Wendy M. Purcell and Allison Voss, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University

This is a time for a new social contract to be forged with the T&T sector, with sustainability as the driver of radical transformation.  Using the ‘Culture of Health’ framework could help the sector make its fullest contribution to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.

COVID-19 served to shutdown travel and tourism (T&T) across the globe, with lockdowns and social distancing measures offering destinations and the environment a temporary pause from the ravages of overtourism.  Venetians explored their city without tourists, air quality in London improved and greenhouse gas emissions were predicted to fall by some 8%.  However, millions of people rely on the T&T sector; it supported one in 10 jobs (330 million) worldwide, one in five new jobs over the last five years and contributed over US$8.9 trillion to the global economy in 2019.

With 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals in 2019 and an additional one billion people forecast to join the global middle class by 2030, international travel was predicted to grow by some 35%.  However, concerns about the extractive and damaging nature of the sector were also growing.  For T&T, the pandemic is a crucible moment – revealing the interconnected and hyper-dependent nature of sustainability, health and business.  T&T is now poised to reinvent itself and build back better.

Adopting the ‘Culture of Health’ framework could serve to advance the shift to a more sustainable T&T sector.  Supported by conscious consumerism and greater governmental oversight, T&T’s negative impacts can be addressed and its positive contribution to global citizenship and a more equitable society advanced.

The ‘Culture of Health’[1] framework places well-being as a strategic business agenda, which fits with fast-tracking sustainability as the pandemic subsides.  Quelch and Boudreau claimed, “every company, knowingly or unknowingly, impacts public health…” and connected health and business across fours domains:

  • Consumers: how businesses deliver products and services toconsumers;
  • Employees, including supply chain: how business treats its employees and supply chain workers;
  • Community: how much business invests in the health of its communities; and
  • Environment: how businesses impacts the environment.

Including Consumer and Community as equally important ‘pillars’, alongside Environmental, Social and Governance issues, expands the approach T&T can take towards advancing sustainable business practices.  Embracing the health of people and planet as core strategic drivers of long-term prosperity can help T&T pivot more powerfully from the pandemic.

[1] Culture of Health https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/companies-culture-of-health/ is a study supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation under the grant No. 74275 ‘Building a Culture of Health: A Business Leadership Imperative’ and is a joint initiative between the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Business School.