COVID-19 forced the world to pause and reimagine travel. As the pandemic eases and ahead of World Tourism Day, now is the time for the tourism industry to correct its environmental impact, says a University of Guelph researcher.

Dr. Statia Elliot
Dr. Statia Elliot

Dr. Statia Elliot is the director of the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management in the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, where she researches the intersections of tourism and sustainability. She also chairs the Ontario Tourism Education Corporation’s board of directors. 

The theme of this year’s World Tourism Day is “Rethinking Tourism,” to highlight efforts to put people and the planet first.  

Elliot is creating a framework, with HFTM colleague Dr. Chris Choi and PhD student Alireza Zolfaghari, for the industry that she hopes will guide tourism through a sustainable recovery and away from the thinking of “more is better.”  

The document will address responsible travel, resiliency, community engagement, capacity management and digital efficiencies, all of which will help the industry adjust to market and capacity pressures, she says.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions not only to travel and tourism operations but to the sector’s pre-pandemic drive to improve economic and environmental sustainability,” she explains.  

“Airports, hotels and restaurants are faced with staff shortages and investment disparities, limiting their capacity to return to pre-pandemic levels of operation and forcing a re-prioritization of traditional business approaches.” 

A more environmentally and socially sustainable model 

Creating ways to make the tourism industry more environmentally and socially sustainable is more important than ever because of the pandemic, Elliot says. The industry is a major economic driver for Canada, and many countries and travel trends that emerged during the pandemic signal a need to transform. 

“Governments, nationally and provincially, can impact tourism’s recovery, by influencing the image of our destinations, either negatively or positively,” she says.  

Elliot says industry players might consider limiting the number of visitors to popular attractions to avoid mass tourism, highlighting other destinations and promoting off-season travel. 

Tourists can do their part by booking accommodations that follow sustainable practices, using local guides, eating at local restaurants to support the destination’s economy, staying longer in one place to minimize transportation emissions and respecting cultural practices, says Elliot. 

Elliot is available for interviews. 

Dr. Statia Elliot