The unexpected and unprecedented slowdown – in
many cases shutdown – of the travel industry in the last year has spurred an
acceleration of activity by some stakeholders in the area of sustainability, in
effect brought on by a “perfect storm” of pre-existing momentum around this
topic coupled with pandemic-induced time for reflection and innovation.
In recent weeks there have been a flurry of
announcements from brands such as CWT, Accor, Singapore Airlines and Intrepid
Travel about new initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, support nature conservation,
benefit local communities and more.
brand to take action around sustainability is TourRadar, which today is launching
a new suite of tools that includes a dedicated page and filters to help customers
find tours that incorporate sustainability, for example those that are
locally owned or that support community development and environmental projects.
The company is also now displaying a carbon offset calculator and contribution
widget in partnership with CHOOOSE and providing
more content about sustainable travel.
is also joining the Future of Tourism Coalition, a collaborative effort of six
non-governmental organizations launched last year to create a more sustainable
future for tourism.
Sampson, CEO of the Travel Foundation – one of the Coalition’s founding
organizations – says he expects many more travel companies will be announcing
plans to address climate change and other sustainability issues in the coming
months, in part related to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known
as COP26, in November in Glasgow.
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“We are preparing for the tourism sector to
have I think what will be the largest presence it has ever had at an event like
this,” Sampson says.
Later this summer, the Travel Foundation in partnership
with the United National World Tourism Organization, the U.N. Environment
Programme, VisitScotland and Tourism Declares, will ask for signatories to its
soon-to-be-released “Glasgow Declaration,” calling for “increased urgency
across travel and tourism to accelerate climate action... with a goal of uniting
the sector around a shared message and concrete pathways for action.”
Consumer sentiment = action?
Recent surveys support the idea that as travel
resumes, consumers will be looking to choose destinations and suppliers that
are addressing sustainability. Booking.com’s
Sustainable Travel Report 2021, based on surveys of 30,000 people in 30
countries, finds 46% say the pandemic has made them want to travel more
sustainably in the future.
But notes Sampson, “It’s hard, because there
isn’t so much travel happening right now, to understand if sentiment will really
translate to behavior.”
For now, more and more brands are operating
under the assumption that interest in communities and the environment will indeed
impact consumers’ future travel decisions.
Travis Pittman says as he and his colleagues have reflected on the last 15
months, surveyed customers and studied the industry, it became clear that the
company needed to “change for the better as we start to build back,” which is
starting with the launch of these new tools and content.
But he also acknowledges
there is a question of whether consumer sentiment around sustainability is
strong enough to translate in terms of spending.
We believe the more we’ve been investing in responsible travel and the purpose side of our business, the more we have been growing.
Zina Bencheikh - Intrepid Travel
some operators who lean really into the sustainability side, so their trips are
probably more expensive... so I think it’s going to be interesting to see if consumers
are willing to pay maybe a bit of a premium to be able to do something that really
resonates with their core beliefs,” he says.
The company’s new carbon offset opportunity will provide a
clear indication of consumers’ willingness to spend on this issue: after
booking a tour, users can plug in their full trip details (flights, trip
length, accommodation, ground transport) into a calculator to determine the
cost to offset that trip. Those that want to do so can fund one of three carbon
mitigation projects, in Cambodia, Kenya and Peru, that support nature and
Pittman says the company will also analyze user behavior to
better understand their level of interest and usage of filters to surface
sustainable travel opportunities.
Bottom line impact
Earlier this month Intrepid Travel, the Australia-based tour
operator and the largest travel company certified as B Corporation - a designation
based on its “social and environmental performance” - announced a partnership with
MEET Network to bring that organization’s ecotourism experiences in Croatia and
Crete to some of Intrepid’s tours in those regions, with plans to add MEET experiences
in additional locations soon.
Intrepid Travel managing director EMEA, says it is critical that all sectors of
the travel industry take responsibility to protect the planet – and she has no
doubt the customers will follow.
“The more we will have stakeholders from the industry being part of the
solution, the more we can present to customers options that are only sustainable
or mostly sustainable,” Benchiekh says.
“And in the niche that we [Intrepid Travel]
work in for 32 years – sustainable travel, immersive experiences, local experiences
- we’ve been growing exponentially and much faster than the rest of the
industry, especially in the last four or five years. And in fact we believe the
more we’ve been investing in responsible travel and the purpose side of our business,
the more we have been growing, which shows to me clearly there is a demand and
more need for this type of travel.”
Pittman says the 2,500 tour providers
TourRadar works with are “very adaptable” and willing to make changes based on
customers’ interests, so he’s hopeful progress on sustainability initiatives
can be made as companies such as his take action to educate smaller suppliers
on what is happening in this space and to surface their efforts to consumers.
Bencheikh says Intrepid’s work with MEET
Network – which is doing the work on the ground in places like Crete and Croatia
to partner with the local governments, to train guides and hosts and to develop
itineraries based on local expertise – is an example of the type of partnerships
that are needed.
“We can’t fix the problems that tourism
creates to the planet by ourselves as a company or as a private sector. We always
believe a collaboration of private, public and not-for-profit is critical and
will make a much bigger difference. Everyone has a role to play,” she says.
Sampson says he wants industry
stakeholders to understand there are two parts to that role – first the actions
travel companies can take within their businesses to operate more sustainably
and second, actions they can take to influence others.
“Do I work closely with the destination
itself, am I involved with suppliers, am I communicating with travelers directly?
And what is the role we play within each of these connection points to be able
to affect change,” he says.
“The more there is this thinking - that it is
eco-systemic and that there are good alignments in terms of what we are trying
to accomplish - the better we will actually be able to achieve something at a systems