3 Key Takeaways from the Impact Travel Alliance (Travel+Social Good) Global Summit

When I moved New York City, I started a bucket list full of attractions and events to do during my time here. It's full of the things I consider one-of-a-kind "only in NYC" type experiences. Attending a meeting at the United Nations Headquarters was at the top of that list. Last month, not only did I get to check that goal off my list, my visit also happened to be for a cause I feel very passionate about: using tourism as a force for sustainable development.

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After passing through an airport-like security room, I took a moment to wander around the front esplanade and admire the various sculptures. Given number of meetings and events happening inside, the entire building and property felt impressively calm.

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The Travel+Social Good Global Summit was held in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. The room is a destination for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development at the United Nations. It was a fitting choice for our discussion.

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For the Global Summit, Travel+Social Good brought together 150 of the top influencers in the responsible tourism sector. The conference was moderated by Nori Quintos, Editor-at-Large for National Geographic Travel. She looked familiar, and I remembered I had heard her speak before, at the Travel+Social Good Academy Day a couple years ago.

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Delegates appointed to the United Nations from Israel, Kenya, Botswana, Uganda, and Tanzania provided opening remarks.

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Beyond being a really great networking opportunity, the bigger purpose of this year's Global Summit was to discuss how we can all support the mainstreaming of sustainable travel. I feel this is incredibly important topic of discussion based on my own experience working in the travel industry. Tour operators may be far removed from the communities and environments they operate in, but they have a direct impact. Though the concept of mainstreaming sustainable travel is not without its challenges, I have seen firsthand how, when tourism is done right, it can be a positive force for cultural connection and economic stimulation.

Ecotourism, responsible travel, sustainable travel...it's all the same.

Representatives from the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), Tourism Cares and Sustainable Travel International were in a panel session moderated by Kelley Louise, the Executive Director of Travel +Social Good. The panel discussed one small change that I feel will make a big difference: to stop using so many different adjectives to market the sector. Clearer messaging will reduce consumer confusion.

Tourism represents 8% of global employment and it is estimated that one job in the core tourism industry creates about one and a half additional or indirect jobs in the tourism related economy.

The UNEP did a study which showed that for every $100 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist in a developed country, only $5 stayed within the local economy. Tour operators can do a better job on this front by contracting with more local suppliers. GAdventures is one example of this. 91% of GAdventure contracted suppliers (hotels, restaurants, tour providers) are locally-owned businesses and source their products and services from local producers within a certain radius. This helps spread tourism revenue within local economies, leads to job creation, and ultimately, reduces poverty.

More than a third of travellers are found to favour environmentally-friendly tourism and be willing to pay between 2 and 40 percent more for this experience.

Travel agents can play an influential role in reshaping the narrative for the average consumer, as well. By attending training courses with organizations like Tourism Cares, they can pass on that knowledge to their clients and steer them towards better decision making. Consumers and agents make excellent storytellers, as well. Compelling visuals and narratives about human connection that strike a chord within all of us (something else that GAdventures does very well with their marketing).

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Travel+Social Good also had an exciting announcement to share: they would be re-branding as Impact Travel Alliance. If you work in the travel industry and are just as passionate as I am about sustainable travel, take a look at this list to see if there is a hub near you to join.