Last Wednesday evening, our Travel +SocialGood Toronto hub team partnered with Buy Good Feel Good Expo to execute a panel discussion on sustainable tourism: Travel for Impact - What are the Possibilities? I recently realized how much I love to moderate discussions and interview cool people. My questions on the industry of voluntourism, sustainable development, resources, group travel and various social justice topics, were directed to 4 fabulous speakers and leaders in the travel industry: Justine Abigail - Director of Marketing and Communications at Operation Groundswell, Kelly Galaski - Director of Programs at Planeterra, Alana Simpson - Lead Coordinator of the Wanderful Toronto chapter, and Desmond Tibby - General Manager of Hostelling International Toronto. All four panelists came to the table with such a diverse and unique experience in the travel industry, coming from various sectors with different advocacy topics to share and educate others on. This is what got me thinking about the importance of sharing in a world striving for conscious living. Knowledge comes in many different forms, and can be revealed in rather nontraditional approaches. For example, I’ve never seen myself as a travel “expert” or in general “a know-er of things, yet I’m approached weekly to share my stories, knowledge and resources of living a conscious lifestyle, especially while travelling. We often feel a piece of paper with an official institutional emblem is the only way to be taken seriously or to feel important, and this has always been a sensitive topic for me as I've only completed one year of university. That being said, the digital age, along with the travel bug that has bit almost every millennial, goes to show how authentic cultural and social experiences, storytelling and peer-to-peer learning is just as effective and allows us to approach conscious living a little more holistically.
Responsible travel may have always been a concept, but understanding how exactly travel affects development from an economic, environmental, political and social perspective is a huge challenge. How exactly do you measure each flight, meal, hotel, and purchase to ensure positive impact is being made? How do you truly audit yourself? Some might not even see a point of making a small change here or there as they “are only one person”. That’s the mindset that leads us to fail. Changing our view on humanity and seeing everyone as a member of a global community, is a much stronger approach to how positive growth can occur quite quickly even with one small step at a time. If each and everyone of us began implementing critical thinking into our vacation brain (yes, I know it’s a challenge when all you want to do is drink on a beach), and we pushed ourselves to dig deeper into new discoveries and not just skim the surface of every new experience, it almost becomes impossible to not notice the chain of reactions from each decision we make (sorry for the double negative).
As we enter one of the busiest seasons for travel, especially to hot climate destinations, it's an especially important time to start carving out your adventures as a responsible traveler. We are already seeing the effects humans have had on our world; from severe hurricanes and storms reflective of climate change, to the closure of various islands and tourist attractions due to long term abuse from careless travelers. Responsible travel is accessible and attainable for all. It has nothing to do with budget, class or the way you travel. It has everything to do with mindset though. Open your critical eye and watch as your business and leisure travel begin to reshape. Here’s some tips to get started:
Investigate your preferred airlines' corporate values and if they are implementing their CSR goals
Stop staying at major American chains when you are not in America (or you know, stop in general)
Stop eating at major American chains when you are not in America (and actually stop in general)
Skip the all-inclusive and go for some authentic culture - you’ll thank me for that one
Think local, think entrepreneurship, think social good and in turn you will do good
When you are ready for more, I’ll be here and so will thousands of other responsible travelers eager to share their knowledge, stories and experiences with you. The only way to move forward is to come together as a community and learn from each other.