After weeks of headlines about his private life, Prince Harry put the focus firmly back on what matters most when he attended a working summit in Scotland for his bold, new sustainable tourism initiative, Travalyst.
Speaking to guests today at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the Duke of Sussex—who made sure he was introduced to the audience as simply Harry—kicked off a series of discussions and workshops that will help the project, a key area of focus in his post-senior royal life, make choosing sustainable travel the norm for consumers.
“We believe that travel is a good thing,” he said in his speech, adding that this project is not to discourage people from exploring the planet. “It is the heart of human experience, of cultural connections, and of new friendships. It is a global powerhouse that employs hundreds of millions of people, keeping culture alive, protecting some of the world’s most precious spaces, and that introduces us to people, places, and wildlife that we’ve only ever seen on a screen. It is these experiences that we remember and cherish.”
Sharing insight on the scale of the tourism industry, Harry stated that it’s one of the world’s largest economic sectors, generating almost $9 trillion globally each year, representing one in 10 jobs and more than 10 percent of the world’s GDP. By 2030, it’s expected that there will be more than 1.8 billion travelers.
But, he warned, “If we do not act, and in large part get ahead of this inevitable surge, this massive increase will mean we see more of the world’s beautiful destinations closed or destroyed, more communities becoming overwhelmed, more beaches shut because of pollution, and animals and wildlife driven from their natural habitat,” which has a huge impact on communities and reduces tourism opportunities.
“Based on our research, there is an increasing desire for these types of trips—and we want to make them a reality for everyone, but we can’t do it without your help. … I want to help create a platform where all of us concerned about these issues can work together, where competitors can unite and incentivize a positive systemic change.”
His remarks come after Travalyst partners—which include Booking.com, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor, Trip.com, and Visa—announced plans to introduce a universal scoring system to help travelers have a clear idea of how sustainable a trip, experience, or activity is. For example, is a certain tour bringing business to the community, or is only the tour operator profiting from it? Could a trip to a natural site harm the local environment?
The industry-wide model would not only inform people of their carbon footprint but also how they could leave a more positive impact on the destinations they visit. And with an easy-to-understand system working across all platforms, this framework would also motivate all sectors of the industry to find new ways to be sustainable.
After wrapping up remarks in the morning’s opening session, Harry joined guests as they split into smaller workshops and local roundtables to discuss the ambitious plans, and be the first to test out potential framework models. The prince took notes and listened to feedback as he blended in to the breakout rooms, which were split into the three key themes for different scoring categories: accommodation, aviation, and experiences.
“[Consumers] want more clarity and credible information about how they can choose more sustainable options, because at its core, it is vital that communities across the world see meaningful benefits from tourism,” Harry said.
For Harry, the focus on the positive impacts sustainable tourism would make on a local level is especially important. Through his own travels, particularly in Botswana, he has seen how tourism doesn’t always benefit local communities. “He feels tourism in developing nations needs to feed back appropriately into the communities people are visiting,” explains a source, who adds that Harry was particularly alarmed after coming across a statistic that suggested as little as $5 of every $100 makes its way back into communities. “Looking at how to better connect that money is extremely important.”
Since its announcement last summer, Travalyst has become a major talking point within the travel industry. But as Harry pointed out to delegates, “We will not reach our goal of a more sustainable industry without on-the-ground experience and expertise.” Now six months into a 36-month development phase, Travalyst is using gatherings such as today’s event to gain further insight to truly reach and inform consumers while avoiding greenwashing. Harry has been hands-on with the project since day one, working closely with the core partners on ideas and catching up on a regular basis. “He’s extremely committed and enthusiastic,” sources tell BAZAAR.com.
Wednesday’s summit saw Travalyst partners and VisitScotland bring together 150 individuals from the tourist and travel industry in Scotland, and marked the first of a number of engagements over the next 12 days before the Sussexes step back from their lives as senior royals on March 31 and into their own independent working model. Harry had flown into London on a commercial flight on Tuesday before traveling to Edinburgh via train, the lowest carbon option for travel between the England and Scotland capitals.
There was no palace presence at the informal event, and the usual throng of royal photographers was nowhere to be seen. By Harry’s side was a small team in the form of former Royal Foundation press officer James Holt and former assistant private secretary Heather Wong, both of whom are working on Travalyst from London.
While still in its infancy, Travalyst also offers a look ahead at how both Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan plan to work moving forward, collaborating with the private sector for their philanthropic efforts. Says a source, “Rather than replicate classic charitable foundations, the couple plan to look at the root cause of problems and to change the game in that way.”
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