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Coordinated efforts to support each other across the travel industry offer a blueprint for the future.

Coordinated efforts to support each other across the travel industry offer a blueprint for the future. | Photo by Luis Morera on Unsplash

The Future of Travel Hinges on Cooperation


Published on April 15, 2020


If the coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that humanity is inherently good during a crisis. From cheering for healthcare workers to surges in charitable donations, people are stepping up to celebrate and help their neighbors, community members, and complete strangers in this time of need.

This probably doesn’t surprise anyone who travels. One of the greatest gifts travel offers is the chance to meet people across a wide spectrum of cultural, religious, economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Some people gravitate toward these interactions, and other people feel shy, nervous, or uncomfortable in these situations.

Regardless, by nudging people to interact with strangers, travel experiences highlight one key thing: Despite our differences, we are all people. Generally speaking, we all feel joy and pain. We all worry about and want the best for our loved ones. We all make mistakes and have goals we’d like to achieve.

The human condition is universal.

When the coronavirus pandemic initially swept across the world, it toppled small businesses and upended life as we know it practically overnight. The travel and tourism industry found itself reeling in its wake. Though accurately predicting the ultimate impact COVID-19 will have on the industry is a moving target, the World Tourism Organization suggests international arrivals could drop 20%-30% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Competition has been set aside in the name of survival.

Despite this grim outlook, in the days and weeks that followed international lockdowns, attention in the industry has widely turned from internal crisis management to one of goodwill. Though travel and tourism isn’t necessarily a cutthroat industry, there is some competition, especially among service providers. Yet, with the pandemic, competition has been set aside in the name of survival.

Yes, companies are focusing attention on how to keep would-be travelers engaged. However, this fight for survival combined with the goodwill fostered within the industry has turned more heartfelt attention toward local communities, staff, and each other. This new focus has ignited a shared sense of purpose and cooperation. And it’s in this capacity where there is enormous potential for a sustainable, healthier future for tourism.

Focus on Communities

The tourism industry can not exist without protecting the destinations where people travel or the people who live in those destinations.

For some travel-focused companies, taking care of business right now means taking care of local communities.

A lot of service providers have a charitable arm or social good project tied to their companies. While financial contributions to these initiatives may feel tangential to travelers, the economic impact of these donations makes a big difference for recipients. Without bookings, these charitable contributions funneled through tour companies dry up, and the ripple effect can be devastating. For some travel-focused companies, taking care of business right now means taking care of local communities.

Here are a few companies turning their attention to charitable efforts:

  • The founder of Travel Matters acknowledges privileged travelers can shelter safely in place, but that’s not the case for the communities the company supports in Africa and Asia. The company’s crowdfunding campaign will help provide safe water, food, and better sanitation during this crisis.
  • Good Life Expeditions evolved from a non-profit organization called MEDLIFE that empowers the poor and offers equal access to education, medical care, and a safe home. During business as usual, Good Life’s profits benefit MEDLIFE, and its commitment continues during the pandemic.
  • G Adventures’ non-profit partner, Planeterra, is specifically raising money for emergency assistance grants and resources to help community partners get through this difficult time.

Focus on Staff

It’s still too early to say when or in what capacity travel will resume. But when it does, we’ll need people to provide the services along the entire tourism supply chain. Millions of people around the world are directly employed by the tourism industry, and just about all of them are feeling the devastating crush delivered by COVID-19.

It’s little surprise, then, that many companies are working hard to keep their staff employed in some capacity. These innovative solutions highlight the importance service providers place on their own people, even if it means working with so-called competitors.

Consider the following:

Focus on Each Other

During prosperous times, companies reinforce their foundations so they’re strong and soli, to ensure they can hold fast during times of turbulence. It’s not until those foundations are shaken that every company realizes they aren’t as strong as originally anticipated.

But no one is going down without a fight, and a vast majority of industry players are working hard to hold each other up.

And that’s understandable: There is absolutely no way to anticipate every single scenario. No one foresaw the extent to which this pandemic shook the travel and tourism industry.

It would be easy for every company and destination to cling with dear life to what they’d established and perfected over the years. Unfortunately, the truth is that some companies will sink and some will survive this wave of the pandemic. But no one is going down without a fight, and a vast majority of industry players are working hard to hold each other up.

The list of resources developed by industry players is exhaustive (Resilient Destinations is a holding place for many of them). While compiling these lists is helpful for each person or company involved in curating, these resources ultimately benefit everyone who needs them. Brainstorming sessions, webinars, and online conversations demonstrate a true desire within the industry to help each other through this difficult time. They also draw up a blueprint for how the industry can collaborate, play to each other’s strengths, and support each other’s efforts when it’s time to return to the “new normal.”

Ultimately, a Focus on Now for a Better Future

Look around and you’ll see countless examples of travel-focused initiatives keeping people engaged. These are admirable and important efforts. But peel back the layers, and the real work — the efforts that really matter — are happening behind the scenes. Without question, logistically and economically, there are a host of issues the travel and tourism industry needs to address. However, current efforts point to the kinds of solutions that can surface and a willingness to lift others up even when we’re struggling too.

Travelers will return someday. But they’ll only have somewhere to go and something to experience if the industry spends its efforts now focusing on the needs of local communities, employees, and each other.

Those crowd-sourced charitable efforts and that community clapping the pandemic has surfaced? They bring out the best in humanity, but they also highlight what people have the capacity to do and feel when they focus on what really matters. These actions paint a picture of shared purpose and understanding. They also point toward a future where sustainable, meaningful, purpose-driven travel focused on people is a legitimate reality.

JoAnna Haugen

JoAnna Haugen is a writer, public speaker, solutions advocate, and founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, storytelling, and social impact. Get in touch with her for partnership and collaboration opportunities.


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