Future Of Travel – Sustainable Travel

The lockdown around the world and a growing realisation of the fragility of the world that we live in has brought sustainable travel into the consciousness are many more travellers than before the pandemic.

Main picture credit Alex Bertha on Unsplash

The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) predicts that 1.8 billion people will travel internationally by 2030.

The pandemic has hit small businesses and individuals particularly hard, especially in areas where tourism plays a major economic part. Non-tourist related businesses have also struggled in many areas. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates that 1 in 10 of all job globally were travel related in 2019.

This is the fifth article in our series on the Future of Travel.

Previous articles were; Why Your Future Travel Will Be Very Different; How Your Future Flying Experience Will Be Different; Why Vaccine Passports May Be An Essential Tool In Reopening Travel and Why Cleanliness Will Be A Major Selling Point For Your Future Travel Plans.

Our final article in the series will look at the Reopening Of Borders To International Tourists.

We will then end with answers to some of your questions.

Significant numbers of tourists are now looking at how they can have a positive impact on the people and communities where they visit.

Insights gathered from more than 29,000 travelers across 30 countries, suggests that the pandemic has been the tipping point for travelers to finally commit to their own sustainable journey, with 72% of global travelers believing people have to act now to save the planet for future generations. As the world of travel starts to open up again, Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report reveals that travelers are more committed than ever to do so in a mindful way, with two thirds (61%) stating that the pandemic has influenced them to want to travel more sustainably in the future and almost half (49%) admitting that the pandemic has shifted their attitude to make positive changes in their everyday lives, with recycling (49%) and reducing food waste (42%) being the top priorities at home.

Booking.com 2021 Sustainable Travel Report

We are likely to see a greater focus on tourists utilising the services of smaller, local businesses and services rather than with larger corporations.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which represents the global Travel & Tourism private sector, and faculty and scientists of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently published a series of papers to support the pursuit of sustainability in Travel & Tourism. They aim to support decision-makers in Travel & Tourism broaden their understanding of sustainability as it relates to policies and practice in the sector.

“The dual health and economic crises associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have thrown the disruptive forces acting on the Travel & Tourism sector into sharp relief, drawing attention to the interconnected and hyperdependent nature of sustainability, health, and business. … This presents an opportunity for Travel & Tourism businesses and stakeholders.

Looking ahead, a range of approaches to advance sustainable Travel & Tourism framed around health, could help the sector ‘build back better’, advancing the contribution it makes to global citizenship and support a more balanced economy and equitable society.

Sustainability and Health, Adopting a Culture of Health to Advance Sustainable Travel & Tourism Insight. WTTC & Harvard.

Some travellers will make a conscious decision to travel in a way that benefits local communities or even to locations they would not have previously considered, to benefit those communities that have struggled.

Air Travel

The most polluting and environmentally damaging aspect of the travel journey is generally, flying. Transport from tourism, mostly air travel, accounted for 5% of global carbon emissions pre-pandemic. Your flight makes up 80% of a holiday’s carbon footprint.

There has also been evidence that leisure travellers are looking for alternate travel methods where practical. Business travellers need to demonstrate that trips are necessary and they are not causing emissions where virtual meetings could be suitable.

Credit Eva Darron on Unsplash

Many short-haul trips in Europe and America for example could utilise rail instead of planes. Although journey times may increase on paper, many see the opportunity to see more places en-route as a bonus. Location of train stations tend to be more central than airports reducing the overall time differential.

The Spanish-government owned rail company Renfe has announced reduced fares for the summer to encourage rail travel.

Having said all of that, the industry still expects air travel to continue to increase in the future.

“Aviation will grow because people want and need to travel. But we must be able to fulfil that consumer demand sustainably. Those are the ground rules for any business. It is no secret that this is more challenging for aviation than sectors with broader energy alternatives. But with the support of governments we will get there through a combination of means.”

