There is not much good to say about the Covid crisis, but it has given us time to think.
At Responsible Travel, we’ve been thinking about how to compete better, improve profits and play our part in restoring the planet.
We’ve never pretended to be a 100% sustainable business, but over 20 years we’ve found as many opportunities as conflicts in achieving this.
One thing is certain – we are finding bigger markets for responsible travel.
Rather than just saying “it’s nice to know they are travelling with a business that has good policies”, our customers are telling us they are enjoying our holidays more as a result.
We are working on a number of things to help us become climate negative and nature-positive, and our headline idea is to advise customers to take longer holidays and fly less.
It’s more enjoyable, and fewer, longer holidays will reduce the total number of flights.
Alongside this we are growing our rail travel and flight-free holidays – we recently added a flight-free trip to Iceland.
We will be starting to work with our partners to understand how we can reduce internal flights and use more public transport and renewable energy (transport and accommodation) in countries where it’s available.
One area in which we see a big opportunity to reduce carbon is food.
Flying is likely to be the biggest single contributor to a holiday’s carbon emissions, but food can be a significant factor too.
Encouraging more plant-based food options and reducing dairy and food waste makes a big difference. In the UK, we waste 50% of our food, and in tourism it’s more than that. Globally, the food we waste accounts for six times the carbon emissions of flying.
Reducing carbon is only half the battle for addressing the climate crisis, however. The other half is restoring natural ecosystems so that they can sequester (or absorb) carbon.
Later in the year we’ll be launching nature-positive holidays that contribute to saving species and habitats. The programme will include holidays in the UK, re-wilding holidays in Europe and some longer-haul trips. In a post-Covid world, we think it will be a winner.
We call all these things our “levers to being carbon-negative, nature-positive” and will be establishing baseline data so we can track and report on our progress.
There are some types of holiday that we personally can’t reconcile with our desire to help restore the planet, though – very large cruise ships are one of them.
We also won’t be offering carbon offsets or pretending to be carbon neutral. You can’t neutralise carbon – it stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years.
We must reduce carbon by changing behaviours. Buying a few cheap offsets and telling customers “it’s all taken care of” won’t encourage this. In addition, some scientists are sceptical about whether they work.
And finally, we’ll be reminding ourselves of what a wonderful industry we work in. We bring billions of people with different languages, histories, religions, racial backgrounds and incomes together.
What could be better than that?
Click here to read Clia UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer’s response on cruise’s environmental efforts
Justin Francis is CEO of Responsible Travel