In the pursuit of faster, higher, and better, the concept of slowness has often been overshadowed. But in the realm of sustainable tourism, a rebellion is afoot.
Sustainable tourism, much like other sustainability-focused trends, isn’t exactly new. Instead, it signifies the start of a renaissance. A return to a time before the innovations of late-stage capitalism forever changed our daily lives – constantly ratcheting up the speed and volume of our consumption.
With its roots in the Italian Slow Food movement, slow travel – which trend forecasts predict as one of the largest growing sectors following the pandemic – urges travellers to forgo the fast pace and high impact of its mainstream tick-and-flick counterparts.
So, What Is Slow Travel?
At its very core, it’s a mindset as much as a mode – an approach to travelling that embraces meaningful connection and authenticity. Seeing places through the eyes of a local; taking time to savour the sights, tastes and sounds of a landscape; or simply just being. It almost requires a complete redefinition of the very concept of time.
“Slowness, which we at the institute describe as ‘non-linear time’, is the opposite of normal chronological time,” says the founder of The World Institute of Slowness, Geir Berthelsen in ‘A brief history of slow’ by writer Lola Akinmade Åkerstrom. “Whereas chronological time frantically pulls us forward into a future that never seems to arrive, slowness enables us to live in the moment and to experience the here and now.”
After years of having this redefinition and reality forced upon us – by lockdowns, travel restrictions and economic instability – many travellers are now reconsidering what travel can look like for the future.
Slow AND Sustainable Tourism Is The Future
As we continue to grapple with post-pandemic life, overtourism and the climate crisis, the appeal of slow, responsible and sustainable tourism is undeniable. Not only do we want to go slower, we want to go better too.
In fact, as global travel site booking.com reported in their 2021 Sustainability Travel Report, “61% of travelers say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future”.
Expedia Travel’s annual sustainability report’s findings agree, with 90% of survey respondents looking for sustainable tourism options while exploring. But we’re not going to let greenwashing trick us – seven in 10 travellers say they would actively avoid an experience due to skepticism over hollow claims.
Around eight percent of global carbon emissions – of which transport, and plane travel within that, comprises the bulk – is attributed to the industry alone, so mode of travel is a clear target for concerned consumers.
Even pre-pandemic, the airline industry faced disgruntled rumblings from eco-conscious consumers over its heavy fossil fuel reliance – despite intentional efforts to address the climate crisis and decarbonise.
Industry may be floundering, but governments and destinations – many of whom are acting in accordance with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – are taking heed. In a seemingly radical move, the French government recently banned short-haul flights between cities linked by a train journey of 2.5 hours or less for the next three years.
Slow Travel Can Make You A Better Traveller
As the global travel industry gears up to welcome a return to pre-pandemic levels of visitation to Europe and the Middle East, and countries begin to take bold steps towards more responsible tourism, slow and sustainable tourism continues to present a compelling argument.
Less trips, more meaning; staying longer in single destinations; having real, authentic experiences while you’re there; less flying and driving, more train travel, walking, cycling and catching local transport. These are all the inherently sustainable characteristics of a slow journey.
For governments and operators, the imperative may be clear, but the challenge of balancing economic gains with the cultural and environmental costs of tourism remains. Still, if the number of signatories to the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism is anything to go by, the tide of political and industry will is changing.
Destinations, for their part, are also becoming increasingly intentional and committed to the cause, in order to protect and future-proof the beauty of our natural world. Innovations like visitor pledges, eco-certification, respectful collaboration with First Nations and Indigenous cultures and managing visitor numbers are just some of the steps towards a more sustainable travel industry.
Consumers, prioritising treading lightly and looking for slow, mindful adventures, are also looking for trustworthy sustainable information and inspiration, according to Expedia’s 2022 Sustainable Travel Study. Greenwashing is out, authenticity is in.
Still, at the heart of it, the numbers and trends only solidify what some of us already know: slow, steady travel with purpose is the most fulfilling simply because it allows us to redefine our concept of time, relishing and reconnecting in the here and now.