Going places: For international destinations, responsible tourism, sustainability is becoming second nature

Going places: For international destinations, responsible tourism, sustainability is becoming second nature

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There was little discussion at the New York Travel Show of how Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine will impact international travel beyond emphatic sympathy for Ukraine and a speech by a representative from Ukraine’s consul in New York. Such conflict is antithetical to the overarching mission of international travel – to promote respect, understanding and humanize other people and cultures in the furtherance of peace. Indeed, every international traveler becomes an “ambassador” forging relations and mutual understanding, which they bring back to their home towns (and often to elected representatives).

Even companies directly impacted by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine are optimistic about overall demand for international travel. Companies – like Poseidon Expedition and Lindblad Expeditions – are in fact adapting – canceling polar voyages that go into Russian territorial waters or use Russian icebreakers, itineraries and replacing those itineraries with others.

Angelica Vorea, chief executive officer and owner of Poseidon Arctic Voyages, Ltd., the parent company of Poseidon Expeditions, said: “The terrible situation in the Ukraine makes planned operations in Russian waters untenable and we cannot support promoting these trips in any way for the 2022 season. As a result, we have suspended charter arrangements with the operator of 50 Years of Victory.

Lindblad Expeditions announced five new voyages to replace their itineraries impacted by the Ukrainian invasion (and offering 25% discount for new bookings before June 30). “The new itineraries are designed to surprise and delight by going farther and deeper into remote wild places only reachable by small expedition ships — from the stunning upper reaches of the Arctic to the heart of Alaska’s wilderness to the cultural splendor and immense natural beauty of coastal Japan,” the company stated.

“I am writing to you one month into the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Certainly we had started 2022 with a different set of expectations.With the effects of COVID’s Omicron variant waning, we were optimistic about our ability to return fully to the expedition activities we love after nearly two years of interrupted or amended plans. At Lindblad Expeditions that means helping adventurous travelers explore the world’s most fascinating and remote places. However, the shocking turn of events in Ukraine has forced us once again, to set our expectations aside and work quickly to find meaningful ways to meet the needs of our entire community — our team, our partners, and you our guests,” stated Dolf Berle, President & CEO of Lindblad Expeditions in a letter to passengers.

“To the hundreds of guests whose trips have been impacted, we are grateful for your understanding as we have worked to develop alternative itineraries that offer compelling opportunities for the authentic and immersive exploration you expect from us.”

International destinations and travel companies are seeing unleashed pent-up demand for exploring outside one’s borders as COVID restrictions are being lifted and concerns lessened with the availability of vaccines, testing and treatments. If anything, the coronavirus pandemic elevated a respect and appreciation for globalism, and intensified the desire to connect with other people. Travelers are resilient and will gravitate to a place or experience that satisfies their wanderlust. After all, it is a big world and the risk/reward calculation has balanced in favor of human connection, personal growth and getting out there.

The experience of the past two years also heightened the need – and provided the space to further develop – the trend toward sustainability on the part of destinations and responsible travel on the part of travelers. Destinations whose economy depends significantly on tourism are encouraging travelers to explore more of their country in order to maximize the benefits of tourism while minimizing the adverse impacts. Sustainability and Responsible Tourism have become second-nature, part of the fabric especially for destinations emerging on the international stage.

At the New York Travel Show, we heard from four: Israel, Croatia, Dominican Republic and Colombia at a panel, “International Travel: It’s Time to See the World!” moderated by Jackie Friedman, President of Nexion, a travel advisor network.

What is something travelers don’t know about your destination?

”People think Columbia is far away, but it closer than you think,” said Maria J. Abuabara Brulhart, Director of Tourism, ProColombia. “Eight carriers from 10 gateways fly to Colombia. It’s a very competitive market so prices are competitive. Don’t postpone a trip to Colombia.”

“Israel is the gateway to Middle East,” said Chad Martin, Director, Northeast Region, Israel Ministry of Tourism. ‘People forget we are a Mediterranean country, with 200 km of Mediterranean coastline. There’s more access by air than ever before – all the US legacy carriers fly nonstop from more than one gateway – 10 gateways – there’s never before been this connectivity. And there is no more meaningful destination. After being all locked up during COVID, in Israel, you connect with yourself, your faith. Israelis are excited to meet with you.

“Dominican Republic is known for its beaches, but our tourism product is very diverse,” reflected Enrique Penson, representing the Tourism Ministry. “We have the highest mountain in the Caribbean, you can surf a sand dune, get married in a colonial cathedral (as I did). Dominican Republic is a place that has it all.”

“Croatia consists of more than 1200 islands in the heart of Europe – small but diverse,” remarked Dr. Iva Bahunek, CEO of Croatian National Tourism Board, Los Angeles Office. We can offer anything your heart desires – a ski destination, lakes and rivers, fresh and salt water (2nd in Europe for water). Sustainability practices in hospitality has been our tradition for decades. Last year, new direct flights were introduced from New York to Dubrovnik on Delta and United.

What is a ‘must see’ attraction?

Penson: My personal favorite in Dominican Republic: Picture yourself in the middle of Samana Bay in a cozy boat. A humpback whale fin comes up, waves and goes away, a baby humpback comes along. From January through March, humpback whales raise babies in this UNESCO-protected spot. It’s a unique, must-do in the Dominican Republic.

Brulhart: Colombia has turned 5 geopolitical regions into 6 tourism regions to make travel smarter, more sustainable, so travel would spread from the mainstream destinations – so communities would see the beneficial impact of this powerful industry. There is not one corner of Colombia in which you won’t see biodiversity, cultural diversity and feel welcome, not one corner of the country in which you won’t be infected by our rhythms (think “Encanto”). Feel the music, taste the flavors. Don’t postpone a trip any longer.

