Filmmaker Celine Cousteau on sustainable travel: 'being a tourist is a true privilege'

The AdventureNext Near East 2019 conference kicked off in Aqaba where questions were raised about how travellers can turn knowledge into responsibility

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“You are not apart from nature, you are a part of nature,” said award-winning filmmaker and conservationist Celine Cousteau at the opening of the third AdventureNext Near East event taking place in Aqaba until April 3.

The event is hosted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and the Jordan Tourism Board, and sponsored by the European Union and the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. It gathers international media with travel experts and providers from across the Mena region and beyond to discuss all things adventure travel.

During the opening plenary, Cousteau took to the stage to pose questions about the responsibility of travellers in helping the whole world to succeed and about facing our responsibilities as tourists.

"Travelling is a privilege. Being a tourist is a true privilege, what are you going to do with that privilege?" Cousteau asked after showing an excerpt from impact film Tribes on the Edge, a project that was eight years in the making and that details the impact of deforestation and climate change in the Amazon.

Celine Cousteau addressed the Adventure Next conference in Aqaba, Jordan. Courtesy Tribes on the Edge

Cousteau comes from a long line of conservationists. Her grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau, is considered the pioneer of marine conservation and her father Jean-Michelle was known for his oceanographic documentaries including Ocean Adventures, a series that was narrated by Pierce Brosnan, Robert Redford and Chris North. Likewise, her brother Fabien is credited with breaking new ground in documenting ocean conservation by live broadcasting his underwater exploration.

The circle of life

Speaking at the conference, the environmentalist said that 20 per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from the Amazon, which makes the indigenous tribes living there our front line of defence for preserving the planet’s ecosystem. During the talk, Cousteau recanted a story about an interview she did with a tribe elder in Brazil who was puzzled by the question, ‘How do you live sustainably?’

To placate the filmmaker, the man answered that he hunts only what he needs for his family and plants a new tree every time he cuts one down but was confused that there was a term for this simple way of living. His confusion made Cousteau realise that society has drifted so far from what was once the only way to live.

“With sustainable travel and sustainable living we’ve created a whole industry. But really we’re just coming full circle, back to what we were before,” clarified the conservationist.

Tourism for good

The opportunity that travel brings was also discussed. As the fastest growing sub segment in the tourism industry today according to the UNWTO, adventure tourism has a major role to play in the future of travel and beyond. Malia Asfour from the Jordan Tourism Board acknowledged this during the conference stating: “Adventure travel transcends beyond nations and borders.”

The sentiment was further echoed by Cousteau who pointed to the responsibility of travellers to meet locals, hear their stories and realise what a country is for the people who live there.

“We are intimately connected with everything in the planet. We need to move from the knowledge that travel affords us to a sense of responsibility and from a ‘them’ to an ‘us’ thinking.”

As today’s travellers move from simply seeking an experience to seeking a sense of purpose through tourism, Cousteau points to a shared responsibility to protect the world and all its communities. “It’s not just about doing and going, it’s the moment where you just are. Travel has the power to let us transcend the place we are in and think about other places.”