in Laos."
Belinda Shillcock, Abercrombie & Kent: "In Thailand’s Andaman Sea, Surin National Park offers amazing snorkeling and diving experiences and is also home to the Moken. This traditionally nomadic, seafaring tribe are skilled sea divers who are able to dive to unimaginable depths without oxygen or other modern equipment. They forage for food in the jungle and go spearfishing for their daily meals. There is no word for 'worry' in their language, no writing system and the village chief is a medicine man.
Hamish Keith, Exo Travel: "Laos Buffalo Dairy, a sustainable farm in Luang Prabang with rents buffaloes from local villages to produce dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and ice cream. It’s a great place for visitors to discover a social business behind the making cheese and helping farmers.