As the holiday cheer fades away, many of us find ourselves grappling with the notorious post-festive slump. What with January’s dark, dreary mornings, bone-chilling temperatures, and a return to the daily grind, it’s hardly surprising lots of us start dreaming of travel, and longing for sun-drenched beaches and tropical climes. 

Since the pandemic, our appetite for travel has been steadily restored; with the average Briton taking 3.6 holidays in 2022.  While the winter holiday has strong appeal, the desire to travel consciously and responsibly is clearly a growing priority, with research showing that 76% of travellers want to travel more sustainably over the coming year, and 43% willing to pay extra for travel options with a sustainable certification. 

Embracing sustainable tourism

Many travel insiders predicted the rise of the ‘sustainable tourism’ trend, and in 2024 it’s well and truly landed. Sustainable tourism — also known as responsible tourism or ecotourism — refers to a type of tourism that aims to minimise its negative impact on the environment, society, and local economies, while maximising the benefits for all stakeholders involved. 

The main goal of sustainable tourism is to promote responsible travel practices that contribute to the conservation of natural resources, protection of cultural heritage, and the wellbeing of local communities. It’s something to be embraced on all sides of the tourism experience. 

Indigenous tourism, too, is capturing the imagination of a growing number of travellers.

“Indigenous tourism is one of the fastest growing trends in travel,” says Zina Bencheikh, Managing Director for EMEA at Intrepid Travel. “Post pandemic, people are looking for genuinely sustainable and community-led experiences that benefit both the land and its people.”

“As well as generating income and empowering local communities, these kinds of experiences give travellers an amazing insight into traditional ways of life and a better understanding of a destination’s diverse legacy.”

A changing industry

Alongside the shifting attitudes of travellers, the travel and tourism industries are adapting to the impacts of climate change and net zero targets with innovations and technologies that are redesigning the customer experience. As a result, the travel sector is transforming in exciting ways. 

Our news-style programme, Transformational Travel, which launches on World Tourism Day, September 27, 2024, will explore the different ways the sector’s changing, and feature organisations leading the way in digital innovation and experiential and sustainable travel. The programme will share case study-led stories of the impact that more responsible travel has been having on communities, and look ahead at what lies next for the industry.  

 

Where to go?

Cheaper destinations are expected to rise in popularity over the next 12 to 24 months, as price-driven travel becomes the main priority. Countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, India, Nepal, Bolivia, South Africa, Mexico and Morocco are currently some of the lower-cost travel destinations, while nations with strong and inspiring sustainability initiatives will have increasing appeal. 

As operators and tourism businesses put sustainable, accessible and responsible tourism to the top of their agenda, we take a look at some of the countries and destinations investing in sustainability —  and inviting travellers to explore their natural attractions and hidden gems in a more mindful, environmentally-conscious way. 

Panama, Central America

Panama and Costa Rica are two countries leading the way in Central America with sustainability. Not only do both place a high emphasis on sustainability, conservation and biodiversity — making them appealing to nature enthusiasts — they both offer lush rainforests, beautiful beaches and vibrant local cultures. 

Coffee plants and rainbow in Boquete, Panama.
Coffee plants and rainbow in Boquete, Panama.

As part of its ecological efforts, the Panamanian government is committed to developing the ecotourism sector in a sustainable way by working with the nation’s seven indigenous groups.

With Panama being that bit closer to the equator, it has a more consistent climate throughout the year. You can immerse yourself in the vibrant indigenous culture of the Guna Yala islands or explore the diverse rainforest of Soberania National Park. In Panama City, they have a modern metro system (the only one in Central America) which offers a quick and inexpensive way to navigate the city.

Thailand  

Thailand is one of the most loved tourist destinations on the planet, with its stunning beaches, delicious food and cheap prices. But with that popularity, comes an even greater need to protect it and experience it in a responsible way. 

Phi-Phi Don Island, Thailand.

Over the past few years, the Thai government has introduced a number of key initiatives to protect the environment and local culture. In fact, every year the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation takes measures to protect the most heavily-visited regions of the country by closing them to tourists (as in the case of Koh Phi Phi, the area made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio film, The Beach.)

