Travel industry stakeholders came together at the WiT Experience 2021 to address the whats, whys and hows that go into recalibrating tourism offerings and looking at future-forward sustainability travel experiences and business models for a post-Covid world.
Are corporates conning consumers with greenwashing?
Heightened awareness of responsible travel has spurred many businesses to adopt more sustainable practices that are socially and environmentally responsible. However, how the debate was: how can one differentiate genuine commitment towards sustainability, between greenwashing which deceitfully markets eco-friendly options to attract eco-conscious travellers?
Greenwashing involves tour operators, hotels, venues, destinations and other players in the industry using marketing to portray and promote products, activities, or policies as environmentally friendly — when it may not be necessarily true.
Kicking off the issue of greenwashing in the travel industry on a bold note, Yeoh Siew Hoon, founder of WiT, quoted Juliet Kinsman, a journalist who specialises in sustainability, who said “show us you’re sustainable, not just tell us. It should be a jailable offence to greenwash".
Meanwhile, there’s another stance that corporate sustainable practices should be quietly operating behind the scenes instead of companies telling or showing their sustainability initiatives — as mentions of it can be viewed as a form of greenwashing.
The debate: how can one differentiate genuine commitment towards sustainability, between greenwashing which deceitfully markets eco-friendly options to attract eco-conscious travellers? Photo Credit: WiT
Three out of four accommodation players surveyed say they have implemented at least some kind of sustainability practices at their property, while only one-third actively communicate about their efforts proactively to potential guests, according to a Booking.com sustainability report.
Laura Houldsworth, managing director and vice president of Asia Pacific at Booking.com is of the neutral stance that companies should “practice what they preach. If you want to talk about it, great. If you don’t, people will find it. But let’s do it".
Khang Ngyuen Trieu, group chief technology architect of Accor believes that more conversations should be instigated about the various sustainability initiatives that companies are practising. “Do it, and tell it. Because there are still a lot of things to do to educate the masses.”
Travellers making more eco-conscious decisions
Greenwashing has undermined consumers’ confidence in the integrity of eco-conscious travel brands. Without confidence in sustainability claims, consumers are unable to decide on green travel decisions since they do not know what to trust.
However, with more consumers practising sustainability in their daily lives, they are becoming increasingly discerning and may be able to discern true sustainability initiatives with bogus claims. According to Booking.com’s sustainability report, 53% of global travellers admit that they get annoyed if somewhere they are staying stops them from being sustainable, such as the absence of recycling facilities.
The same report shows that 83% of global travellers believe that sustainability-driven travel is vital, with 61% saying that the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.
Houldsworth could only guess that this trend arose from the pandemic-induced period that allowed travellers to think and reflect about their environmental impact as “the lack of travel has had a very positive impact on the environment”.
“I’m not sure what the reasons are, but it’s very clear that there is a demand and requirement for accommodation partners to be practising sustainability and sharing their practices with consumers who are looking for it,” Houldsworth said.
Choe Peng Sum, chief executive officer of Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG), reckons that “because of Covid-19, people are more aware of cleanliness. They prefer fresh air and dining out alfresco style.”
In some of PPHG’s many initiatives to go green, Choe referenced the Parkroyal Collection Pickering which houses 15,000sqm of plants to naturally reduce heat and utilises a rainwater harvesting system that allows them to save six million litres of water annually. In addition to that, the hotel group has also stopped using plastic water bottles and other single-use plastic products.
Houldsworth agreed that PPHG has indeed “moved the needle a little bit and consumers are responding very well to that. If we know that there’s an environment that people want to go to, then we have to provide them the opportunity to do it in the best way possible".
The common consensus that concluded the discussion is that the sustainability movement among consumers will only grow exponentially with time, as the deteriorating state of the world puts things in bigger perspective. The travel industry can seek to remediate some of the issues by innovating for sustainable travel.