A speech delivered by The Duke of Sussex at the launch of Travalyst in Amsterdam on Tuesday, 3rd September 2019
Having spent last night here — I don’t know about you guys but it was definitely the best nights’ sleep I’ve had for the last 4 months!
I want to start with a little bit of background as to specifically why I’m here today, because as you may know, I am not a tourism or business expert, but through my travels I have observed the unique relationship between community and environment – and have noticed something alarming.
There wasn’t the symbiosis or connection there needed to be and I wanted to understand why. I am one of those people fortunate enough to have a platform and I want to use it to tackle hard problems, in the hope of finding solutions.
Over the years I’ve had the distinct privilege of working around the globe representing my Grandmother, The Queen, throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. This role has given me a unique perspective on the issues the world faces, and an opportunity to meet a diverse range of communities—to hear them describe their problems as well as their ideas for solutions.
For years I’ve been listening and learning. I never presume to have all the answers, but I do feel impassioned to help in any way that I can. Sometimes that means connecting people and making them aware of ideas that I’ve seen succeed in other places. Other times it means bringing a problem home and working it through with true experts, who have dedicated their lives to protecting our planet, or with influential people who can give time and/or money in big or small ways.
One thing I’ve learned, however, again and again, is that often times the best solution comes from within – from the local community members who live and breathe it every day.
There is one moment that stands out in my memory from a trip I made back in 2012 while representing my Grandmother in the Caribbean. As I walked to the boat to observe a coral reef replanting project, I had a seven year old come up to me, tug my shirt, and say with such conviction: “Because of your country, my country’s coral reef is dying.”
This boy, despite his age, had touched on a powerful truth. He already understood that the environmental damage caused to the reef was created by the actions of people outside of his country. And he was absolutely spot on.
His words deeply affected me because they revealed the full impact outsiders can have on a community without even realising it. At the time, his comment did not register as tourism-related, but it did make me want to understand better the relationship between those of us that travel and the places we visit. And perhaps not just when we travel, but in our everyday actions and habits too.
Some problems are highly visible. Others are not. The latter are perhaps even more damaging, as out-of-sight-out-of-mind creeps in. As travellers we often don’t see the long-term impact we have on a destination, unless perhaps we revisit the same areas regularly.
After seeing and experiencing the degradation of a few of my favourite places, where natural assets are depleted and communities left feeling defeated, I knew something had to be done.
Over the last ten years, as I have developed my work in conservation, I have learned so much from the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met in places like Botswana and the Caribbean, Nepal and New Zealand.
What is clear across this vast landscape is that our world faces environmental challenges of unprecedented scope and scale. From deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, to ocean plastics and poaching, the problems can sometimes seem too big to fix.
These human-caused challenges often need a giant system shift to make a significant enough impact. And that is what this partnership is here to try and do. But just because it is such a massive undertaking, doesn’t mean we can’t all play our part. Sometimes the scale of the conservation crisis feels overwhelming and that individual actions can’t make a difference.
I’ve certainly felt that – but I’ve learned that we cannot dismiss the idea of trying to do something, just because we can’t do everything. We can all do better. And while no one is perfect. We are all responsible for our own individual impact; the question is what we do to balance it out.
So today – after two years of behind-the-scenes conversations and planning, we’re going to start with the tourism industry.
So first let’s define the problem at hand: Sometimes when we appreciate the world’s beauty, we heighten its fragility.
It’s a paradox, but in our enthusiasm, we can put great strain on the natural wonders we travel to see, as well as the communities that call these places home.
Since 2000, the number of trips taken by people around the world has more than doubled. We will reach 1.8bn international trips by 2030; doubling the number of trips made annually in the last 20 years.
The negative impacts of mass-tourism and unsustainable tourism are increasingly in the news, thanks to the reporting of many of you in this room. You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, and here we are in the city of Amsterdam – which joins a growing list of places like Venice and Barcelona that have become overwhelmed by crowds.
Maya Bay in Thailand, which was made famous by the film “The Beach”, has been so besieged that its reefs have died, its bio-luminescent waters have filled with trash, and its beach will be closed to tourists until at least 2021. Then there’s Nepal, which recently had to remove approximately 12 tonnes of waste that climbers left on the slopes of Mount Everest. And throughout high tourism spots in Africa, safari vehicle ‘traffic jams’ are beginning to outnumber the very wildlife that travellers hope to see in their natural habitats.
As tourism inevitably increases in the years ahead, its dangers will increase accordingly. And this worries me, as I’m sure it does you too.
But the silver lining is that this grave threat is also a great hope. We have the opportunity to address this tourism paradox and turn one of the world’s biggest problems into one of its greatest solutions.
Tourism can be a source of opportunity for communities that might not otherwise find it. Tourism can strengthen the local economy and tourism drives improvements in the quality of life for so many. In some cases, it’s all they have.
