Last week an article published by Trafalgar in April 2020 resurfaced online. The title, “7 of the world’s most eco friendly airlines,” caught my eye because, well, there is no such thing as an eco-friendly airline. There are, however, misleading headlines like this one that cause far more harm than good.
When considering the problems plaguing an outdated tourism model, fingers have pointed toward cruise ships and cheap airline tickets. Meanwhile, consumer-facing travel media has largely been let off the hook.
Travel writing has long been categorized as “lifestyle” content. It sits alongside health and wellness, food and drink, and leisure and hobbies. This is a logical place for it. Yet, travel is not a common consumer product. It isn’t something people spend a few dollars on then set on a shelf.
Travel media supports expansion when it embraces diverse voices and responsible reporting and publishing practices.
People invest in travel experiences. Their hard-earned money may go toward only a few major trips over the course of a lifetime. As such, the content people consume prior to traveling matters a great deal. People use travel content to decide where, when, and how to travel. It also shapes their expectations and assumptions about how to act and behave.
Executed mindfully, responsibly, and intentionally, travel writing can create awareness and educate readers about topics such as:
- Oppression of marginalized people and Indigenous rights.
- Environmental issues like deforestation, coral bleaching, and food deserts.
- Cultural appropriation and colonialism.
- Social problems like gentrification and human trafficking.
- Intersectionality between environmentalism, classism, racism, and other global issues.
- Animal exploitation.
It can also offer nuance about complex issues and encourage travelers to look beyond the dominant stories and storytellers in popular destinations. It can be more transparent and honest, inviting readers to grapple with, learn from, and actively engage in travel experiences.
Travel can expand people’s perspective of the world. Travel media supports that expansion when it embraces diverse voices and responsible reporting and publishing practices.
Travel writing can be problematic. You are the solution.
Unfortunately, travel writing has been known to contribute to a narrower — and destructive — lens of the world due to irresponsible editorial choices. These editorial choices include, for example, publishing misleading headlines (like the aforementioned eco-friendly airlines headline), using clichés or stereotypical tropes that misrepresent people or places, or leaving out essential context or background information that aids in understanding.
These choices spring from an even deeper well of problems within travel media, which include a severe lack of diversity, shallow or rushed desk research, opaque advertising models, and imbalanced power dynamics.
Unfortunately, because of the very real actions people take when consuming travel media, these entrenched and compounded industry issues can lead to a host of problems in the destinations where people travel. These include the ongoing oppression of marginalized people, accelerated environmental damage, and irresponsible behavior and decision-making on behalf of travelers.
Travel content is a vital source of information for people making decisions with serious financial, environmental, and socio-cultural consequences. As such, travel media — both publications in general and content creators specifically — must accept responsibility for what they put out into the world. Additionally, the tourism industry at large must hold travel media accountable for the content it publishes.
The need to carefully consider and evaluate the triple bottom line — people, planet, profit — is urgent and essential if popular travel media is to become a partner in the efforts to “build back better.” This requires dismantling and decolonizing traditional travel media business models, conducting a critical inventory of internal and public-facing diversity policies, and rethinking travel media’s role and mission in an increasingly sustainability-focused society. It also requires rebuilding it in a way that empowers local people and communities; amplifies diverse voices; minimizes environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural damage; and incorporates responsible travel practices at every stage of the editorial process.