As the Climate Crisis Intensifies, ‘Leave Only Footprints’ Travel Is Gaining Traction

By Thierry Malleret, economist

The warning lights of accelerating climate disruption and possible abrupt climate breakdown are flashing red. A few weeks ago, Antarctica was 40°C (104° Fahrenheit) degrees warmer than average. These extremes can in turn trigger amplified warming and further extreme weather events. The recent “rain bomb” in Lismore, Australia is one such canary in the climate mine: it overtopped the city’s flood levy, wreaking much physical damage. Insurance company projections point to similar occurrences in places as diverse as London, Tokyo, Hong Kong or Venice, but with far more dire financial consequences. As a result, non-coastal locations now command a premium 

The latest and just-published IPCC report provides incontrovertible evidence about the climate emergency we are collectively facing (it embodies the research of hundreds of scientists and thousands of scientific papers). Its conclusion that “it is now or never” (in terms of policies to curb carbon emissions and risk mitigation) and its increasingly dire warnings about the state of the climate and the environment are still too often met with indifference or greenwashing by too many industries and companies. This said, there is also a concomitant rise of activism (in the form of political, societal, investor-based, and increasingly radical activism) which companies cannot ignore. In the wellness industry like in many others, assets of the laggards and the deniers may well become stranded 

A natural, risk-mitigating consequence of these points above is the relentless rise of sustainable tourism (with substantial variance across regions: Europe is in the lead). The tourism industry (encompassing wellness tourism—its “little sister”) accounts for 8 percent of total global emissions, but because it does not provide an ‘essential good’ (in contrast to say, food or health) it’s not a necessity; it is all the more in the sight of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investors and various activists.  

As a result, tools and digital platforms to find more sustainable wellness and vacation options are exploding, alongside more sustainable resorts and hotels. A lot of greenwashing still takes place, but better ESG measuring tools, the scrutiny of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and foundations, and increasingly the financial industry, will ensure that sustainability standards get more rigorous and easier to implement.  

At the moment, each resort/hotel and each platform develop their own understanding and approach towards sustainable change, but some patterns are emerging: it’s not only about reducing carbon emissions, but about making distinct positive contributions to the environment (rewilding and increasing biodiversity, protecting woodland, bringing back wildlife, etc.) and to society (by putting in place programs that benefit the local community and disadvantaged groups).  

As the climate crisis intensifies, the “leave only footprints” principle when traveling and holidaying will increasingly gain traction. Moving forward and taking a long-term perspective, the P&L of wellness companies that ignore it will take a big hit. 


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