Article and image by Geoff Manchester, Intrepid Travel co-founder

Today, we find ourselves in a place we never could have dreamed — asking our travelers to stay home after 31 years of helping them explore the world. While this situation is heartbreaking in so many ways, it also provides the travel industry with the opportunity to pause and reflect on our wrongdoings, and spend this time challenging ourselves to emerge from this crisis better than we were before — more sustainable, more ethical, more empowered, more responsible.

I’ve heard people saying that we were living through the golden age of travel until COVID-19 brought it to a screeching halt. But the reality is that the golden age of travel ended some time ago.

Somewhere along the way, travel — which is meant to foster compassion, breed empathy, and break down barriers — took a wrong turn. Animals were physically and emotionally abused to perform and act as props for travelers. Orphaned children even became commoditized as tourist attractions. And in the interest of short-term gains, we selfishly consumed and built over nearly every piece of vacant land, forcing our planet into a climate emergency.

This isn’t to discredit the many wonders of our industry in the past few decades — but tourism in recent years was both brilliant and broken. And while the golden age of travel feels long gone, COVID-19 should mark the start of a golden opportunity to change its course.

Simply put, we shouldn’t be aspiring for things to go back to normal. We should be aspiring to wholly redefine what normal means. In life it is so rare that we are given a second chance, and it’s important we don’t treat this like a fork in the road but rather a chance to forge a new path altogether. One where the rules can be rewritten to benefit the most vulnerable people, to protect the natural world and all the animals and humans who inhabit it, and to heal our planet from the damage we’ve caused.

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