It was present in multiple discussions, and even atop a spot survey of participants at Web In Travel 2022. As Luke Clark of CP5 writes, sustainability may be set to gain teeth as a tangible and measurable mark of quality for the travel industry.
As the global pandemic is pleasingly placed just off-stage, a gathering storm around sustainable travel is something the travel industry is not only giving its concerted attention – but seems to be massing its troops for a more meaningful dialogue with the travelling public.
Danielle D’Silva, Head of Sustainability for Booking.com, has been the face of this charge for her company since February 2022. “It’s about making sustainable travel easier for our consumers, making those choices easier in a way that’s having the biggest impact,” she notes. “And then it’s about the collaboration to really catalyse that sustainable travel growth. We don’t want just one sustainable platform – we actually want a sustainable industry.”
Elsewhere, those coordinating business travel for large corporates are putting sustainability atop their global agenda, setting stringent targets for carbon reductions – including limits on numbers of people attending events. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do here is to drive behavioural change,” says Brenda Quek, Associate Director Asia-Pacific Travel, Meetings & Events Program and Engagement Leader for Ernst & Young Solutions LLP.
According to Quek, this includes working with the approvers of travel to help them make informed decisions – including eliminating day-trips by flight from their travel policy, and using rail travel over air wherever feasible. Greater vigilance also includes tracking the numbers attending a single meeting, and balancing with those attending virtually.
“The guest uses three times the carbon on the short boat ride to our island than they do for the entire stay on the property.” – Andrew Dixon, Nikoi and Cempedak Island Resorts
Elsewhere, numerous organisations are following suit when it comes to travel policies. Oxford University in the United Kingdom is targeting a flight reduction target of 20% by 2025, selecting travel by rail where possible, with no first class travel, and the proposal of a flight levy charge of £30 GB (US$34) per tonne of carbon used.
For hoteliers meantime, the response is increasingly about managing and articulating the tangible performance improvements they make on the ground today.
“You can only control the controllable,” notes Marcus Hanna, Managing Director of Fairmont & Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore. “In our complex, we have an aquaponics farm, where we grow fish and vegetables. It’s great to tell a corporate account, ‘please know that your green leaves you’re eating today in your conference were growing on level five.’” Filtered water meantime has been introduced into the hotel’s South Tower and Convention Centre, while motion sensors in the room help switch power off when there’s no movement, and an eco-waste system in kitchens helps turn food waste into compost.
“What we need to do is concentrate on we can do best – and make sure that we do it better than our competitors to ensure we’re the first choice for that traveller.”
Of course, while frequency of travel may well be effected by greater vigilance when it comes to needless carbon usage, the depth of experience could well be improved. “What we try to focus on is getting people to stay longer,” says Andrew Dixon, owner of Nikoi and Cempedak Island resorts. “The guest uses three times the carbon on the short boat ride to our island than they do for the entire stay on the property.”
Further improvements meantime are needed in the meetings and conventions space, especially where definitions were concerned. “It’s not easy to understand how we define sustainability meetings and events – and that’s something we need a lot of support with from suppliers,” says Quek.
“We are doing an event audit on Web In Travel,” notes Yeoh Siew Hoon, founder of WiT. “The process isn’t easy: it’s complicated and there’s quite a few meetings. But we’ve good partners.” Yeoh said that WiT has worked with its Startup of the Year 2021, Thrust Carbon and Marina Bay Sands, and will present its findings on Day 2 of the event.
Asked whether travel as an industry is doing enough, D’Silva of Booking.com believes that while there is still long way to go on both the supply side and the consumer side, the urgency of the conversation is finally there.
“I’ve seen every panel today talk about sustainability – that’s a huge evolution from a few years ago,” she says. “The awareness seems to be raising, and there’s really intention behind what we’re working on.”
For some though, a concerted focus on immediate and tangible action still seems to be lacking. “I don’t think we’re doing nearly enough,” says Dixon. “There’s too much marketing of what people intend to do – and still very little action on the ground.” Asked for the best “low-hanging fruit” action that the travel industry should prioritise, his answer was simple. “Switching off the aircon,” says Dixon. “There are so many simple things that can be done.”
While government regulation of the industry is inevitable, D’Silva says that if this is done responsibly, it can help ensure the industry has guardrails for its much-needed evolution – and can help consumers to trust the sustainability claims being made.
For the industry, getting ahead of this regulation may be a key step. November 2021 saw the launch of the Travalyst Coalition, a Sustainable Travel badge which its partners hope can become a credible and globally-relevant sustainability measure to help global travellers make more informed choices. Together with founding partner Booking.com, the coalition, backed by The Duke of Sussex, now includes Skyscanner, TripAdvisor, Trip.com, Visa, Google and Expedia Group.
“What we need to do is work together. And the Travalyst Coalition is a really good example,” says D’Silva. “The goal was to help set industry standards and definitions that ultimately help those who want to, make educated choices around more responsible travel.”
“The idea is that we can really shape that industry together, inform regulation, and make sure that we have a common definition of sustainable travel – that is something that’s clear across the whole industry,” D’Silva notes. “Different definitions, different methodologies are not making it easier – we have to have one clear approach, and we need to move forward together in lockstep.”