Future of Tourism forum in Vancouver debates sustainable travel
For your next vacation, Bruce Poon Tip wants you to think about not only where you’re going, but where your money is going. That’s because while you may be staying at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, your cash might be headed to a holding company in another country that operates in ways that hurt the locals at your destination. “When less than $5 of every $100 spent actually benefits the local people, that’s not sustainable,” he told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from Toronto.
The founder of G Adventures (formerly Gap Adventures) explained that asking about who owns the travel company you’re buying from and its record of community development is one way in which you can vacation more sustainably. But sustainable travel is a broad and complex concept, encompassing everything from buying locally to environmental issues to human-rights concerns. And for consumers, it can be confusing.
“What’s ecotourism? What’s sustainable? What’s responsible? What’s ethical?” he said. Confused travellers think: “‘I just want a holiday and I don’t want it to be so complicated.’”
Next Thursday (May 31), Poon Tip will speak at Future of Tourism, a forum in Vancouver that will define what makes for sustainable travel. He’ll talk about the challenges surrounding tourism over the next 20 years and identify choices people can make to be more responsible.
“There are so many things that are going to affect our purchase decisions,” he said. While one person might rate climate change tops, another might place more value on supporting local villagers. “It’s up to the consumer to decide what’s important to them but to have information to make that decision.”
Poon Tip has made presentations on sustainable travel at numerous international conferences, including at the United Nations. According to the event’s news release, tourism supports more than 258 million jobs worldwide. Over 900 million international tourists travelled last year, and the United Nations World Tourism Organization forecasts 1.6 billion tourists by the year 2020.
That’s a lot of people who can make a difference with their purchasing power.
Poon Tip said that while many people now practise sustainability in their everyday lives—by recycling, conserving water with low-flush toilets, and eating organically, for example—they “don’t extend that thinking when they go to a resort that consumes massive amounts of resources while people just outside those gates have none”.
They also may not realize the local impact of trends such as increasingly larger cruise ships. Poon Tip explained that when a ship with 6,000 passengers docks for a day on an island with a population of 9,000, “it disrupts kids from going to school. Ships come every Tuesday and Thursday; then the kids stop going to school those days and in between they start making things to sell to tourists.”
However, he believes “there’s a tipping point coming” in consumers’ understanding of sustainable travel. When people start changing their demands—for example, asking for smaller cruise ships—companies will respond with more sustainable products. “I believe the future of tourism is in the hands of the consumer.”
At the forum, Paula Vlamings, who is co-executive director of the nonprofit Planeterra Foundation, will speak along with Poon Tip. So will travellers Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott, who write the blog UncorneredMarket. David Suzuki will provide a video introduction.
Future of Tourism takes place next Thursday (May 31) at 7:15 p.m. at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts (777 Homer Street). Tickets are free (a $5 donation to Planeterra is encouraged); register at the Future of Tourism website.