Whether it’s a ski chalet in the Alps, a safari lodge on the Serengeti or a cabin in Yellowstone National Park, few sectors have witnessed the embedded impact of climate change more than the lodging industry.
As tourism accounts for 8% to 10% of global greenhouse gases and the short-term rental (STR) market is forecast to grow by $84.41 billion between 2022 and 2027, STRs must own their share of the responsibility for fixing the problem and not just fall victim to it.
The beauty of STRs is their individuality, offering guests genuine accessibility to a local community enthused by passionate hosts. Driving these hundreds of thousands of businesses towards net zero requires rapidly growing customer demand for eco stay; action by hosts; and leadership, inspiration and incentivization from major industry players.
Owning the problem
Earlier this month an authoritative analysis was published by the Travel Foundation. The report, Envisioning Tourism in 2030 and Beyond, set out what a decarbonized travel industry should look like in 2030 and how we, the industry, can plot a path to get there.
The report laid out, starkly, that the travel industry cannot carry on with “business as usual.” Nor can we rely on offsetting, sustainable aviation fuel or new technology to decarbonize. What is needed is a complete system transformation.
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“We have delayed action for too long,” says Jeremy Sampson, CEO of the Travel Foundation, “and as a result, our options have narrowed. There is a huge opportunity for travel and tourism in a decarbonizing world, but we must act with urgency and unite in our vision for a good transition.”
This prompts the question: Are the leaders in the STR sector doing enough around sustainability? And what else should we expect from the companies at the forefront of STR growth to help motivate and galvanize the rest of our industry into meaningful action?
Of course, we expect the bigger companies, including online travel agencies (OTAs) to play their part and do much of the heavy lifting around sustainability. Some like Booking Holdings and Expedia Group are doing a lot.
But fundamental systemic change can only be achieved if we can engage all of the industry.
Separate analyses conducted by Booking.com and Expedia in 2022 revealed that up to 90% of travelers value sustainability, and a whopping 50% would be prepared to pay an eco-premium. It’s clear that these two OTAs have used their platforms to gain really valuable insight into travelers’ attitudes towards sustainable travel. Therefore, with the demand there, it is not surprising that the OTAs see the potential of eco-friendly stays and are putting in place guidance for hosts on how to become “greener.”
Booking.com launched a Travel Sustainable badge in 2021 and quickly enhanced it to three levels. This badge gives guests greater clarity on a host’s and manager’s actions and also rewards qualifying operators with higher visibility.
Meanwhile, in 2022 Expedia sought to empower and inform travelers with its Open World social impact and sustainability strategy.
In fact, all the major OTAs will likely soon enhance or introduce eco-badging and significantly adjust their algorithms to increasingly favor the operators who undertake credible eco-friendly initiatives.
One very welcome act of leadership is the recent launch of Sustonica, the very first accreditation scheme created by and for the STR industry. Sustonica aims to create a transparent, trusted sustainability indicator for the growing number of travelers who are prioritizing the environment. Its widespread adoption could well be a game changer.
Should we expect more from industry leaders?
Most definitely yes!
While I applaud the efforts made so far, we need more action and incentives. And this will only create real change when the leaders in the STR space take the lead on sustainability initiatives.
The vast majority of the sector, like other parts of tourism, has yet to wake up to the issue of sustainability and understand its role and the implications. Never mind the opportunities for returns on investment that are available.
We need to find tools and solutions that are scalable across our sector and make them freely available to every business with support and incentives. Individual operators need much more guidance and direction so that they can make the reforms our industry needs to undergo.
Can we be the change that we want to see in the world? I think we can, if leaders see sustainability as their responsibility – and actually lead.