If you ask your clients what tops their list when choosing a holiday, chances are they’ll say sunshine, adventure, a romantic setting or plenty of activities. It’s unlikely they would even mention “a responsible travel experience”. Until now.
This April, Booking.com carried out a survey in which 87% of respondents said they wanted to travel sustainably. However, 48% admitted that they never or rarely manage to do so. Sustainable travel needs facilitating, consumers need educating and agents are in the perfect position to help them. Plus it’s a great selling point if you can offer responsible breaks and save customers hours of research.
Here, we look at four key areas of the travel industry, analysing the key sustainability issues they are currently facing.
In its sustainability strategy, launched in March, Thomas Cook outlined that air transport accounts for 2% of global man-made CO2 emissions.
It’s unsurprising then that reducing the sector’s carbon emissions is high on the agenda, and it is primarily tackled in two ways; carbon offsetting and improving fuel efficiency.
Among the airlines making strides here are Thomas Cook – aiming to increase efficiency by 12% by 2020 (from 2008 levels); Tui – replacing older aircraft with new planes that will reduce carbon emissions by 14%; and KLM – targeting reducing emissions by 20% by 2020 (from 2010 levels) plus investing in biofuels since 2009.
Aircraft type: Fleet modernisation is the key, with newer aircraft more fuel efficient. Boeing and Airbus claim their 787s and A380s respectively are more efficient per passenger kilometre travelled than a small car.
When it comes to the practicalities, compare some domestic airlines in the US, where there are lots of “gas-guzzling” aircraft still in service that are more than 30 years old, with young airlines such as India’s SpiceJet, which has a high number of brand-new, fuel-efficient planes on order.
Carbon offsetting: This is when airlines compensate for their emissions by funding a reduction in emissions elsewhere. On a global scale, an agreement known as Corsia is aiming to allow the sector to achieve a goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020. So far, joining the programme has been voluntary but from January 1 next year, airlines will have to report emissions from all international flights.
Waste: Where do all those plastic food trays, cups, blanket wrappers and headphone packets end up? Some airlines such as Qantas and Emirates are using recycled materials for packaging or have onboard recycling facilities but it’s not the norm across the board.
While you might think of low-cost carriers’ policies as meagre, they often work out better from a sustainability point of view – less unnecessary luggage equals lower weight and lower fuel burn, while pre-ordered food and drink and minimal amenities means less food and packaging waste.
LNG: Liquefied natural gas has been heralded as a positive step for sustainability in the cruise sector. It has lower emissions and higher energy efficiency than traditional fuels, and a number of cruise lines are ensuring their new ships are built to use it.
Lines including Royal Caribbean International, P&O Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, MSC Cruises and Disney Cruise Line all have LNG-powered ships on order, and Hurtigruten has two – the first launching this year – that will use hybrid power. French line Ponant has announced it will launch the first hybrid electric polar exploration ship powered by LNG in 2021.
Plastics: With the publicity around the damage plastics are having on our oceans, it makes sense that cruise lines are waking up to the importance of minimising their use. In the past couple of months there has been decisive action, with Hurtigruten banning all “unnecessary” single-use plastics across its fleet and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines banning the use of plastic straws and removing plastic cutlery from its ocean ships.
Larger lines have begun efforts to eliminate single-use plastics too, with P&O and Cunard pledging to stop using such products by 2022 and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd eliminating plastic straws by the end of this year with a further wider-reaching plan due for completion by 2020.
Energy, water and carbon:
These key measurables for environmental sustainability in the sector go far beyond LED lightbulbs and how often towels are washed. Think about things like how food and water are sourced, what cleaning products are used, how waste is disposed of and how the resort is powered. Accor Hotels has an environmental pledge, Planet 21, that has already seen it cut water and energy use and reduce carbon emissions. It is now focusing on achieving new goals including 30% less food waste by 2020.
Accreditation: With lots of different certifications out there it can be hard to know what to look for but good starting points include Travelife – an Abta initiative with members including Thomas Cook, Tui, Kuoni and Sunvil; Green Globe – focusing on sustainable operations; and LEED – which certifies green building. All of these have stringent criteria that must be met in order for hotels to become accredited.
Plastics: While some hotel groups have been on the case for years – Six Senses and its in-resort water bottling a case in point – others are rapidly reacting to the current backlash.
Iberostar has pledged to make all its hotel rooms in Spain single-use-plastic free by the end of this year and as part of a wider sustainability strategy to halve its environmental footprint by 2030. Hilton has said it will remove plastic straws from all managed hotels globally by the end of this year.
It’s not just the big chains either, the new Akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok claims to be Asia’s first single-use-plastic free hotel – even providing guests with refillable stainless steel bottles on arrival so they don’t need to buy bottled water when out and about.
Waste reduction: The plastic problem arises again with a vast quantity of plastic bottles used by visitors, particularly in destinations where water is non-potable.
Operators including Explore, Ramblers Worldwide, Exodus and Wild Frontiers have worked with Water-to-Go to produce reuseable bottles with water filters that remove bacteria, so they can be refilled from local water supplies.
Other schemes include Sunvil reps in the Azores, Greece and Cyprus giving tote bags to guests to use at shops instead of plastic bags and The Travel Corporation – including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Contiki – committing to eradicating plastic across its operations by 2022.
Travel Without Plastic, an independent organisation, has a guide that looks at avoidable plastic use for travel suppliers – handy if you’re keen to gen up on what to look out for.
Carbon reduction: As well as air travel, don’t forget about emissions from ground transportation. According to Abta, Intrepid Travel is the world’s biggest carbon neutral travel company.
As well as an impressive carbon offsetting scheme, one initiative is embracing public transport, which minimises emissions while allowing guests a more culturally immersive experience. River cruise line Avalon Waterways uses local transport for excursions at each port of call rather than have a fleet of coaches follow the ship on its voyage.