At the beginning of this month, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) published a series of detailed maps revealing that 36% of England’s population live too far away from national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to easily access them. As an article in the Guardian observed: “the country’s poorest people are being denied access to England’s most beautiful countryside and missing out on the mental and physical health benefits that can result.”
This article appeared in the environment section rather than the travel section of the paper. But it hits on two related themes that the travel industry should focus a great deal more attention on: the importance of connecting people to nature; and providing the most disadvantaged members of society with the opportunity to benefit from leisure time (especially in nature).
Connecting people to nature
Of course, much of the travel industry works to connect people to nature, whether taking us to beaches, mountains or forests. But connecting in the sense of providing transport links is not the same as enabling a deeper reconnection to nature and the benefits that this brings.
Just 20 minutes in nature improves concentration and reduces the need for ADHD and ADD medications in children. A 30-minute visit to a park can improve heart health, circulation and lower cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure. Frequent exposure to nature reduces anxiety and depression, while promoting a sense of wellbeing and fulfillment. As another article in the Guardian last year reported, doctors in the Shetland Islands off Scotland are prescribing birdwatching and nature walks to patients. In other words, they are offering tourism products to make people better.
In Austria, in the Hohe Tauern National Park near Salzburg, they have developed an initiative to promote holidays in the National Park focussing on the impact on our health. The Hohe Tauern Health brand promotes the benefits of holidays spent in the unspoilt natural surroundings of the park. Participating hotels must provide allergen-free environments and healthily produced food. Essentially their hotels are removing chemicals, using organic food etc – all the things you might expect from a Responsible or Sustainable Tourism certification. But it is promoted for the impact it has on the guest – not ‘stay here because we are responsible’, but ‘stay here because your health benefits’.