International destinations attracted about 1.2 billion travelers last year, and the number of global travelers is expected to reach 1.8 billion in 2030.   Imagine if this expanding multitude could be a positive force for a more sustainable world both on their travels and back at home.

We have an epic opportunity this year to spark change. As travelers, we can rally around the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development organized for 2017 by the World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations.

I was in Madrid on January 19th, along with hundreds of corporate, government and nonprofit leaders from around the world to participate in the official launch of the International Year. The special UN initiative is focused on building awareness and promoting action in support of global sustainable development goals.    The goals cover some of the world’s most pressing issues, including poverty reduction, education and the environment.   I am here because the UN views tourism as part of the answer, and in my role as CEO of the USA arm of Hostelling International, a vice chair of the UNWTO Affiliate Member group.

Official launch ceremony in Madrid

Official launch ceremony in Madrid

The UN defines sustainable tourism broadly, in terms of economic, social and environmental impacts, both current and future.   That makes this brand of tourism different.   For example, it aspires to advance environmentally sustainable practices, protect cultural and natural heritage, and even reduce poverty in tourist destinations.

We have a chance to help bring sustainable tourism to the mainstream and the opportunity for impact is massive. How big?  A global survey of 100,000 travelers last year by found that 65 percent said they hadn’t stayed or didn’t know if they had stayed in eco-friendly accommodations.  And among those who didn’t plan on a stay in a sustainable accommodation, 39% said it was because they didn’t know sustainable accommodations exist.

Many organizations around the world are responding. To help kick things off, Hostelling International USA is cosponsoring Hack for 2030 in late January.   Changemakers, creatives and developers from around the world are gathering at HI USA’s Boston hostel for a 5 day hackathon to create technology solutions for key UN sustainable development goals.   Among the projects is an app for the UNWTO to build awareness of its newly released Tips for Responsible Travel in support of the International Year.

From global leaders in Madrid to the hackathon in Boston, there’s a core theme: everyone plays a role.  If all 1 billion+ of us made a single positive impact on our next trip, imagine how much better our world would be.

Here are five ways for independent travelers to get started:

  1. Get inspired with the UNWTO International Year video.
  2. Use hashtags #travelenjoyrespect and #tourism4development to share your support for the International Year.
  3. Bookmark the UNWTO International Year website and visit throughout the year to find the organizations and the activities that most interest you.
  4. Participate in the HI USA’s Pack Your Impact quiz on Buzzfeed, and use your travels to be part of the solution.
  5. Write me with ideas for building awareness and mobilizing your friends to action in 2017! I’m at   We want to help support high impact thinking.

The travel community has received a unique invitation to make a difference in 2017.   It’s an opportunity to take our passion for travel and make a better world. Let’s act on it.


This post first appeared on Thursday January 20th in my Huffington Post blog.