Tourism is bouncing back - but can we make travel sustainable?

Cape Town and the 12 Apostels from above in South Africa: Travel and Tourism Development Index 2024 shows an uptick in tourism and determines the industry’s sustainability in different countries.

Our Travel and Tourism Development Index 2024 shows an uptick in tourism and determines the industry’s sustainability in different countries. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Robin Pomeroy
Podcast Editor, World Economic Forum
Sophia Akram
Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Energy and Materials
  • A new World Economic Forum index reveals that tourism is rising post-COVID-19, with sustainability in tourism a key factor in determining the index's ranking of countries.
  • Guests in the travel and tourism sector speak on the latest episode of Radio Davos about ways to reduce travel's negative impacts and increase its positive ones.
  • Listen to the podcast here, on any podcast app via this link or YouTube.

“What we need... is people to understand that when they go out and take a trip, there’s this style of consumerism, there’s a responsibility they have to learn about the environment, the place that they’re visiting, understand the local community and not be wasteful, and that actually can have a more positive impact on the ground than if they didn’t go at all.”

So says Jacqueline Gifford, editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure. She joins several guests on Radio Davos this week as the World Economic Forum’s biennial benchmark tool for the Travel and Tourism sector comes out.

Maksim Soshkim leads much of the Forum’s work in this area and joins as co-host while breaking down the highlights of the Travel and Tourism Development Index 2024. The index ranks 119 economies based on the enabling factors and policies that lead to more sustainable and resilient travel and tourism development. The recently finalised index shows an uptick in tourism while measuring factors determining the industry’s sustainability.

Neil Jacobs from Sixth Sense Hotels joins guest Gifford, explaining his mission to eliminate single-use plastic in his hotel’s supply chain. He is also joined by Michaella Rugwizangoga, head of tourism for Rwanda, where income from foreign visitors helps conserve a unique ecosystem and its endangered mountain gorillas.

Here are the highlights from the episode:

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The rise of the 'experience' economy

Jacqueline Gifford, Editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure: The idea years ago that people would take a trip and that was only for the super affluent. That's completely changed. We've seen the experience economy grow over the past 15 years, and now, instead of buying things and consuming, which is tied to sustainability, obviously, people want experiences.

Studies and research show that when you buy something, the gratification you get from buying that thing, it only lasts a little bit. But when you actually have an experience and say, you go to Rome with your family and you learn how to make pizza together at a beautiful restaurant, that experience stays with you for the rest of your life.

So I think travel and the experience economy are only going to continue to grow. And we've seen, coming out of Covid, to be honest, that's just gone into hyperdrive because people were shut indoors. They had that taken away from them. So now there's this desire to do more and see more because they feel it could go away again at any time.

Pioneering sustainability in hospitality

Neil Jacobs, Sixth Sense Hotels: For us, even prior to being part of a meaningful entity, we took a view going back about four or five years now that we want to eliminate single-use plastic from all of our properties and this gave us an opportunity to really take a deep dive into the back of the house and the supply chain aspects of the plastic products.

Every property we have allocates half a per cent of revenue to sustainable objectives in the jurisdiction where those hotels reside. So plastic was one of those group objectives whereby we went out to all our executives and said, this is what we're going to do, this is how we're going to do it.

First thing that was done was an inventory of every single piece of plastic was taken in every hotel…We were tracking numbers. We made, you know, almost a competition out of it between all the different properties and, you know, general managers of hotels generally very competitive…

And we took that major, major inventory again. And, pleased to say that we probably reduced overall by about 65-70%.


From poachers to protectors

Michaella Rugwizangoga, Head of Tourism for Rwanda: A couple of years ago, a lot of them, people who are now rangers, were poachers. They would actually kill the gorillas to sell to whoever wants pieces of their bodies for whichever reason.

But today, the former poachers are now rangers. It's about earning a living. It's about dignity. It's about seeing changes.

I think what we've achieved here is an incredible balance between conservation and improving the lives of the people…

The visitors who come to Rwanda understand that they are conservationists in a way because they do good, and the revenue that they bring into the country is used for positive reasons…

One essential thing that we've done here in Rwanda, and which has proven to be successful, is to involve the local population from the get-go, to have their buy-in, to make them understand that the programme that the government is putting in place, the decision to develop tourism, the decision to develop, whether it's leisure tourism or conference tourism, it has to be done hand in hand with them. They are the prime actors, but also the prime beneficiaries of this development.

Listen to the full episode below, on any podcast app via this link or on YouTube.


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BusinessNature and BiodiversitySustainable Development
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