The Glasgow Declaration brings new hope for the future of sustainable tourism. Photo / Elizeu Dias
The space between travel and sustainability is one full of seemingly irresolvable tensions and cognitive dissonance. Yet, it’s exactly where Jeremy Sampson has spent the last few years, and after COP26, he’s as hopeful as ever.
I still believe that travel and tourism can still be a significant force for good.
Sampson is the chief executive of the Travel Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to ensuring communities and the environment benefit from tourism.
If the name sounds familiar, you may know them as a key player in the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism; a document Sampson helped draft.
“The goal is basically to raise awareness and try to increase the number of organisations publicly declaring that there’s a climate emergency,” said Sampson over Zoom from his home in California.
While the tourism and travel industry’s response has been “slow and fragmented” in the past, Sampson said the declaration provides a universal, science-based framework that would align and catalyse the sector.
Global response to date
Since launching in early November, more than 300 organisations have signed the declaration, including Skyscanner and Intrepid Travel.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), has also signed on, representing a significant level of support from the private sector.
While the team were ‘ecstatic’ at the quantity and quality of signatories, Sampson said the truly exciting work came next; putting the declaration into action.
All those who sign must create a public, transparent climate action plan, aligned with science-based targets and International frameworks. This, in combination with annual reporting on progress, aims to increase transparency, accountability, and real action.
Those who failed to submit a sufficient plan would be removed, Sampson confirmed.
The annual reporting will be managed by United Nations World Tourism Organization and done using a mechanism that will be designed collaboratively with signatories.
Collaboration is key
In both the Glasgow Declaration and conversation with Sampson, the topic of collaboration surfaces often, something Sampson said was crucial for achieving climate goals but had been absent in the industry.
‘The climate emergency is bigger than any of us, but there are a lot of opportunities for peer-to-peer learning rather than fragmenting the solutions and ideas,” he said.
“When you think about the system, everyone shares the same suppliers, assets, the beaches, the green spaces, the destination themselves, and everyone shares travellers.”
By coming together to share solutions, investment, accountability and responsibility, Sampson said real change was ‘much more likely’.
What’s in it for them?
Many organisations, will no doubt frame participation as an altruistic act of goodwill. Sampson, however, says the motives are likely a little more calculated.
There are several drivers that I think are starting to affect the likelihood and willingness and ability of businesses to come to the table,” he said, describing the pressures of consumer sentiment, investor priorities and impending regulation.
“The thought behind some of these companies is we may as well lead and innovate rather than just have to respond to all the pushback that is probably coming.”
To travel or not to travel?
If travel and tourism produce damages the environment, it’s easy to think the best option is to halt tourism altogether.
To the relief of sustainably-minded travellers guiltily planning their next trip, Sampson said the issue and its solutions are far more nuanced than some make it out to be.
“It’s super important to point out that it’s not as black and white as people like to think,” he said, explaining how movements like flight shaming are great at promoting individual action and transport policy but often ignore the essential role tourism plays in destinations’ economies.
“During Covid it’s been even more clear how many places are dependent on tourism to ensure that their economy can thrive”, Sampson said.
The solution presented by the Glasgow Declaration is one that minimises damages, promotes regeneration whilst maintaining the financial benefits.
“What I believe in my heart is that this is the opportunity travel and tourism has long been waiting for to shift into a better and more equitable model, where the benefit is distributed in a more equitable way towards local people and the environment,” Sampson said.