In weeks we’ve gone from lamenting overtourism at popular destinations (hello Venice) to despair at hotels emptied by coronavirus. With many of us pondering the future, it seemed a good time to chat with Vancouver designer and environmental scientist David Oswald.
How bad were the tourism industry’s environmental impacts prior to the COVID-19 outbreak?
Bad. But it’s unrealistic for us to say we’re going to stay home and look at websites. We need to change the way we are travelling. We’ve got to find ways to have less greenhouse gas emissions.
Airlines need to find ways to lower their carbon trajectory. Carbon offsets are a legitimate option if done properly but offsetting shouldn’t be the responsibility of the consumer. You need to move it into the mainstream so it’s no longer a choice.
Belize, for example, has phenomenal scuba diving and they do a good job of managing their parks. Part of your fee goes into paying to manage that park. They have a fixed number of people who can go per day to places like the Blue Hole.
Hotels need to have an environmental management system. Energy, water and materials – if you track those and put in measures to reduce them, it’s a great start. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
What can travellers do when making their plans?
If you want to fly on an airline that’s paying attention to this issue, then look at the airline website and get their sustainability report. Compare it to other airlines. And ask hotels about their sustainability programs.
Will COVID-19 help us press the reset button on travel’s impact?
Yes, it will literally slow things down. Secondly, it could open up a new dialogue around risk – human risk and environment risk because they are interrelated.
Apparently, this virus came out of exotic species being sold at a wet market in China. It’s an interaction between humans and their environment. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to me now when you look at the broader impact.
We may be entering into the biggest economic downturn in 100 years and it’s caused by us messing with nature. That’s got to cause people to think about things.
This article originally appeared in the SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) Maple Leaf newsletter April 10, 2020