We recently discovered the concept of “promadic travel” and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
It resonates with us, with how we view travel, and with how we wish the wider tourism industry would operate. We wanted to share the notion with you – and inspire you to embrace some of its ideologies – so two of our “promads” sat down to unpack what it means and what it looks like.
Annie: What is “promadic travel?”
The travel industry is a hotbed for one of my favourite linguistic quirks; the charming portmanteau –a blend of two words to create one new word.
We’ve been blessed with a whole gamut of creative examples including glamping, babymoon, voluntourism, staycation and nakation (a vacation specifically for nudists).
Some, like ecotourism, have stuck and now form part of our everyday lexicon, while others have enjoyed less success (nice try, honeyteering). The latest travel-specific portmanteau that has caught our attention is ‘promad’, which is a combination of the words ‘progressive’ and ‘nomad’.
The concept aligns so nicely with our own philosophy that we’d love to take credit for it, however, we first stumbled across it in this interesting article by Design Hotels. To borrow their definition, a promad is someone who “will be more conscious than ever of the impact of their travels on the environment, welcoming the emergence of a new attitude to travel. But it isn’t just about saving the planet. It’s about embracing new technologies, innovations, and disruptions at a time when major societal topics are being debated: over-tourism, demographic transformation, jet flight restriction, expanding connectivity, race diversity, and gender equality.”
In summary, promadic travellers are a new breed of explorers driven by purpose and their investment in societal issues they believe to be urgent and culturally fluid, such as climate change. Their mindset is contribution over consumerism and they’re all about transforming every aspect of the travel industry by leaving a positive impact.
Lauren: Is there a difference between sustainable travel and promadic travel? Can you explain the distinction?
Regrettably, sustainable travel is often considered solely an environmental pursuit whereas in reality, it’s the intersection of environment, socio-cultural and economic goals. With that in mind, promadic travel and sustainability really sit side by side.
More about intention than anything else, the term promad fixates around the individual and their choices, whereas the concept of sustainability has been largely attributed to places, destinations, and experiences. The promadic traveller seeks personal advancement on a platform of sustainability, making them interlocking concepts. As a promadic traveller the collective end goal is finding purpose and meaning in travel, and without a strong, sustainable underpinning, the fulfilment cannot be truly actualised.
Annie: What are some real-life examples of the concept?
More and more, we’re seeing examples of properties, destinations and tourism companies that not only allow travellers to be promadic, but that overtly encourage the practice. From tour operators such as Intrepid travel – who create itineraries that ensure travellers have unforgettable grassroots experiences and that all funds go directly to local communities – to resorts that urge guests to participate in sustainable operations; progressive travel is no longer a niche phenomenon. Even if the ‘promadic traveller’ nom de plume is relatively new.
Bhutan – known as the happiest country in the world – has operated its tourism industry on a “high value, low impact” principle for decades. Aware of the potential damaging consequences of tourism on the country’s environment and culture, they very quickly enforced strict entry requirements and a daily visitor tariff that contributes to the country’s infrastructure and free health care and education systems.
A lot of the properties we work with actively work to immerse their guests in their local habitats and communities and to ensure their operations are responsible. For the sake of providing an example that tackles a lot of the ‘hot’ issues that promads are concerned with, however, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the Soneva group.
Across the two Soneva properties in the Maldives (Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani) and one in Thailand (Soneva Kiri), the long list of ways the company is addressing global concerns such as sustainability, gender equality and poverty is astonishing.
In 2016, Soneva pioneered the travel industry by publishing the first ever Total Impact Assessment tool to measure the impact of the company’s operations in five categories: natural capital; human capital; social capital; economic capital; and tax.
In addition to their annual sustainability reports, this innovative tool allows the company to review the direct effect their resorts are having on the environment, as well as the indirect impact of their supply chain and air travel for guests; in turn positioning them to make better decisions, efficiently allocate resources and influence the business decisions of suppliers.
