It’s hard to believe that for the majority of us in the UK and beyond it has been three years since we were able to travel for anything other than essential business reasons.
As we contemplate the opportunities we have to take those long-awaited trips, we find not only the world and its travel, tourism and hospitality sector greatly changed, but also our perceptions of our own place in it.
The pandemic did far more than simply close down our ability to travel to distant shores and either rest and relax on beaches or learn about the wonders of new culture, ancient geography and beautiful architecture.
A lot happened in the two years that, cumulatively, moved focus away from that sense of migratory deprivation we all felt in confinement and instead forced us to consider both how we impact on our world as a species and how we now make mass tourism environmentally sustainable.
Education is at the heart of both these things.
In fundamental commercial terms, education and learning will inform the nature and path of recovery in a sector decimated by enforced closure and the collapse of the job economy that sustained it. In essence, how do we quickly replace the skills that have been lost to us?
But the challenges ahead are more complex than simply returning to a previously accepted status quo.
In addition to equipping our industry with the key skills, knowledge and expertise needed to secure the sector’s immediate future over the next 12 to 36 months, we also need to act now to create learning pathways that serve to reinvent the environmental proposition that travel presents.
The adverse, negative impacts of global travel were laid bare in myriad ways during our period of global lockdown.
Few among us, for example, can fail to have been staggered by images of crystal-clear water running through the canals of Venice just a few short weeks after the cruise liners and other powered waterway traffic disappeared from the city’s lagoon.
In Los Angeles – famous for the smog that routinely sits on its skyline – lower emissions served to improve air quality exponentially, benefiting health and the effect of noxious gases on both flora and fauna.
A 2-year period of lower emissions worldwide seen in a cliff drop in air, marine and road travel will have led to equivalent benefits in other parts of the world, from cities to rainforest.
Other benefits may be less obvious. It’s thought, for example, that the global disruption to supply lines caused by lockdown almost certainly led to a huge reduction in poaching and trade in furs and ivory.
And the ripple effect of lockdown also triggers interesting consequences in other respects. The cessation of movement around the globe led to negative impacts, such as an increase in the use of plastics and other non-recyclables.
But this, too, provokes positive responses with commerce then forced to reconsider how it delivers service and goods that are less reliant on such products.
The small steps taken in response to the negative environmental impact of lockdown – e.g. increased charges for plastic bags, a ban on plastic drinking straws by cinemas and the like, and an uptick in recyclable fuels and materials – will all eventually evolve into the kind of momentum that will slow mankind’s footprint on the earth.
What does this mean for those of us in the hospitality and tourism industries and the way we might now choose to provide vocational education and training?
Doubtless, as time goes on, there will be many consequences in this regard, but one certainty is surely that we must ensure that the journeys and experiences we create for others do as little damage as possible.
We must find ways of ensuring that the industry’s future leaders – the generation of caretakers we are currently educating in our schools, colleges, businesses, and universities – are able to think in new ways to build a solutions-based approach to travel in the medium to long term.
How do we get people to where they want to be whilst also reducing our dependence on current resources and technologies? What role should we play in helping lawmakers and environmental advocacy programmes to re-educate travellers in how they access fragile cultures and eco-systems?
This will require us to work alongside technology innovators to encourage and inform the changes that are needed in supply and logistics chains, and to find new and effective ways of collaborating with our stakeholders to communicate shared goals and objectives.
The reward for that will likely be a travel and tourism sector that is more resilient and robust, more accessible, and more responsible.