The global focus on sustainability will be the catalyst for the asset light and human-focused tour operator sector going mainstream.
When tourism decided to declare a climate emergency and take that declaration to Glasgow, it wasn’t leaders from airlines, hotels, online travel agencies or the cruise industry leading the charge.
It was tour operator executives like Alex Narracott, the CEO of Much Better Adventures. His push to have global travel brands commit publicly to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 is just one prominent example of tour operators playing an outsized role in sustainable travel.
Tour operators can reach local communities directly through tour guides who, in best case scenarios, are actually from the community. Since that access provides such companies immediate feedback about a host community’s perception of tourism, I set out to find out why the sector has taken a leading role in one of the most defining issues of our time.
“It’s like going to the same church. We’re all already believers,” said Michael Edwards, the managing director of tour operator Explore Worldwide, when asked why the sector has played such a big role in sustainability.
While G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip believes tourism can spark wealth distribution and poverty alleviation, Fiona Ngesa, the director of market development for the Kenya Tourism Board, has also seen tour operators place an increasing emphasis on sustainability — largely because they’ve been pushed to do so.
“I see it as a simple matter of supply and demand,” said Ngesa, who wrote a book titled Sustainability Agenda: The Challenge & Opportunity for Organizations that examined the relationship between tour operators and sustainability.
“Travelers, especially millennial travelers, are interested in sustainability and in meeting people and understanding how