Willie Walsh, Director General International Air Transport Association (IATA)

The aviation industry has committed to cut its net carbon emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2050.

Many parts of the industry has already made significant efficiency gains pre-pandemic. The pandemic has forced even more efficiency gains on many organisations in the industry.

Airlines have been retiring less-efficient planes, including the iconic Boeing 747 and Airbus A380.

At the start of this month Emirates Airlines warned Boeing that it will not accept its first 777-9 aircraft unless they are “performing 100% to contract”. Tim Clark, president of Emirates, is reported as saying “I still haven’t seen any data on propulsion, even though it’s been on the test programme…..(we) will not accept an aeroplane unless it’s performing 100% to contract.”

Alternate Fuels

It is not just the planes, and engines, themselves that are seeing significant changes. Sustainable aviation fuels have been developed and there are high-hopes that electric and hydrogen-powered planes will drive sustainability in the future.

British Airways are reported to be investing in hydrogen-powered technology and easyjet is involved in an electric plane project.

We would love to hear your questions on the Future of Travel. We will answer as many as we can in the final part of the series. Contact us or add a comment below.

Just last month American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) and Shell Aviation announced a collaboration for making sustainable aviation fuel available.

The collaboration combines the buying power of airlines and GBT’s corporate business travel customers at scale to drive a step change in production and usage of SAF. This, in turn, would enable airlines and corporations to make progress towards long-term emissions targets.

“For many companies, a return to flying for essential business travel is a crucial driver of economic growth. However, options to reduce air travel emissions, in line with wider net-zero emissions targets, are currently limited. Lower or zero carbon technologies such as hydrogen and electric flight are unlikely to impact at scale until mid-century. This leaves SAF as the only viable, in-sector, option for reducing emissions in the short to medium term. SAF can be made from a variety of feedstocks and a number of different technology pathways. Compared with conventional jet fuel derived from fossil fuels, SAF has the potential to cut lifecycle emissions from aviation by up to 80%. However, today it represents less than 0.1% of aviation fuel used and is produced using one technology type.”

American Express Global Business Travel

Airbus has joined together with a number of partners to launch an in-flight study, to take place later in 2021, to analyse the compatibility of unblended sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) with single-aisle aircraft and commercial aircraft engine and fuel systems. This will be the first project to measure in-flight emissions in a single-aisle aircraft.

The study will support efforts to ensure that the aviation sector is ready for the large-scale deployment and use of SAF to decarbonise the industry.

The major aircraft engine manufacturers, Rolls Royce, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Safran have all announced plans on lower or zero emission engines.

Industry chiefs however warn that they cannot do all the work on their own and that governments need to act.

“If we work in partnership with governments there is great potential in all these areas. But easy sustainability wins are being left on the table. In Europe, which has led on many sustainability initiatives, why are we still waiting for the Single European Sky? This could immediately reduce emissions by up to 10%. There is no excuse as the technology has been here for two decades or more. The partnership with governments on sustainability must exist in deeds as well as words,” said Walsh.

Willie Walsh, Director General International Air Transport Association (IATA)

Work is also underway to examine fuels that reduce the streaks of cloud, or contrails, left by aircraft in the sky, which could cut the aviation industry’s contribution to global warming.

Nasa has been examining how the condensation trails, formed when water vapour released from the engine exhaust condenses onto soot particles, contributes to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Contrails in the sky creit jake Melara on Unsplash

Research suggests that the contrails contribute more to global warming than the carbon dioxide that is produced when aviation fuel is burnt.

Experiments have been taking place with a modified Airbus A320, making a number of flights using five different types of fuel.

New fuel blends were lower in the aromatic compounds, which help to produce soot particles with up to 705 fewer particles.

Cathay Pacific Sustainable Development

Hong Kong based airline the Cathay Pacific Group have recently released their Sustainable Development Report which included a commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This makes them one of the first airlines in Asian to establish a carbon neutrality timeline.

