Has Covid-19 made sustainable travel a reality? Will staycations be the holiday of the future? Tom Breathnach asks the experts.
TRAVEL seems like a distant luxury right now. From family hols to Brittany, Airbnb breaks to Bruges, and J1 trips to America, the Covid pandemic has seen our summer departures screen hit with a gaping bold ‘cancelled’.
But as lockdown restrictions ease, green shoots are starting to pop. Italy is opening its beaches, Austria its hotels, and crucially, Ryanair has started to open up its summer schedule. But how can the industry remain sustainable in this turbulent new climate?
Pack the camping gear and load up the roof-rack — we’re in for a season of staycations. From July 20, Ireland’s tourism scene is finally set to reopen with hotels, campsites, and holiday parks across the Republic already chalking up bookings.
The industry is keen to woo consumers to reboot a collapsed industry, but with businesses forced to reduce occupancy due to social distancing measures, punters should expect value, over giveaway bargains this summer.
The good news for Ireland long term, is that the pandemic could see a staycation surge not seen since the 1980s.
Fáilte Ireland is already ramping up for the season, employing its ‘VICE’ model of supporting the visitor, industry, community and critically the environment. After all, eco-lodges in Costa Rica may well serve a conservational purpose, but holidaying at home is surely the most sustainable option of all.
: “We’ve been monitoring consumer sentiment closely over the last number of weeks and surveys show that travel is high on people’s agendas post Covid-19. Our survey also shows that Ireland remains the preferred location for short-trips within the next six months, meaning that the culture of staycations will have a role to play in how Ireland’s tourism sector recovers.” — Fáilte Ireland
With flights grounded across the world, 2020 has seen carbon emissions tank to a level Greta Thunberg could only dream of. But while the airline industry is responsible for just 2% of global emissions, it now faces arguably the greatest PR and economic battle of all sectors.
However, as shown in the post 9/11 world, humans are a resilient species, and given our irrepressible desire to fly, I predict normality to take off in the industry sooner rather than later. But will those sustainability targets be left in the hangar?
No, is the answer as airlines will be behoved to continue development of everything from electric aircraft and biofuel to show consumers — and the planet — they care.
Flying experiences will change, however. The abolition of single-used plastic was once a pressing issue on board, now with reduced contact even inflight meals face an uncertain future along with airline magazines -please not my beloved Cara).
“To travel again we need two things to happen; Ireland to unlock and somewhere we like to go to unlock simultaneously.
“The quest then is for confidence. We will see the mother of all seat sales but the question is whether bargains will overcome apprehension.” — Eoghan Corry, travel and aviation journalist
Could the weekend getaway to Copenhagen or Krakow become a passé concept? Increased airport headaches in the future coupled with a Covid-induced aversion to crowds may well see our beloved city breaks take a downturn.
There are positives. With pre-virus tourist numbers peaking at 1bn globally, many cities like Amsterdam, Lisbon, and Berlin were reaching tourism breaking point, offering visitors an increasingly Disneyfied travel experience. Airbnb’s collapse (Paris saw a 95% drop in stays this month alone) could also see cities become more liveable for locals, versus the gazillion of tourists who colonise them.
Also, just before the lockdown, second cities were an emerging trend, but with tourism restarting from zero, capital cities and tourism blackspots may enjoy a fresh allure. I’ve never been to Venice, for instance, but it’s never looked more inviting.
“After all this time spent in isolation, crowded cities have lost their appeal to me and I’ll personally seek out lesser-visited locations. People are itching to get back to their favourites though, like New York City and London, but without the old atmosphere will they still have their charm?” — Nadia El Ferdaoussi, travel influencer
If the current pandemic could offer us one home-school Zoom lesson, it’s that our planet needs protecting now more than ever. With Covid-19 putting a discomforting spotlight on the illegal wildlife trade, travel consumers will develop a more acute awareness of nature — and a desire to cherish it.
While we’re hearing myriad cases of wildlife reclaiming the streets across the world, there are also cases of tourism being a valuable benefit to wildlife. National Geographic, for example, are reporting that instances of poaching may increase in Africa due to tanking tourism.
While we stay closer to home, we must relish the biodiversity on our own doorstep, from native seals and puffins, to buzzards and basking sharks while supporting local businesses who promote the vital industry of conservation.
“As Covid-19 restrictions relax we will see the tour operators, B&Bs, small hotels and restaurants that characterise the marine tourism offering in small Irish coastal communities, rebuild their businesses. I firmly believe we’ll see these businesses shift from a less exploitative, short-term relationship to a more long-term, stakeholder view. Driven both from within the industry but perhaps more importantly, from a more informed and aware post pandemic consumer base.” — Nic Slocum, Whale Watch West Cork.
Restaurant sustainability for many once meant a vegan option on a bar food menu, but today it applies to the very survival of our hospitality industry itself. Fortunately for Ireland, we’ve been serving up a sustainable food ethos long before it went mainstream and the current crisis is likely to bolster, rather than curb that trend.
The lockdown has gifted us a massive appetite for supporting local restaurant takeaways and artisan producers; we’ve even turned to GIY gardening and home-baking en masse. Expect to see an added impetus to support local with our future food habits, from dining out to picnicking. Forget avocado toast, sour-dough, and goat’s cheese from down the road is the new epicurean vibe.
“The future will be all about what is close to you — trusting locally produced food, products and businesses. This will be great for local economies. The lockdown has opened up the public’s eyes to what they have on their doorstep and through appreciating the local, they’re in turn learning the value of fresh unadulterated, home produced, seasonal food.
“At Gregans Castle, our chef Robbie McCauley has been leading the expansion of our vegetable garden during the closure and many of the great team here are getting their hands dirty helping out.” — Simon Haden, Managing Director, Gregans Castle Hotel.
Looking to become more sustainable? Irish firm 50 Shades Greener (fiftyshadesgreener.ie) is offering 5,000 free, online training courses during lockdown to provide more glas and blás to your business.