Celebrating 20 years of the Travel Foundation

This year, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Travel Foundation’s creation.   To mark the occasion, we’re looking back at our many achievements, made possible thanks to our partners and funders, and also looking forward to our role in bringing about the changes needed for a better, more resilient and equitable future for tourism.   

 In the past two decades, the Travel Foundation has come a long way and so has tourism. In 2003, there were less than half the number of international tourists, just under 700 million, compared to over 1.4 billion in 2019.  Travel was on the cusp of a huge transformation.  Facebook would arrive the following year. had less than 10 employees, it now has around 22,000.  Expedia was bringing in over $2bn of revenue, now more like 12bn.    

Back then, interest in sustainability was still low, but The Travel Foundation’s birth that year shows it was growing in importance, particularly following the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, which was also the UN-declared International Year of Ecotourism. Indeed, the very creation of the Travel Foundation is a real demonstration of leadership through collaborative action: with much of the UK travel industry coming together to seed fund the organisation. Then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said the new charity was “a world-leading initiative which will enable British travellers to make a difference to millions of lives around the globe”.  

 Since its inception, the Travel Foundation has evolved from being a UK industry charity funding small scale projects, to an international NGO seeking broader impact by working closely with destination authorities and global businesses. In some ways, we’ve changed a lot since 2003, but we’ve always kept to our core principles of leadership through collaboration and action.   

It’s difficult to summarise succinctly all our many achievements. In the past two decades, thanks to the support of our partners, we’ve worked in 36 countries all around the world - creating initiatives that benefit local communities and the environment, providing support and advice to governments, DMOs and businesses, building capacity, researching and exposing the impacts of tourism.  In practice, that covers a wealth of different initiatives, some of which are highlighted in our new publication ‘From strength to strength, the Travel Foundation’s journey to transform tourism,’ including: 



These initiatives have all pushed the agenda forward and improved the impacts of tourism.  Yet, many of the overarching challenges for tourism that existed back in 2003 are still with us and in some cases have been super-charged.  Today, much of tourism continues with a narrow fixation on economic impact, with the benefits increasingly concentrated among the few at the top of the value chain.  All too often, it is still local residents who lose out through loss of housing and access to land and resources, overcrowding, pollution and the destruction of natural environments, exacerbated by the impacts of climate change which tourism has played no small part in fuelling.  

Today, the biggest challenges facing tourism are the climate emergency and the equally urgent need to ensure more equitable outcomes across residents and localcommunities. The Travel Foundation’s role as we move into our third decade is to support industry leaders to step up, take action and show the way on these issues. We will enable our growing community of changemakers to demonstrate what is possible, to do tourism differently, in balance with community needs and the environment. Our focus now is to work with leaders to challenge the status quo and break new ground, to create change at scale, to demonstrate how to increase value from tourism for communities, to help bring zero and low carbon itineraries to market, identify the barriers to decarbonisation and further define the challenge and implement solutions through our various initiatives.  

To achieve this, we are strengthening our global presence with more formal representation in the EU and, in due course, the US.  This includes establishing an office in Brussels, hosted by VisitFlanders, which already provides a hub for the European Travel Commission (ETC), the European Travel Association (ETOA) and NECSTouR (Network of European Regions for Competitive and Sustainable Tourism). The European office, situated at the heart of the EU, will bring opportunities for funding, growth and partnership.  

We also have many new and developing partnerships, including:  

  • A formal collaboration with the tourism and environment departments of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), representing 11 Caribbean small island nations , to support regional scale collaboration in destinationswhich are on the frontline of climate impacts.   
  • With Expedia Group, we will soon be launching a free “climate champions” training resource for destination marketing and management organizations (DMOs), available through Expedia’s online learning platform. Expedia has also backed the Travel Foundation, with NGO partners CREST, Tourism Cares and Cuidadores de Destinos, to develop an industry white paper exploring what Climate Justice means for the travel industry, led by the University of Waterloo in Canada..  
  • We are collaborating with Edinburgh Futures Institute and TravelTech Scotland to innovate traveltech solutions through a network of destination test-beds.
  • A three-year partnership agreement with Mastercard’s Tourism Innovation Hub focused on scaling up joint expertise and resources to generate data-driven solutions for critical challenges 
  • A collaboration with BehaviorSMART to support businesses and destinations to build capacity and implement game-changing behaviour-change solutions  

If we want travel and tourism to be an important part of a greener, fairer world, we need to work with intentionality to make it so. Change is already underway and the clarion call is getting louder every day. Progress will come through all of us working together to break new ground and consign business as usual to history. We believe that as the Travel Foundationenters its third decade, we are well placed to be a major catalyst for change, creating and supporting a community of trailblazers, forward thinkers and those ready to take the leap. Join us! 

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