The SDGs – Who Cares? I do.
How do you start a journey? Wise men of the past have suggested that you begin with a first step, but I’d like to begin this one with a step back.
First of all, I’m Jessica. (Great to meet you!) I’m the Marketing Executive here at ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates. I couldn’t tell you what that title actually means, as my role thus far has been unlike any marketing position I’ve ever had. Everyday brings new and exciting challenges, and while I’m still doing some of the more traditional marketing tasks for the business, some days I have the opportunity to contribute in ways, and be a part of a team, that makes a lasting impact on the world.
Our firm, spearheaded by Anita Mendiratta, does this in a multitude of ways. From her role as the Special Advisor to the Secretary General of the UNWTO, to consulting with government leaders in tourism post-crisis, supporting CNN International in their support of the global tourism industry, and helping tourism organisations create more sustainable business models and brand identities. Whether working on assignments short- to medium-term, everything is focused on long-term development, an integral distinction because it doesn’t get all the glory as short-term results, but over time makes the biggest impact.
I personally have worked within the tourism industry for years now and felt like I had a great grasp of the ins and outs and purpose behind what we do. Encouraging more people to see the world, getting them to book the trip, and importantly with my social media background, asking them to share their experiences with others on Facebook, Instagram, or the social platform of their choice. I always found the work I did in tourism extremely rewarding – particularly because I wanted others to enjoy seeing the world as much as I do.
SHIFTING MY VIEW OF TOURISM
After joining AM&A, my understanding of tourism was completely shifted. For my first task as a new employee of the firm, Anita asked me to write a paper on the ‘20 Things I Didn’t Know About Tourism’. To be completely honest, I wondered what the point was. I’d spent years in the tourism industry, but assumed the assignment was more to get a grasp of my writing style than it was to actually teach me something. I figured I’d finish the paper and send it back within a couple of days, but I spent over a week pouring through the suggested resources, reports and data. By the time I sent back the finished assignment, I felt like I knew less than when I started. Walking through my report with Anita, and getting her perspective as a practitioner within the strategic (and especially diplomatic) tourism space, I began to see tourism less as a tourist taking a trip, and more as an economic sector that had the power to combat poverty, bring people from diverse backgrounds together, change a community’s future with new infrastructure and employment opportunities, and even bring peace to the world. For the first time I began to see the big picture.
The problem with seeing the big picture, is that it suddenly feels like something that one person couldn’t possibly have any effect on. Not by encouraging customers to visit Tenerife or book a city break, not by sharing beautiful destination images on Instagram to inspire, and not by travelling more this year – or could it? The disconnect between tourism on a higher level and travelling as a tourist became so clear to me, and I knew I needed to find a bridge to connect my two worlds.
We have become increasingly more aware of the way we should or shouldn’t travel, that’s a fact. 41% of us consider social issues in a destination of real importance, and 58% choose not to visit a destination if they feel it will negatively impact the people who live there. (Study from Booking.com) The majority of us have stopped riding elephants, book tours and activities through local suppliers, and seek authentic experiences over top ten lists. But how do we make a difference? How can we shape employment opportunities in Nepal or healthcare infrastructure in Mali or make sure that the Greek family who has been working in tourism for three generations has access to the digital skills they need to keep up?
the sdgs: united nations sustainable development goals
As part of that introductory paper, Anita shared with me the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They may or may not be known to you, but at the time, they were unknown to me. In 2015, all of the UN Member States adopted these 17 goals, which were to act as a blueprint for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” Importantly they became a call-to-action, a checks and balances of sorts, a strategic framework for the global community as they make decisions leading up to 2030. She shared the SDGs for a reason: to give our work context. Even in tourism.
For some reason the SDG’s really stuck with me. I would love nothing more than to live in a world without poverty or hunger. For gender equality to be the norm and for all children to have access to a quality education and clean water. A world where climate change is taken seriously and its resources are protected for future generations. But, we don’t live in a perfect world and the success of the Sustainable Development Goals is dependent on the efforts of the UN Member States. While it’s positive to see global leaders take these goals seriously, how could I possibly contribute to such large-scale ideals as a traveller?
These are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 2: Zero Hunger
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
GOAL 13: Climate Action
GOAL 14: Life Below Water
GOAL 15: Life on Land
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
it’s time to bridge the gap
After discussing these ideas with the team, and sharing my frustrations, Anita decided that I would be a perfect ‘fit’ as our firms’ voice on getting the message out on why the SDGs matter to us all. My background in the more consumer side of tourism, and as a traveller myself, has shown me where and why we travel and how we make those decisions. My role here at AM&A exposes me to all of the political, economic, and diplomatic facets of tourism – it shows me jigsaw pieces of the big picture everyday. I’m now in a unique position to join them together, and the business provides the perfect platform for reaching both sides of the tourism aisle.
It’s time to shift our views on tourism. As travellers particularly, we need to stop looking at tourism as something we do or where we go, and begin exploring why it matters. I’m confident that the Sustainable Development Goals can be the stepping stones we need and help shift our focus while encouraging all of us to make a difference. Whether we are travelling or at home, making actionable micro choices that, together, will begin to change the big picture.
I’d like to invite you to take this journey with me, and AM&A, as I explore the 17 sustainable development goals. Each month we’ll focus on one goal and explore actionable ways that we as individuals can change the world.