Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mainstreaming Sustainable Tourism Summit

Last Friday I attended Travel + Social Good's 2016 Summit, which brought together tourism professionals, UN ambassadors and academics on the topic of mainstreaming sustainable tourism. The day before the summit, all attendees where invited on complimentary "Experiential Neighborhood" tours by sustainable tourism companies operating in NYC. I opted for a walking tour of the Lower East Side, which was sponsored by Visit.org, which empowers travelers to "never be a tourist again" by connecting them to "off the beaten-path adventures" managed with an emphasis on sustainability.

Despite having lived in New York for a couple years, I was fascinated with the neighborhood quirks our guide told us about as we explored parts of Manhattan I had never even heard of. That night, the Summit's kickoff party was at Hostelling International's Victorian Mansion on the Upper West Side, which has more than 700 beds! I hadn't previously realized that HI was a nonprofit with a plethora of mission driven programs to help local and international youths become Global Citizens.

The next day, we gathered at a meeting room at the United Nations to hear a dozen presenters on a variety of topics. Some presenter highlights: Former VP of the Ritz Carlton spoke of the need for greater collaboration between tour industry professionals and the publics. Dr. Martha Honey of The Center For Responsible Travel  talked about how Ecotourism has evolved from a niche market to growing 3 times faster than conventional tourism. The Ambassadors of the countries Tuvalu and Samoa gave impassioned speeches about their danger to Pacific Island states in the face of climate change. Tuvalu's Ambassador Celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart talked about his latest project, The Purpose Hotel. Barry Sternlict, founder of Starwood Capital and Hotels, introduced 1Hotels, "the first mission driven luxury hotel brand" and promised that guests would be exempt from having to "eat carrots and sleep in burlap."


After lunch, we began a design thinking session aimed at finding solutions for making sustainable tourism more mainstream. We were divided into groups and given the task of developing a new tourist product based off of the needs of a hypothetical ideal client base. Within my group discussion, it was fascinating to hear about tourism trends from both the luxury and the backpacker backgrounds seeking out more authentic cultural experiences and both favoring sustainability in some instances. I gave a quick presentation of my group's pitch, which was a social networking service for business travelers looking to connect with other industry professionals. I met some great people in the tourism biz there and look forward to attending next year.


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