OPINION: Tourism needs to embrace micromobility if it is to be truly sustainable


Jack Samler, Voi’s General Manager UK and Ireland, says it’s time for tourism and transport to work together.

As the tourism season gets into full swing again, many of us are celebrating the chance to be able to travel freely, explore new horizons and step out of our comfort zones. We, as transport providers, are here to support people on their journeys, especially as increasing numbers of travellers are seeking sustainable options and, in this regard, micromobility can now be a key player.

According to Visit Britain, inbound visits are forecast to increase to 21.1 million, and spending to £16.9 billion in 2022 – up 52% and 59% respectively versus 2019, pre-pandemic. Visit Britain also promulgates responsible tourism, encouraging our towns and cities to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals into their tourism offers. Consequently, we are keen to see micromobility included in tourism destination marketing moving forward.

The pandemic was traumatic for tourism

I celebrate tourism’s sustainable vision but also recognise one major caveat when it comes to their following the green dream in tourism: the pandemic was a traumatic time for tourism, not just because of the lockdowns but also because tourism organisations were on constant alert over the duration. One day they were in business, the next day they weren’t and so, it is not surprising if they are still anxious that it might all go wrong again, and afraid to plan for the future.

At the height of lockdown in April 2020 even central London was empty

As a new form of transport, however, we always look to the future. We have to. Unlike the stalwart tourism industry, we have no laurels to rest on, and no faithful heritage to sell. But we do see micromobility as a changemaker in our towns and cities, a healing force to make better places to live in – as well as to visit. We believe that tourism providers, destination management organisations and tourists themselves should, therefore, be key stakeholders in a movement towards these climate-friendly and people-friendly urban transformations.

The business case for responsible tourism

It’s important to recognise that many in the travel industry have been promoting the business case for responsible tourism for 20 years now, since the signing of the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in 2002. They believe that the movement is finally moving from niche to norm; however in mass tourism, I still see some reluctance to change. Meanwhile, consumer behaviour in all sectors is unquestionably moving in the direction of more conscious and sustainable choices, as highlighted in Deloitte’s 2021 research, which showed that 85% of consumers adopted at least one lifestyle change to be more sustainable during the pandemic.

It takes two to tango

The problem for us is that there seems to be a disconnect between transport and tourism and it takes two to tango if we want tourism and transport to go strictly sustainable. I would like, therefore, to invite a closer collaboration with tourism stakeholders, and help reassure them and grow their understanding of micromobility, in a way that we have done for our local communities over the last 18 months.

However, we also need tourism organisations to open their doors and hear more about our sustainable vision for their destinations and, at the moment it feels as if, in some cases, our knocking is falling on deaf ears. It’s not helped by the fact that our industry falls under the remit of the Department for Transport, and tourism under that of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. But this isn’t difficult, it’s just a matter of one industry finding a way to listen to the other, learn from one another and be inspired by one another.

To promote sustainable transport in tourism, we are keen to shout about the fact that they are now part of everyday life for many people. In fact, since the UK e-scooter trials began in the summer 2020, we have serviced over 13 million e-scooter rides, replacing an estimated five million short car trips, and working in close collaboration with city councils and local authorities. Now we just need to see our visitors also getting excited by micromobility, with holidays being the perfect time to experience something new.

Celebrating sustainable destinations

In an industry where destinations compete fiercely for attention from domestic and international visitors, I think it’s a no-brainer for tourism to celebrate the micromobility movement. With everything that the industry has gone through, however, and the rush to open the gates again and get ‘bums back on seats’ means that ignoring a whole new change in transport is understandable.

However, we can make that easy for them, which is why I openly invite all UK tourist boards in the towns and cities where we operate to come and try out an e-scooter, learn about our relationship with their local councils, our safety practices and, in short, how we work. Our doors are open to support them in any way we can, so that they and all our visitors can confidently experience a Bon Voi-age.

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