Post-COP26, travel really can be a force for good - comment by Barrhead Travel

The build-up to COP26 inspired the majority of Glasgow-based businesses to take serious steps to ensure sustainability strategies are fit for purpose, realistic and accountable.

A contentious point for the people and businesses of the city is how the event and the visitors drawn to it will positively impact the community. Whatever side of the discussion you land on, it is a topic that is more prevalent than ever when considering responsible travel and tourism across the world.

Now that the conference has been and gone, it is important to take stock of the ideas and ambitions that have been left for us to fulfil. Green finance, green infrastructure and other vast diplomatic projects are crucial and indeed impressive, but at Barrhead Travel, we were particularly excited to hear that governments and businesses around the world were developing new ways of thinking about sustainable practices in the everyday lives of consumers.

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'Ensuring that tourism is a platform to facilitate all of these positive outcomes is down to us - the travel industry and those who love to travel,' says Ms Dobson (file image). Picture: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.

This, of course, includes issues like recycling and sustainable mass transit, but it also means that consumers are imagining new ways of international travel.

Like many businesses, at Barrhead Travel we too have been investigating our commitments to sustainability with the relaunch of a group-wide sustainability pledge. We’re working with our global transport partners to understand their commitments to transitioning to greener alternatives and reviewing our entire store network operation to consider where we can reduce our carbon footprint and promote better sustainability practices.

But one topic that is front of mind for many destinations and tourist boards across the world is how to rebuild travel in the most responsible way possible. It is a privilege to be able to travel the world, visiting new countries and enjoying all the benefits that come from immersing yourself in new cultures. And with that privilege comes responsibility.

With one in ten jobs tied to tourism around the world, it is no surprise that the sector brings myriad economic benefits – particularly to countries that rely on it as a principal driver of their economy. These countries are reliant on a strong post-pandemic recovery – but many are taking the opportunity to ensure that tourism has an even more meaningful impact on their environment and their communities.

'Our goal is to understand how we can purposefully contribute to change the way we travel for good,' the Barrhead Travel boss says. Picture: Malcolm Cochrane.

Positive impact

Promoting responsible tourism is at the top of our agenda at Barrhead Travel. For us, “social sustainability” is key to protecting the long-term future of tourism. Our pledge to our customers and the destinations we work with is to help holidaymakers understand how they can make travel decisions that will positively impact the places they visit.

Spain, for example, makes up a number of our top destinations with the likes of the Canaries, Balearics, Costa del Sol and Alicante regularly dominating our top ten. Tourism in Spain is worth 12 per cent of Spain’s gross domestic product, and UK visitors comprise a substantial portion of this.

At ABTA’s recent Travel Convention, the UK director of the Spanish National Tourist Board, Manuel Butler, said that tourism had to return in a more sustainable way, remarking that it would involve “tremendous cultural change” and said the global industry “needs to put people in the centre of our economies”.

Mr Butler pointed to the issue of over-tourism in some of the country’s best-loved resorts. It’s a great example of highlighting how travel agencies, like ourselves, can help ease some of the challenges that destinations are facing. Promoting real off-the-beaten track experiences, making recommendations of locally-owned restaurants or attractions, and working to show people how they can respectfully interact with local cultures is just the start of how we can promote more sustainable and responsible tourism.

Evolution

We don’t pretend to know everything – in fact, there’s so much evolving in the responsible and sustainable tourism space – but we’ve identified the best ways that we can instigate change for our destination partners. Our goal is to understand how we can purposefully contribute to change the way we travel for good. Gone are the days where travelling responsibly simply meant “leave nothing behind but footprints”.

This is still, of course, very relevant but the meaning of travelling responsibly runs far deeper. As a nation that loves to holiday, we must learn how to make profound connections with communities when we travel.

Because travel can be a force for good. It creates jobs, boosts inward investments, supports education infrastructure, stabilises economies, promotes engagement with local cultures, fosters partnerships with people – and so, so much more. Ensuring that tourism is a platform to facilitate all of these positive outcomes is down to us, the travel industry and those who love to travel.

No matter what you’re travelling for – business, leisure, “bleisure”, visiting friends and family, or educational purposes, we all make our mark with our global footprint. We simply want to help make sure that the mark made by tourism is always a force for good.

Jacqueline Dobson is president of Barrhead Travel, and was recently named Scotland’s Inspirational Woman of the Year at the annual Business Women Scotland awards.

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