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COVID-19 has brought the global travel industry to its knees. The pause it’s created has, however, given travelers and businesses alike the opportunity to reimagine what travel could and should be in the future.
Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, has penned a new book, called Unlearn: The Year The Earth Stood Still, that ultimately sets out to answer three key questions: What will travel look like on the other side? Can we go back to the way things were before the crisis hit, and how can we consider a different way of traveling in the future that changes more lives and makes a bigger difference?
It’s through this lens that Poon Tip points to mounting criticism of the travel industry pre-crisis — flight shaming, condemnation of the home sharing economy, overtourism, scrutiny of airlines’ approach to the comfort and safety of their passengers — and urges travelers to be hyper-conscientious in a post-pandemic world.
“People will travel again. We don’t yet know when, but we know that they will. I want to challenge everyone who travels to ‘unlearn’ what they think they know. We have the opportunity to use this reset to be more conscious and to think about how we can improve, both as individuals and as a wider travel community. We all have the ability to create positive change and to transform more lives in the future,” said Poon Tip.
His new instabook outlines seven ways to hit the reset button:
Sustainable Tourism Needs to Become Community Tourism
Unlike sustainable tourism that focuses exclusively on the health of a destination, Poon Tip views community tourism as rippling far beyond the destinations travelers visit. It includes a company’s employees, suppliers, agency partners, small business owners, micro-enterprises, customers, social followers, and travelers.
Community tourism has been covered by Skift previously and is brought to life through initiatives such as those led by the Planeterra Foundation, founded by Poon Tip in 2003. Planeterra is committed to turning travel into impact by helping local communities earn an income from tourism. Poon Tip believes these efforts should be accelerated post-crisis.
Travel Better, Not Less
By employing local guides and suppliers, rather than parachuting “foreign experts” into destinations, travel companies can help travel dollars stay in the pockets of the people who make travel experiences truly authentic. “I hope one of the things we get from this generation-defining event is that we think more about people as individuals,” said Poon Tip.
Travel to the Destinations Where it can Make the Most Difference
Places like Malawi, Comoros, Mozambique, and Haiti didn’t have typical tourist infrastructure before the pandemic, but Poon Tip suggests we should help get them on the radar as viable travel destinations once it’s safe to do so. His vision is to drum up excitement about these types of destinations and encourage businesses to open up along predetermined routes. In doing so, visitors will prioritize the economic development of communities that are often overlooked and underserved by tourism.
Experience the Other Side of Common Destinations
Travelers will still want to visit destinations that are familiar to them in a post-COVID-19 world, but it’s important to go beyond the typical tourist traps in order to spread the wealth and enjoy a more culturally immersive experience. “Take a walk on the Left Bank [in Paris], sure, but then head into the outer arrondissements, where so much 21st-century French culture is featured. You can still go to Italy, but maybe head up to Piemonte instead of Tuscany, skip Como and try Lecce,” writes Poon Tip.
Search for Culturally Significant Luxury
In the wake of the crisis, travelers should search for a different kind of luxury. Instead of drooling over flash five-star hotels that exist just for the sake of it, Poon Tip emphasizes luxury experiences that are actually relevant to a destination’s DNA. The hotel within the Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad is one example of how guests can use travel to deepen their understanding of the historical past – in this case, how British colonialism came to influence architecture and culture in India.
Consider Sanitation and Overall Safety
If the cruise industry has taught us anything during this pandemic, it’s that proper sanitation and the ability to safely distance ourselves from others is going to be of paramount importance when travel rebounds. Further, Poon Tip encourages us to consider other ways of supporting island and coastal towns by injecting funds directly into those communities rather than supporting all-inclusive cruise ship models where people simply dock at ports for a day.
Revive the Homestay
Homestays are usually set up in small or rural towns and are an immersive way to expose travelers to traditional cultures. In turn, external validation often helps spark local pride and ultimately creates new revenue streams that ensure money goes directly into the pockets of local communities. “I’ve seen it so many times, a little community that’s off the usual tourist map, where kids once wanted to move to bigger towns and cities. Now they cherish and want to preserve their culture,” said Poon Tip.
Unlearn: The Year the Earth Stood Still challenges travelers to emerge from this pandemic with a renewed sense of purpose and accountability when selecting their next holiday.
This content was created collaboratively by G Adventures and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.
(Image credit: Pika Zvan / Unsplash)