The government has also taken steps to ban single-use plastic and launched a number of conservation projects across the country, focussed on wildlife protection, preventing plastic waste, and protecting and studying the underwater world of the gulf of Thailand.

Valencia, Spain

Spain has historically been one of the most visited countries by UK tourists, consistently ranking among the top destinations, due to its diverse landscapes, sunny climate, and easy accessibility. Cities like Madrid and Barcelona, and coastal destinations like the Costa del Sol have been hotspots for UK travellers, but now Valencia is also gaining a lot of attention for its ecotourism.

View in the cathedral tower in the centre of Valencia city
Views of the cathedral tower in the centre of Valencia city.

In 2023, Valencia received the European Green Capital Award for its ongoing commitment to improving the environment and quality of life for residents and visitors. What’s more, the Mediterranean city is currently working towards generating 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It also takes pride in its 500 hectares of green spaces, some of which encompass the Huerta – 120 sq km of farms that supply local markets and restaurants with ingredients, reducing the carbon cost of dining out and self-catering.

Supporting local initiatives that prioritise sustainability

For the vast numbers of us who can’t escape the winter vibes for sunnier climes, embracing experiences closer to home can be a significantly cheaper, lower carbon emitting, alternative to jumping on a plane. 

Researching and discovering places to visit in your home country as part of a staycation, allows you to explore and support local initiatives that prioritise sustainability. Some ideas…

Nature retreats for rejuvenation

Connecting with nature can be a powerful way to lift spirits. For those based in the UK, exploring the UK’s national parks, such as the Lake District or Snowdonia, is a great option, and somewhere you can find plenty of stunning scenery, peaceful walking routes, and eco-friendly accommodation.

Eco-conscious, cultural city breaks

Rediscover the charm of UK cities with a cultural city break. Cities like Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Brighton, Edinburgh or Liverpool, boast plenty of green spaces, ethical dining options, and sustainable transport options. Northern Ireland’s capital is another great option — in 2023, Belfast shot up the rankings in the Global Destination Sustainability Index from 47th place to enter the top 10, due to its partnership between Green Tourism, Visit Belfast, and Belfast City Council which helped it achieve the Belfast Resilience Goal of being an inclusive, zero-emissions, climate-resilient economy within a generation.

Coastal retreats and seaside serenity

Sometimes all it takes to revive us is a weekend by the sea. Head to the coast for a refreshing change of pace, and to explore seaside towns. Embrace brisk walks along the beach, or discover local maritime history.

Virtual travel experiences

Take advantage of virtual reality (VR) or online platforms that offer immersive travel experiences. Explore famous landmarks, museums, and natural wonders virtually. Attend virtual events or festivals from around the world to get a taste of different cultures.

Beating the January blues is about embracing new experiences. From sustainable getaways to uncovering hidden gems in your own backyard, the possibilities are endless. 

 

Key principles of sustainable tourism include:

Environmental conservation: Minimising the ecological footprint of tourism activities by preserving natural resources, protecting biodiversity, and reducing pollution and waste.

Cultural respect and preservation: Respecting and preserving the cultural and historical heritage of host communities, ensuring that tourism activities do not negatively impact local traditions, languages, or ways of life.

Community engagement and benefits: Involving and benefiting local communities by providing economic opportunities, employment, and supporting community development initiatives.

Local sourcing and fair trade: Encouraging the use of local products, services, and fair trade practices to support the local economy and reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transportation of goods.

Educational and awareness initiatives: Promoting awareness and understanding among travellers about the cultural and environmental significance of the destinations they visit, as well as encouraging responsible behaviour.

Conservation of natural resources: Promoting responsible use of natural resources, such as water and energy, and implementing sustainable practices in the construction and operation of tourism facilities.

Low-impact transportation: Encouraging the use of eco-friendly transportation options and minimizing the environmental impact of travel, especially in ecologically sensitive areas.

Sustainable tourism aims to strike a balance between the economic benefits of tourism and the preservation of natural and cultural resources for future generations. 

For more, head to our Transformational Travel page to learn about our 2024 programme.

Useful resources:

https://roadbook.com/travel/travel-trends-2023-industry-insiders/ 

https://sdgs.un.org/topics/sustainable-tourism

The Ultimate Guide To Ecotourism In Panama (mindfulecotourism.com)