Thanks to a preponderance of low-cost, budget airlines, there are more people flying than ever before (2017 alone saw a record-breaking 4.1 billion passengers, with that figure expected to nearly double by 2035). The upside of this is that it’s now easier than ever to travel the four corners of the globe; the downside is the ever-mounting problem of overtourism.
The antithesis of sustainable tourism, overtourism is when a destination becomes overwhelmed by high numbers of visitors, leading to a decline in quality of life for locals, a diminished experience for travelers, and the deterioration of natural environments.
And according to Virtuoso’s ‘White Paper,’ a summary of the findings that came out of the agency’s inaugural Sustainability Summit, which took place August 2017, the problem is only getting worse.
“The challenge before the travel and tourism industry is real,” reads the report. “In 2015, there were 1.2 billion international tourism arrivals, and billions more domestic tourists; this is predicted to nearly double by 2030, prompting the UN World Tourism Organization Secretary General to ask: ‘Will tourism bring us one billion opportunities to make the world a better place, or one billion disasters?’”
Perhaps in response to the ever-growing phenomenon of overtourism, especially of natural and cultural gems such as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, tourists are putting greater value on vacation experiences that are sustainable — which Virtuoso defines as travel that is a.) Environmentally friendly b.) Supports the natural and cultural heritage of a place and c.) Benefits the local people.
In fact, 58% of Condé Nast Traveler readers surveyed in 2011 said that their hotel choice is influenced by whether a hotel gives back to the local people and the planet. And in 2017, SKIFT went so far as to pronounce, “Sustainability will be the mark of luxury as we move into the future.”
When it comes to promoting sustainable tourism, Luxury Frontiers is a big fan of Singita and is actively working on multiple projects with Wilderness Safaris, both participants in Virtuoso’s Sustainability Summit. While each brand supports different causes and initiatives, both demonstrate a commitment to empowering local communities and protecting fragile environments through design and operations, all while offering upmarket lodgings.
Six Senses is another hotel brand that Luxury Frontiers respects and has worked with to design preliminary hospitality concepts that are ethically sound, culturally sensitive, and eco-friendly. The brand has banned the use of plastic water bottles, and all water is bottled onsite. But most laudable is the Sustainability Fund at every Six Senses property, which allocates a percentage of the revenue to local charities and community projects that ensure clean drinking water, reduce the use of plastics, and improve public infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Luxury Frontiers’ recent redesign project at Jock Safari Lodge, in South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park, has received much acclaim for ongoing support of its anti-poaching efforts on-site and other anti-poaching organizations in Africa. Two such non-profits include Captured in Africa, which aims to protect, relocate, and rescue vulnerable and at-risk lions, and Saving the Survivors, a team of wildlife vets who care for rhinos that have fallen victim to poaching.
As local communities and environments strain under the weight of overtourism, the need for responsible business practices becomes increasingly dire. And while tourism quotas and the closing of public attractions can be vexing for travelers who want to cross every destination off their bucket list, the benefits of such actions are immeasurable in the long run.
Photo Credit: Jock Safari Lodge, whose revamped public spaces (as featured above) are sensitive to their natural environment as well as incorporate sustainable building materials.