Martin: Israel is best known for two cities – Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – but north of Israel is the biblical landscape, the Sea of Galilee, the origin of the New Testament and much of the Old Testament. It’s over 4,000 years of history, not just biblical. It’s the Crusades, wineries, greenery.

Bahunek: Croatia has a history from 6000 BC – the cradle of Neolithic culture in Europe – wine growing by the Greeks, temples by the Romans; the Austro-Hungarian Empire built the lighthouses; the Italians were the architect of the 18-20th centuries. Croatia’s local culture is a mixture and blend of the millennia with other cultures – that’s what makes it so attractive. Dubrovnik everyone knows, is the pearl of the Adriatic; Split because of festivals, history. Istria on the Adriatic. The eastern part of Croatia with its thermal spa water has a long tradition of medical tourism, medical spa tourism.

More and more travelers are looking for immersive experiences. Recommendations?

Martin: Israel: Go outside Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and explore other places. For example, the Roman city of Caesarea, 45 minutes away in our tiny country, has an aqueduct, amphitheater; you can snorkel to see the sunken city of Caesarea and find the placard with Pontius Pilate’s name. Visit Nazareth, Jesus’ home town, whether because it is your faith or how historically important to humanity. You can have a home-hosted meal at every place. All 10 days you are in Israel, you can connect.

Penson: One immersive experience to have in Dominican Republic is chocolate. The country exports some of the best organic cocoa on the planet and you can be a part. You can go to a cocoa plantation, where those who work land are the owners, and be part of experience of taking it out of the ground, its transformation and manufacture to the final product.

Bahunek: People want to feel safe, immerse in culture while not being surrounded by many people. So in Croatia, people travel south to Zagreb through the country along the coast to Dubrovnik. On that path, you go through four different regions with different scenery, lakes and rivers, UNESCO-protected sites, Romanesque architecture. Everything you eat and drink is organically grown in Croatia – a tomato tastes like poetry, the wine is different in each region, the olive oil. The Adriatic Sea – calm, not an ocean – is one of cleanest in the world. Every town on the coast has history, culture, ambiance.

Brulhart: Coffee is the ultimate immersive experience in Colombia. The ultimate is the Andes (the inspiration of “Encanto” is that coffee region). An immersive experience in Colombia is seeing how that community of coffee growers hand picks, the 5-time filter process to get to the coffee you taste, seeing how communities make their living. It’s labor intensive work. We also produce cocoa. Also, in Colombia, you see how powerful nature is. We have 314 different ecosystems in one country. You can see 15-20 different species of hummingbirds, and orchids.

Sustainable tourism is important for all of us. What are destinations doing to support sustainability?

Martin: Israel, by necessity because of limited resources like water and oil, has incorporated sustainability into the very fabric of society, as well as the principles of responsible tourism, so in addition to being a destination sought out for heritage and cultural connections, it is also a destination for travelers interested in seeing sustainable practices integrated into society. Travelers who have sustainability as a top-of-mind value would also be interested to know that Israel recycles 90 percent of its water (the only country that does that), much out of necessity. It has the largest solar power station in world. Israel is entirely off coal – that’s important to the sustainable traveler. We ended the 20th century with more trees than we started with, largely because tourists come with a tradition of planting a tree in Israel in honor of someone. It is how an entire country engages with environment and a sustainable future- not just the travel industry. It’s important to get that message out – travelers should know that about destinations they choose to visit. It is quintessential about Israel.

Bahunek: Because we have had such long history of tourism going back to the end of 18th century, Croatia has integrated sustainability into its cultural heritage. Twelve years ago, the government developed Sustainability certificates for hotels, spas. We have educational programs for tour operators, employees of hotels and spas.

Brulhart: In Columbia we believe there is no other kind of tourism than sustainable. Airlines, cruiselines are thinking that way, every tour operator and travel advisor believes in that. We need to educate the traveler to expect and practice sustainability (responsible tourism). Columbia is one of 12 countries with a tourism policy heavily focused on sustainability. A sustainability approach is how you impact communities positively – how money the traveler spends ends up in the community where the experience takes place. People tend to think about remote, rural, vulnerable communities, but behind every tourism business is a story. The travel trade, consumer should all ask, ‘Who am I benefitting.’ Every trip should be meaningful. We hosted the Tourism Cares Summit in Medellin last year- the biggest model of social transformation in the world, a hotbed of innovation, and the most progressive infrastructure. Sustainability is no longer an option.

Unleashing Pent-up Demand for Travel

Over 200 exhibitors, 250 media attendees, nearly 2,200 trade delegates, and 14,000 consumers attended the travel show.

“As New Yorkers welcome back tourists to their city, many are also eagerly planning for trips that they’ve put off, so the energy from our attendees was palpable and invigorating. They are ready for their next adventure so what better way to decide where to go next than with the chance to personally discuss their travel plans with the people from destinations from all over the world, all in one place,” said Jonathan Golicz, Vice President of Unicomm, LLC.

Recognizing that while travel is important to people and industries around the world, it is also a privilege and helping people in a fundamental way is the most important thing one can do, Golicz welcomed a representative from the office of the Consulate General of Ukraine in New York and announced that proceeds from the Travel Trade Summit would be donated to assist Ukrainian refugees.

Photo: Arriving in Porec, Croatia, at the end of an eight-day self-guided bike tour that started in Venice. Americans are discovering the diversity and cultural richness of Croatia’s more than 1200 islands and history that goes back to 6000 BC. Americans are keen to travel abroad after two years of isolation and looking to destinations that practice Responsible Tourism and sustainability. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to [email protected]. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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