Next week marks one year since New Zealand's borders were closed to anyone except returning New Zealand citizens. Justin Francis, the founder of Responsible Travel, reflects on what the past year has taught us.
It's hard to find silver linings in a pandemic – particularly when you work in travel.
A year of global lockdowns has been devastating. But the hard truth is, tourism needed a reboot. The old model was unsustainable.
A world stood still has provided a mandatory pause for thought – and the opportunity to rebuild more responsibly.
Travel will bounce back. But perhaps this time around, it'll be better for everyone.
Here are some things I'll be bearing in mind for my own future travel.
Less jet-setting, more nature-positivity
I love global travel. I believe it's important and I know it can do good. I see the benefits for local communities, conservation, culture, and our own mental health.
But perhaps we don't need quite as much of it.
During lockdowns, many of us have found respite and joy in nature close to home. I know I have.
Our appreciation for the beauty in our own backyards has deepened. As the world reopens, I don't think we'll lose that. Perhaps when we do travel again, bucket lists will drop in currency and we'll begin to place much higher value on slower, more nature-positive tourism.
Just as it protects and restores us, we can help regenerate nature. I think the pandemic has sharpened our resolve to do just that. It's a good job, too. Because in a heating world, reducing our carbon emissions isn't enough. We also need to protect and rewild more land. Much more.
That means planting trees, creating healthy grasslands, restoring peat bogs and oceans to help absorb carbon. And while we can all play our part at home – how we holiday can have a significant positive impact.
Rewilding land takes money and community support. Responsible nature-positive tourism – from the Serengeti to the Scottish Highlands and right here in New Zealand – helps fund conservation work, while boosting local economies and jobs.
We're committed to becoming nature-positive by 2030 and doubling down on our own nature-based trips, and the more demand there is from travellers, the more companies will follow suit
Covid isn't the greatest threat we'll face
Climate change is. And, as with the pandemic, the poorest will bear the hardest impacts.
But it affects us all - and there are simple things we can each do to help tackle it, protect the environment, and one another. Including how we travel.
We can't offset our way out of the climate crisis – we have to reduce our emissions, and that means taking fewer flights.
We've long advised our travellers to fly less - and instead, stay in destinations for longer. Not only is it better for the planet, but the local communities you visit will benefit more - and you get time to actually switch off and recharge.
Next to this, the best thing you can do on holiday is to switch up your menu: think plant-based, local and seasonal. And if the rise in vegan trips is anything to go by, it seems many travellers agree.
Why do we travel at all?
Whether it's for rest, adventure or culture, it's helpful to be more conscious of why we travel. Instead of ticking destinations off a list, maybe it's time we simply consider what we really need from our next holiday. The first question we tend to ask our own travellers isn't where they want to go, but what they'd like to experience. There might be somewhere you've never heard of that you'd love – and would benefit from more responsible tourism.
Perhaps 'living like a local' misses the point
As with nature, many of us have connected more deeply with our communities this year - something we rely upon, have missed deeply during lockdowns and perhaps appreciate now more greatly.
I hope this translates into our travels. That we'll be more mindful of local people - and ensure our trips benefit them.
In an industry packed with slogans about travelling "like a local"', I think it's important as tourists to recognise ourselves as foreigners and guests in other people's homes.
Making every trip count
At its best and more than anything, travel can bring people together in what often seems a divided world. I've missed it greatly and can't wait to see it return.
After a year stood still, it's a little tempting to make up for lost time. But I'll be taking more staycations from here on in and – local or global – making every trip count.
Justin Francis is co-founder and CEO of holiday company Responsible Travel, which marks its 20th anniversary this year.