Tess Willcox, CEO of World Resorts of Distinction, shares her thoughts and ideas on how we can all do our bit to build a positive travel legacy.
Tess started her life journey in a beautiful little town called Margaret River in the South West of Western Australia. You could say she was raised on the land, and the land raised her, which is perhaps why she feels such deep respect for, and pull to protect our mother Earth.
Tess travelled with her family when she was young and had the opportunity to explore some of the most remote destinations in the world. Since then, she has always been drawn to more rogue, untouched places on the planet, as she feels an affinity to those who protect those places.
World Resorts of Distinction offer a carefully-curated collection of sustainable, socially-responsible and distinctive Resorts in some of the world’s most luxurious settings. After working for the company for 15 years, today Tess is now the CEO and sole owner.
What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?
It’s funny, there was never another option for me. “How can I build a life around doing the one thing that brings me unmeasured joy, and how do I change the world whilst doing it?” That was my burning question.
I’ve never been any good at being stagnant when there are places to explore, to marvel, to uncover, to protect.
I was always taught that in order to make the biggest change in the world, you infiltrate the space that needs revolutionising the most and change it from within.
My dad and I had always dreamed of creating unique little getaways in remote places that were subsistent on coconut oil driven generators and self-sustainable operations, so it runs through my blood.
Everything in my journey has unfolded quite serendipitously, fused with an incredible amount of hard work and passion. The travel industry wasn’t a conscious choice for me, it was a calling.
What concerns you about the long term impact of travel on people and the planet?
I think every industry is concerned right now, as we are at a tipping point in the planet’s history.
The travel industry concerns me because there is a tremendous amount of green-washing at the moment and an enormous focus on ‘sustainability’ that isn’t in fact sustainability at all.
I believe we have moved past a time where removing plastic water bottles from a resort suffices in terms of ‘environmental policy’, and our conversations need to be much more deep-rooted in the actual operational planetary impact of travel and Resorts.
There are brands making such a monumental difference in their positive impact on the environment and local communities. However, it needs to become the norm not the exception to the rule. We are building Resorts, flying, and consuming more than ever before, so we as a collective need to be very transparent in terms of the impact this industry has on climate disaster.
I don’t think we convey how dire the current planetary circumstance is as an industry, and thus the end consumer doesn’t feel the urgency to support brands who have net positive impacts on the planet.
We have hordes of people travelling for the sole reason of seeing the last remaining animal species before they become extinct. Wouldn’t it be great if they travelled with the purpose of preservation and conservation, not just for their next Instagram post?
Do you think travel can change the world?
I absolutely think it already has and will continue to do so. We are in an extremely privileged position (those of us reading this and having these conversations) of being able to travel.
I strongly believe that human connection and human connection to nature will continue to drive this industry. The yearning to discover and understand other cultures and experience different parts of the world will never leave us.
We are a curious bunch. Travel takes you out of your routine and transcends.
If we all commit to making travel a carbon neutral (if not negative) industry, I think travel will continue to change the world in a positive way.
Are you seeing positive change happening in responsible and sustainable travel?
Absolutely, but I want to see more. More people using their platforms for change. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility (as my instagram followers would know!).
I think in terms of our clients they are implementing such incredible new operations that minimize environmental impact, and actually positively contribute to the world and our climate crisis.
I would love to see more brands promoting sustainable travel and being REALLY committed to it as opposed to using it as a marketing tactic. There are some pinnacle examples of brands and individuals putting their everything into championing sustainable travel and it makes me so happy.
Like you know, it’s not something we can really mess around with. It needs to be implemented immediately.
Is there a particular moment or milestone in your life, that changed your outlook on things and inspired you to want to make change?
I was raised to respect the environment and it’s always been a driving passion of mine, but there have been a few pinnacle moments for me personally that made me really commit to effecting change.
Our family used to sail through the Mentawai islands back in the 90’s, before tourism really hit the destination hard. I must have gone about five times before I was 20 and experienced the most untouched destination and raw cultural experiences.
I went back there in about 2008 and I was horrified. The amount of plastic on the islands from surf boats, the degradation of the natural environment, the effect of tourism on the indigenous culture and how they live off the land. It was such a stark contrast to the pristine and primitive experience I had had.
I’ve had a few moments in my life like that. I am lucky to have the memories, but I want to ensure we can restore those places to what they used to be.
What advice would you give to people wanting to travel more responsibly?
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can take to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up.
Be an educator. You don’t need to be perfect at it but do your BEST at it.
Here are my 6 tips for being a more responsible traveller;
- Choose a carbon offset adventure or a brand that will offset your carbon footprint for you. COMMIT to this – it is essential.
- Engage with local communities and spend time in the places you are travelling (outside of your Hotel / Resort if that’s how you choose to travel). Understand the locals is a sure-fire way for you to understand the impact your travels are having on those communities and the environment, both positively and negatively. This will help your decision-making process on which brands/companies to support when you do travel.
- Don’t travel with disposable plastic, there is just no excuse anymore. Carry your reusable water bottle, bamboo toothbrush, shampoo & conditioner bars etc.
- Avoid the well-trodden tourist paths and ask the locals where they would go.
- This one is controversial but don’t geo-tag remote locations and landmarks on Instagram. One of the biggest issues we face is over-tourism and people are starting to forget how to adventure. Put your phone away and you will find far more beautiful places.
- Support and buy local from the craftsmen and women.
Click here to find out more about World Resorts of Distinction.
How can you travel to change the world?
Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.
Now you can easily create your own impact by sharing your new-found knowledge. Share this link to a friend who you think would be interested or post it on your own social media.
Ultimately, it all comes down to staying curious, keeping yourself up-to-date and making yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.