Can tourism make the world a better place?
“The future of tourism is really about you,” says former Calgarian Bruce Poon Tip, founder of 23-year-old G Adventures, a tour company operating in more than 100 countries. It’s about savvy travel consumers making sustainable travel choices.
“The consumer holds all the cards and has all the power,” he explains.
Poon Tip was in Calgary to host the Future of Tourism. a free, multimedia event touring the world to raise awareness of sustainable tourism, which he defines as tourism that preserves the environment, culture and heritage sites, and creates local jobs.
Along with travel blogger Matthew Kepnes, Poon Tip is exploring the impact tourism has on global change. Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki and Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler deliver video messages.
In 1990, when Poon Tip started, travelers, he says, were “completely unconscious.” There was no Internet and no way to research except the library and travel agents. The advent of the Information Age rapidly induced a power shift from the travel industry to the increasingly knowledgeable consumer.
“The future of tourism is all in the hands of the consumer and their buying decisions.” They will create the demand for more or less sustainable forms of travel.
“It’s my belief that (the) industry has to educate consumers more about what tourism really is about outside of just a week on the beach and a holiday, as people see it now. People are really motivated by discounts and sometimes their decisions are having a negative impact.”
With tourism growing so rapidly, its impacts will multiply. In 2012, the United Nations World Tourism Organization recorded a billion international travelers. In the next 10 years, Poon Tips adds, it’s expected the number of travelers will double to two billion.
“The growth is not sustainable. Things have to change dramatically in order for us to be able to still preserve some of the world’s most beautiful locations for future generations.”
The Future of Tourism will help people better understand how tourism can benefit — what it means to local economies and the environment, for example, and “how it can actually aid in sustainability, if done right.”
When buying a holiday, Poon Tip emphasizes the importance of consumers knowing what they want instead of impulse shopping and understanding the long-term impacts of the sale.
“Companies offering these junket week on the beach kind of holidays are all announcing record profits.” And when you get that deal, he explains, local business owners are often squeezed. Fortunately, the fastest growing segment of the industry is experiential travel.
“I believe there is no faster path to peace than people getting to know the way people live. I think there’s a lot of horrendous things happening in the world because of ignorance and lack of understanding of other cultures. I’m a real believer that tourism can be that vehicle for people to have a bit more compassion.
“I’m also a believer that tourism is going to generate $10 trillion in revenue annually in the next decade, and, if business models are right, it could be the single biggest form of wealth distribution that the world’s ever seen.”