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The ‘say-do gap’ in travel is one reason you’re unlikely to read this story

Pól Ó Conghaile


Lough Tay, Co Wicklow. Photo: Brian Morrison / Fáilte Ireland

Lough Tay, Co Wicklow. Photo: Brian Morrison / Fáilte Ireland

Lough Tay, Co Wicklow. Photo: Brian Morrison / Fáilte Ireland

Let me spill a little secret as an editor. It is very, very hard to get people to read or click into stories about sustainability.

Well, maybe it’s not so secret.

We all know about climate change, the waste we generate and the fact that we are handing over a failing planet to our kids. We’ve seen the bleached coral reefs and melting ski resorts. But when it comes to engaging and taking meaningful action in our lives... well, it’s tough.

Like many, I really do care about sustainability. I also feel helplessly insignificant as one of eight billion people. I try to recycle, use less stuff and eat local food. We’ve gotten quotes for energy upgrades to our home. But I still buy takeaway coffees, live in a D-rated house, drive a diesel car and rack up the air miles. Life gets in the way.

I love travel. It excites me, makes me feel alive, and I think it helps us to understand other cultures and communities in a time of bitter, flaming argument (I also like lying on the odd beach).

Pre-pandemic, tourism also supported 250,000 jobs in Ireland. It’s crucial.

But tourism also generates around 8-11pc of global carbon emissions, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. Travel has rebounded since the pandemic (Ryanair alone sold two million seats on a single weekend in January), and some predict it will double by 2050, the year upon which so many ‘net zero’ aspirations are hung.

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The long deadline is understandable, given the scale of the task, but 2050 also feels like ‘flying cars’ territory. You could have a child that has a child by then.

Throw in recent news stories questioning the value of carbon offsetting, the cynicism engendered by widespread greenwashing and tokenism in travel, and the ‘green premium’ that can make sustainable holidays more expensive, and it’s not hard to see why we often scroll on.

“We call it a ‘say-do gap’,” Danielle Bozarth of consultancy firm McKinsey & Company told travel industry news site, Skift. “Consumers talk about how much they care about sustainability. Then you ask them to go pay for it, and we see virtually no willingness to pay for it among leisure travellers.”

But there is good news. New aircraft are more efficient; sustainable fuels are being explored; inflation has given businesses an urgent reason to run the rule over energy and waste bills. Communities like the Burren Ecotourism Network, or Banff in Canada — which aims to reduce the 9,500 vehicles a day visiting in peak season partly through public transport and by closing popular routes to private cars — are examples of ‘tourism for good’.

Can we travel less, but better?

Tourism Ireland is shifting its marketing focus to ‘value-added tourists’ that spend more, visit beyond peak season and consider their impact on the environment. Tiny Bhutan has gone even further, upping its ‘sustainable development fee’ to $200/€184 per day (yes, per day).

Sustainability is no longer a niche topic – every conversation about tourism development includes it now.

This year, I am trying hard to reset, to fight the impulse to skip past sustainability, and to look for positive stories that may help us reimagine how we travel.

I hope at least some of you will read them!

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