By Don Ross
SINGAPORE, 6 September 2019: When Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, says he is backing an effort to speed up sustainable tourism and reduce the impact travel has on the climate people listen.
That’s because he has 3 million followers on social media, and has teamed up with global travel industry players that reach even more travellers daily.
Just an idea two years ago, Travalyst is now up and running under the patronage of the Duke’s foundation Sussex Royal.
Last Tuesday, it all came together in the official launch of Travalyst in Amsterdam a project that claims it will “Make Tourism Work for the World.”
Travalyst has the backing of Booking.com, Ctrip, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and VISA, all travel brands that have substantial “buy-in” and a global role that can make a difference and turn sustainable tourism from niche to mainstream.
Prince Harry, in his presentation, touched on the scourge of “overcrowding” as world tourism accelerates to a forecasted 1.8 billion trips annually by 2030.
Tourism besieges communities and destinations he told the audience while identifying Maya Bay in Thailand and Mount Everest as two examples.
“Maya Bay in Thailand besieged by tourists, its coral reefs died, marine life suffered and now closed to visitors until 2021,” he said.
Then on to Mount Everest in Nepal. He pointed out that “authorities had to clear 12 tons of garbage this year” from the slopes of the World’s highest mountain.
It is noteworthy that Prince Harry mentioned a small bay on Phi Phi Island in southern Thailand that became a victim of overcrowding. It illustrated how unfettered tourism could quickly destroy national park assets.
Fortunately, the Thai government closed the bay and the subsequent recovery of the coral, and the return of marine life to the bay now justifies what at the time was a very unpopular ban. Commercial tourism, that delivered a footfall of 3,500 tourists daily to the tiny bay, has been eliminated, and it should stay that way until at least 2021.
But it is also noteworthy that Thailand’s National Parks faced considerable opposition from the travel industry when it declared the bay off-limits.
So while Prince Harry is happy to endorse global tourism players, will they really embrace the commitment to replace mass tourism with a more friendly sustainable variety of tourism that will most likely reduce bottom-line profit?
It’s very much like the controversy in football where the campaign to kick out racism in sports faces the uphill task of convincing Twitter and Facebook to ban and shame those who post racist comments. Both social media platforms are slow to act due to commercial considerations.
The founding partners of Travalyst will have to prove to consumers that this is not just another clever publicity stunt and that they do intend, come what may, to go the distance to revolutionise travel and reduce the impact on climate and wildlife.
While it is commendable that Prince Harry has recognised the negative role travel plays in climate change and has decided to “reorientate travel” he will need to come up with some clear cut projects quickly to give Travalyst relevance.
His partners are in travel for their own commercial good and that mindset may need to change. It should start with the likes of Booking.com and TripAdvisor. They need to make a stand and have the courage to establish new business models to support sustainable tourism. That could mean a leaner net profit?
It might also mean a change in travel habits for all the people who work for these global brands. They should be the first to be sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. Also, Prince Harry may have to cut back on his private jet travel, although to be fair, he did take the train to attend the Amsterdam launch. Was he taking a leaf out of Greta Thunberg’s book, another big platform influencer who campaigns for action on climate change?