Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry was booming. The Guardian reports a record breaking 6% tourism increase from 2017 to 2018, a huge beneficiary to the global economy. The industry has been growing exponentially since the end of the second world war. From 25m tourist visits in 1950 to 1.4bn in 2018. Specifically, the most popular global destinations are France, Spain, the US, China and Italy. However, there is a huge issue at stake; the environment. Travel and tourism is simultaneously contributing to climate change and degrading the natural environment.
Tourism’s negative environmental impacts
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), transport-related emissions from tourism contributed to 5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Most importantly, those greenhouse gases are projected to increase to 5.3% by 2030. That number may seem miniscule, but it’s not as the climate crisis continues to ravage the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stresses the importance of preventing a 1.5 degree increase in the Earth’s average temperature. All of which is fueled by the combustion of fossil fuels and emissions.
Nonetheless, tourism negatively impacts the environment in more ways than greenhouse gas emissions. With more and more people visiting the same places, comes more pollution and waste issues. Over consumption causes a depletion of natural resources, especially in places where those resources are already scarce. The ecological issues of tourism expand to soil erosion from the increase of local land use as well as natural habitat loss which adds pressure on vulnerable and endangered species. This can undoubtedly damage the very resources that tourism depends on.
I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t the covid-19 lockdown’s around the world restore natural environments and reduce pollution? The quick answer is: ultimately it’s a very negligible effect on climate change. A study published in Nature Climate Change explains that despite the declines, over the next five years, the overall global temperature reduction may only amount to 0.01 °C. Scientists on the study suggest that future economic recovery plans would need to include sustainable policy changes. Although it is not ideal to travel right now due to the pandemic, it is important to ensure that the travel industry does not go back to business as usual.
Making sustainable travel simple
Due to these issues, it can be daunting to even begin thinking of ways to travel in a way that causes less environmental harm. There are so many factors to consider and Ximalia, a purpose-driven startup is working to simplify sustainable travel for all parties involved. CEO Alexandre Thill and CTO Thomas Mick were inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and founded the company in 2019 in Paris.
Ximalia’s overall goal is to enable travelers to create a positive impact while enjoying a wonderful holiday. The impact mainly happens twofold: firstly through directing travelers to places that are not as frequented, where nature and local infrastructure can actually handle them. Secondly through connecting people (e. g. impact-driven individuals that want to give with people in need or sustainable travelers with each other).
“We aim to achieve our mission through the power of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Various data sources are combined using AI-Algorithms to create a unique global sustainability index which is at the core of our products,” said Thill. “The information will be accessible for travelers via an app that provides sustainable travel packages, to businesses via application programming interfaces (APIs) and to governments via a graphical analytics interface.”
All of the trips that Ximalia offers will include various efficient and audited projects to offset carbon emissions. For governments, the platform will make tourism monitoring easier. For businesses, it will help them to more easily implement sustainability filters and features. Thill adds that Ximalia will also help those individuals who directly benefit from tourism.
“For example, there might be requesters of micro loans to finance e.g. farming activities for the next season to nourish their families. Ximalia trips will incorporate such opportunities to connect people with money and people in need through trips, thereby emphasizing on the social and economic aspects of sustainability,” said Thill.
Helping Ximalia launch
Currently, Ximalia is running a crowdfunding campaign. The goal is to raise enough funds to hire more developers and officially launch the platform. People can gain early access to the app and support the efforts by donating to the campaign here. Additionally, it’s easy to stay up to date with Ximalia by following their Instagram profile where they also focus on raising awareness regarding the tourism industry.
Ximalia is a truly unique and critical initiative. “To the best of our knowledge, nobody is trying to build a global sustainability index like us,” said Thill. “Also no one seems to aim at creating an ecosystem of sustainable travel that involves all major stakeholders.”
Thill adds that the simplest tip to travel more sustainably is to be mindful. To acknowledge that individual travel decisions implicate both positive and negative effects on the planet and people.
He goes further to provide simple decisions that can be made during each step of a trip:
- Plan a shorter distance or offset CO2.
- Check for green labels when booking hotels.
- Stay with locals.
- Consume regional dishes.
- Donate to charitable causes at the destination visited.
- Don’t visit overly touristic places or don’t follow the herd in terms of trending destinations one “has to see.”
- Travel during off-season.
“In the end, common thinking is that sustainability is unattainable whereas it is at everyone’s hand…and in everyone’s hand,” said Thill.
Author bio: Eillin Delapaz is an environmental writer and assistant media producer for Green Living Guy®.