It accounts for 10% of global GDP and about one in ten jobs worldwide, figures that will continue to grow in the coming years. This is the scale of the opportunity. There are positive trends in the travel industry as well. Seven in ten travellers say they want more sustainable travel options.
A wide majority say that they want the money they spend on travel to positively impact local communities. And these are more than just personal preferences. They’re global trends.
It’s estimated that by 2023, the global sustainable tourism market will grow by about 340 billion dollars
People are speaking up. They want to see the world, but they also want to know that with all the good that they take home — souvenirs, memories, photos, that they leave just as much good behind.
They want a paradigm shift and I believe one is coming. I believe we can—and we must—find new ways to minimise the dangers and maximise the opportunities of tourism.
More and more people will travel, and we can’t stop that, nor would we want to, because it truly opens our minds and broadens our horizons. We seek to appreciate what is different… and to find what connects us. Travel expands our understanding of the world, it certainly breaks down barriers and preconceptions, it also offers us an escape. It can also deepen our sense of obligation to this borrowed place we call home.
When astronauts look down at the earth from above, they speak of an ‘overview effect’—a realisation that our planet is both singular and fragile. When we travel we realise the same thing.
And that is why we’ll need to work together—across sectors, borders, cultures, and generations—to re-orientate the entire travel industry toward sustainability and equity, into mainstream rather than niche.
Today, I am proud to announce the launch of a global partnership that will do just that. It will help make tourism work for the world. It will help strengthen communities and ecosystems for generations to come.
It will turn travel into a catalyst for transformative change.
So – I am proud to announce…Travalyst.
Travalyst is a first-of-its-kind coalition, a united front of businesses dedicated to making travel an engine for sustainability.
The founding partners, who are represented here today, include some of the leaders and heavy hitters of the global travel industry— Booking.com, Ctrip, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and VISA. These are organisations that can really make waves, and the tide is changing. Surfs up!
We are of course very happy to have them on board—and to join in partnership not only with one another – which was surprisingly easy – but also with SussexRoyal, the foundation that my wife and I are launching in 2020.
In a moment, I’ll invite leaders from the partner companies to tell you why they’ve agreed to join. But first, I want to tell you why I’m so excited about this partnership.
I’ve seen so many great conservation projects struggle, not because they weren’t noble or worthwhile, but because they didn’t get buy-in from the organisations that could really make a difference. On day one, Travalyst has that buy-in and we’re determined to use it.
Over the next few years, these companies have committed to using their global role to drive systemic change.
These companies have direct relationships with millions of travellers and businesses, and deep connections with countless communities. Leveraging their position at the centre of travellers, operators, and consumers, they are perfectly placed to help make the travel industry vastly more sustainable for all of us. But we’re not just going to use that institutional buy-in—we’re going to use it right.
As we know, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the environmental challenges facing our world. Every community, of course, is different: different in geography, geology, and ecology… different in language and culture and in government structure.
But there is one way in which almost all communities are similar: they know what they need to thrive — if we back them. With the tools, support and opportunity, they will be able to implement effective and sustainable solutions themselves.
Travalyst will help to provide that support by working together with the people on the ground, tailoring our efforts to what we hear, and measuring impact at the community level. Because communities will be at the centre of everything we do and we’re not going to reinvent the wheel.
By harnessing the power of the private sector, Travalyst will complement some of the great work already being done — by NGOs, activists, governments, and multilateral organisations across the world.
Over the next few years, the members of Travalyst will work together to create incentives for organisations and destinations to do right by the places, spaces, and animals we all need to protect – at the same time, they’ll be making consumers aware of more ‘off-the-beaten-track’ places to share the impact as well as the benefits with local communities.
We know it can be hugely overwhelming out there as we are inundated with information, varying standards, and data –but the role of Travalyst is to simplify that. To make travel choices easier and better.
And lastly, returning to the point I made a moment ago, Travalyst will work to make sure that tourism substantially contributes to the long-term interests of communities, who in turn, will be incentivised to safeguard those destinations.
As it stands, in rural communities, especially in developing countries, the overwhelming majority of money spent by tourists leaks away before it can make a lasting impact. We have to change that.
If conducted responsibly, tourism can benefit communities for generations. It can build schools, create jobs, strengthen safety nets – and it can create a virtuous cycle, as communities protect what promotes further tourism.
Sustainability and economic stability, we believe, are two sides of the same coin. After all, healthy ecosystems are the lifeline for all of us.
By promoting and incentivising sustainable decision-making, by helping us as consumers stay better informed, and by empowering communities, Travalyst will strive to change both the travel industry and the world for the better— and for the long term. Thank you.
Now it’s my great pleasure to bring some of our partners out on stage to talk a little more about how exactly we’re planning to help drive that positive change.