The group is celebrated as one of the pioneers of the ‘sustainable travel’ movement and their efforts in this space are constantly revolutionary. They have a target of zero waste and already recycle 90% of their solid waste, with glass, food waste, jungle trimmings and polystyrene all processed onsite. Now the focus is on tackling the last 10%, which includes small amounts of plastic, paper, cloth and tetra pak packaging.
All glass is crushed and re-blown onsite (in a professional, dedicated glass-blowing studio at Soneva Fushi) into decorations for the resorts or household items that are donated to charity. Both resorts create their own cooking charcoal and coconut oil, grow their own produce (fed by compost from resort waste and nutrient-rich water from water treatment ponds) in extensive organic vegetable gardens, house solar panels to save fossil fuels, and are absolute visionaries when it comes to plastic.
The Soneva properties haven’t been using plastic straws for more than 20 years and in 2008, they banned imported water, saving approximately 1.5 million plastic bottles since then. As part of their ‘Soneva Maker Programme’ and in partnership with global grass-roots initiative, ‘Precious Plastic’, Soneva recycles plastic that washes onto the resorts’ pristine shores, making a range of useful products like flowerpots and building blocks.
Guests and resort hosts are invited to get creative with plastic waste and some of the innovative creations they’ve come up with include surfboards made from recycled polystyrene and Easter eggs for children made from plastic bottle caps.
Soneva Water is the brand’s drinking water purification system and the first solar-powered desalination plant outside of Male. Water is filtered with carbon resin and then goes through a reverse osmosis, mineralisation and sterilisation process, before being dispensed into environmentally friendly reusable bottles.
Both properties also apply a small carbon levy to all guests to offset both direct and indirect carbon emissions across all Soneva operations. The funds collected from this levy go into various projects – from building wind turbines in India, planting trees in Northern Thailand, funding fuel-efficient cooking stoves in Myanmar, and supplying safe drinking water to thousands around the world.
Through the Soneva Foundation, the company has funded hundreds of environmentally focused projects. Whether they’re overseeing the Soneva forest reforestation project; conducting biodiversity research with a team of in-house biologists; holding a SLOW LIFE symposia to promote environmental and social collaboration in local communities, or organising a larger annual symposium, which brings together the greatest academic, political and business minds for a partnership on the most pressing issues in the world, the team at Soneva are forever conscious of their footstep.
Since its inception, Soneva has supported the Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact in the areas of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-Corruption. These principles are measured and refined year on year, and in essence, highlight the company’s constant efforts to respect the protection of human rights; create gender equality in the workforce; emphasise local employment; and offer competitive salaries and desirable living arrangements for hosts.
A stellar example of the company’s focus on employees is ‘Woman in Soneva’, a recruitment drive aimed at achieving a more balanced representation of female hosts in the Maldives. In 2018, Soneva unveiled an aspirational female employment target for its Maldivian properties, where the unemployment rate for female adults is three times that of males and where Maldivian women make up only four per cent of the workforce in resorts, compared to women constituting 45% in industries such as education, healthcare and the civil service.
The best thing about Soneva, especially for promads, is that these operations aren’t pie-in-the-sky concepts that are dreamt about at a corporate level or promoted for the sake of good publicity. They’re tangible initiatives that guests can see, experience, learn about and participate in during their Soneva stay and long after.
Lauren: Can you recall any times you’ve accidentally been promadic in your travels?
As my awareness of the global impact of tourism has grown in recent years my travel has become more mindful and considered, however there was a time when I thought nothing of who owned my hotel or who made my souvenirs. It must have been around the time I didn’t question takeaway coffee cups. I shudder to recall it. Thinking back to this period of blissful ignorance there were in fact a collection of accidental promadic adventures peppered amongst my beach getaways.
Where sustainability has been thrust into the mainstream by the luxury space, I think promadic travel gives a voice to simpler, quieter trips as well. A camping trip, an exchange, a fruit-picking season or an art retreat. One trip that springs to mind as being my most accidentally promadic was a trip to Cuba in 2013. We hired a car and travelled from homestay to homestay, participating in the much-accepted hitchhiking system for local workers. Much of our money remained in the local community, we had the opportunity to connect with Cuban people, practise our terrible Spanish, take up salsa and explore areas on the fringes of our guidebook. An accidental success story both personally and for the destination we visited.
