Travel & Tourism

Travel and tourism needs to come clean

Not just corona-clean; but real clean.

Admit it. Our industry is definitely not one of the cleanest in the world – we destroy our environment, the very basis of our industry; we do not respect the people who work in the industry; we do not treat them kindly or fairly; people are seen as disposable.

Just like the trash the cruise ships once spread across the Caribbean seas and oceans; there is rampant disregard for laws (minimum wages and other labour laws, including the right to organise); the tourism sector was never really integrated into the value chains of local economies; locals were never really valued, just their powder white sand, sun and beaches; we trade in human beings; we treat sustainability as a marketing ploy and pretend that environmental friendliness is just about reusing towels; we behave as if black lives do not matter.

Our industry needs to come clean; and we need to find ‘out of the box’ solutions to our current corona-inspired crisis. Let’s talk about paid holidays, for a start. What if Americans had six weeks of paid holidays like the Germans? What if the Chinese had four Golden Weeks of holiday instead of just one? What if other Asians no longer worked on a Saturday? If we were bold enough to increase paid holidays, we would boost trade and perhaps require less aid. Radical changes require radical solutions. The talk of more paid holidays has always been a ‘no, no’, but what has corona done? Forced all of us to stay at home and all of a sudden, to work from home.

How many more coronas do we need to see the light? This is why the Island of Barbados is ‘spot on’ in its decision to offer ‘long-stay’ visas, up to a year, so that you can become a long-stay tourist, work from a beautiful environment, optimise your work-life balance and possibly live longer!

It is time for the tourism industry to ‘come out’, to ‘come clean’, and to reinvent ourselves. Just as coffee-drinkers demanded that their farmers are paid fairly for their coffee, so too will travellers increasingly demand that the destinations that they treasure must be treated fairly – both the inhabitants and the environment.

Cruise lines need to come clean too

Cruise lines must re-think their business and stop holding destinations and workers for ransom. Cruise tourism destinations should view themselves as the block-buster attractions that the cruise lines and their passengers cannot live without – Warm weather, uncrowded beaches (until they arrive), island life, colourful markets, historic cathedrals (Mallorca), amazing glaciers and ice caps in the Nordic countries; one of the best sailing grounds in the Caribbean (the Grenadines); a whole nature island that is Dominica; the oldest forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere (Tobago); The Pitch Lake and Caroni Swamp (Trinidad); amazing bird life; pristine rain forests and whale watching, diving and snorkelling; natural wonders (the volcano-created Piton twin-Mountains in St. Lucia; unique cultural events, festivals and much, much, more! So, if you have a block-buster movie, will you grant free entrance to the cinema in the hope of making money from selling the popcorn? Think about it! The German car industry has had to come clean; to deal with its emissions scandal (Germans lied about the amount of emissions their cars produced). We in the travel business produce travel no different from the way Ford made his cars – mass, standardised and rigidly packaged, with little regard for the environment or local people.

Aren’t we in the travel industry also liars? We lie about our sustainability measures; we lie about the people we employ and how much they are paid or where they come from; we try to hide our sub-optimal ecological footprint as travellers; we irreparably damage and destroy our reefs and our environment in the name of tourism, as we build sparkling new resorts. Perhaps corona is the opportunity to re-think, to re-invent and to re-focus our industry; to re-engineer our value chains; to come clean. It is now time for fair trade in tourism, starting with cruise ships.

Should we not be asking where all of those nice things we enjoy come from and why we serve our guests apples and grapes in the Caribbean, while the organic mangoes, pesticide-free sapodillas and vitamin C-rich cherries rot on the ground? So, who’s really benefitting from tourism? Think about it.

*Dr. Auliana Poon, is managing director/chief strategist, Leve Global; (Formerly Tourism Intelligence International)

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