Why sustainable travel is safe travel

Safety incidents cost the planet and local communities 

by Katherine Atkinson, CEO The Safer Tourism Foundation

When someone suffers serious harm while travelling, it’s not only the individual affected (and sometimes their travel provider or insurer) who pays the price. 

Fixing things is almost inevitably more costly than business as usual, and that applies to tourism safety. Aside from the harm to the individual(s), safety incidents and accidents tend to consume more resources – time, cash, repairs, reputation. These are dispersed costs, and some are picked up by those who can ill afford them. 

For example, anything that requires medical, police or other emergency resources being diverted for visitors reduces the capacity available for local residents. When I interviewed a trauma surgeon at the main hospital in Majorca he explained that most summers he had to deal with horrific injuries to tourists, not all of whom he was able to save. He treated these visitors with the same care he would treat the locals, but I couldn’t help thinking that he had to spread himself very thinly across both the resident and visitor populations. 

Investing in safer tourism can, however, have a direct positive benefit on sustainability. Building safety expertise and infrastructure locally enhances the quality of the tourism offering within a destination and strengthens the capability of its workforce so that local communities benefit. When travel companies ensure their local employees are looked after and kept safe, it is both the right thing to do, and it reassures their customers that they care. I hope the days of seeing Nepali porters trekking in flip flops are long gone. 

Developing good governance of tourism activities, of which risk management is an intrinsic part, builds social capital and trust, especially if these systems are designed and delivered in an inclusive way with locals, such that they have a stake in, and benefit from, the economic activity tourism brings. Safer tourism Pledge Partners commit to do all they can to keep their guests safe and well, and collaborate with others in the industry to ensure the safety of all who travel.

So whilst we could all travel safely at huge cost to the planet and to our host communities, if sustainable travel is important to us, then safety is an essential component of that. We need to think of the two as interdependent, for the good of travel, people and the planet. 

Katherine Atkinson

Katherine Atkinson

Published on 17/10/23

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