Annie: Do you think promadic travel will see an increase post COVID?
I think it’s naïve to expect, or even hope, that EVERYONE has been so deeply moved by the COVID-19 pandemic that they’ll sterilise their existence of all ‘non-progressive’ behaviour and live entirely responsible lives moving forward.
This applies to the travel industry. As much as we wish the global crisis would have a chrysalis effect and all humans emerge on the other side with a commitment to sustainable, thoughtful travel, I think it’s safe to say there will be a portion of people who are just keen to ‘get back out there’. They won’t be phased by things like whether the hotel they’re visiting is independently owned, employs a base level of females, or helps the environment in any way. They’re just looking for their next opportunity to drink beers in the sun by the pool.
Having said that, not everyone is that ignorant and there will be a chunky proportion of travellers who will make much more considered decisions about where they spend their money and how they can make a positive difference.
The state of both the economy and the travel industry in Australia will fortify this approach, as a lot of people are forced to be more thoughtful about their expenses and border restrictions encourage a slower, more localised return to exploring.
A lot of industry experts and bigwigs have commented on the state of travel post-COVID and there is a general consensus that people will stick to local destinations for a while, even after international borders reopen; they’ll avoid large crowds, which means over-tourism might not be such an issue; and they’ll be more conscious of their financial and physical footprints. Let’s hope they’re right!
Lauren: What kind of travellers would be attracted to this style of travel?
My mind rushes to the Eco-Warriors and the Seekers as those who would be most motivated by the promadic approach, but these travellers always have and, presumably, always will travel this way. Instead, I think there is a new group of consumers who may be happily swept up by the promadic trend. Or so we hope.
Our lives are busier than ever, we travel more frequently and further than any civilisation before us whilst simultaneously, we know more and are confronted more often by the impacts of our behaviour. This change in awareness has already encouraged a critical shift in consumer behaviour, with consumers more likely to buy a product with a social and environmental benefit if given the opportunity. A continuing increase in awareness and change in buyer behaviour uncovers a whole new community of potential promads.
The secret sauce is the elevation of current sustainable travel products to not just satisfy a carbon target or a government green-space initiative but also to engage the traveller on a personal level. This personalisation and focus on self-fulfilment might just be the golden key the sustainable travel space has been looking for. It’s something the wellness industry unlocked long ago. Like the shift of yoga from the ashrams of India to the non-negotionable routines of millions of urban dwellers across the world, promadic travel may tip the responsible tourism scales from intention to action for main-stream travellers.
Both: According to Design Hotels, promads don’t rely on social media to discover their travel destinations, so how are they finding out about these experiences?
I think people who either identify as a promad, or who fit the mould, are big readers and consumers of news, current affairs and research. These explorers are progressive by name and progressive by nature, so anything that is status quo like Instagram is a less reputable source than somewhere like an obscure podcast, independent news site or freshly minted peer-reviewed paper. It’s likely that while they’re going down one rabbit hole, they find references to people, places and concepts that adhere to their purpose-driven philosophy. For example, if they’rereading about gender inequality and pay disparity, they might discover businesses including hotels and tourism operators that buck the trend by promoting equal opportunity or employ 100% local staff. Similarly, if they’re passionate about the environment and are researching environmentally friendly operators, it won’t be long before they come across some of the leaders in the travel space (cue Soneva). – Annie
Additionally, those who seek out life affirming experiences are going to trust the recommendations of trusted friends and colleagues over social media. The nature of their pursuit is acutely personal and emotional. It’s hard to ask an Instagram post how a place made you feel.
Social media, as it stands today, is all overwhelmingly about fitting in and following the trend. This extends from aesthetic to location. The mere fact that a destination is geotagged or has been used to seek millions of likes will be a turnoff for the promad.
As Annie said, the promadic traveller is a well-read explorer. For fear of green-washing they’re likely to question, probe and research claims of sustainable and responsible tourism. Authentic, considered opinions of trusted people will be much more likely to influence a promad’s purchase that the number of times they see a destination on the “must see” lists. – Lauren