“While we wade through the detrimental impact of the pandemic, mitigating climate charge and finding solutions for sustainable aviation has also been an imminent focus for the business. We endeavour to operate in a sustainable manner and incorporate multiple social and environment friendly practices into all aspects of our business.”

Mark Sutch, Regional General Manager – South Asia, Middle |East and Africa, Cathay Pacific

The report highlighted the issues being faced by most airlines around the world as it copes with most flights being cancelled for more than a year, changing protocols for future flights and sustainability. The report included:

  • Port Restart Process designed to to protect customers and staff with Covid compliant measures
  • Fly Greener programme to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 through sustainable aviation fuel, carbon off-set and aircraft efficiencies. They are due to add 10 fuel-efficient aircraft this year
  • Sustainability through an environmentally responsible mind-set and sustainable practices. In 2020 more than 43 million pieces of single-use plastic was removed from operations and will have reduced it by 50% by the end of 2022.
  • Sustainable Development Cargo Carriage Policy including embargoes on an increasing number of animals and wildlife products to restrict opportunities for their shipment aimed at stopping animal cruelty and biodiversity loss. They have also increased the amount of sustainable seafood purchased to 55% of the total and aim to increase that further.


Many hotel chains are making significant changes to their operations as part of their environmental and sustainability agendas.

WTTC & Harvard Learning Insight

Travel & Tourism seeks to adopt sustainability wholeheartedly across the:
Environment: making optimal use of resources, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity
Socio-cultural axes: respecting the values and customs of host communities, conserving their built and living heritage and traditional values, and contributing to inter-cultural understanding and tolerance
Economy: ensuring viable, long-term economic operations, providing
benefits equitably to all stakeholders, including employment and
contributing to poverty alleviation

IHG Hotels and Resorts have committed to eliminating the 200 million single-use mini-toiletries used in their hotels each year by the end of 2021. Accor has pledged to remove all single-use plastic by 2022 and Hilton Hotels has set carbon and water-reduction targets.

UNESCO Sustainable Tourism Pledge

The Sustainable Tourism Pledge is a united effort between the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Expedia Group and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to promote sustainable tourism and heritage. Currently being piloted in Thailand, the intention is to spread the concept around the world, changing the nature and impact of global tourism.

The pledge takes an industry-first approach to environmental and cultural protection, requiring hotel operators to introduce firm measures to eliminate single-use plastics and promote local culture.

“The reality is that everyone needs to play their part in protecting the planet and in protecting culture.

The Sustainable Tourism Pledge aims to turn words into action.

This collaboration with Expedia Group and the pilot initiative for Thai tourism is about taking those steps to minimise waste in the tourism sector and promote the role of culture for sustainable development.

This is good for the planet and for communities.”

Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO

The Banyan Tree Group is the latest organisation to join the pledge, already supported by Anantara Hotels & Resorts, Dusit Hotels and Resorts, and a number of JW Marriott Resorts. To date 283 properties have signed the pledge.

“In light of the pandemic and the reductions we’ve seen in environmental impact during this time, more travellers – and travel companies – are seeking opportunities to be better stewards of the planet.

Banyan Tree Group has, from its inception 27 years ago, been rooted in sustainability and is taking an exemplary role by being among the first hospitality brands to take the UNESCO Pledge.”

Jean-Philippe Monod, Senior Vice-President Government and Corporate Affairs, Expedia Group
Credit datingscout on Unsplash

Centara Hotels and Resorts

Centara is a Thailand based hotel chain with more than 70 hotels in 14 countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, China, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Turkey, Japan and Myanmar.

“Centara intends to operate ethically and sustainably across our entire portfolio. We are committed to sustainable practices throughout our hotel operations, whilst delivering an exceptional level of Thai hospitality for our guests. Companies that respond effectively to the challenges of sustainability can gain a competitive advantage and increase share value. We strive to develop sustainable hospitality strategies and encourage sustainability wherever we operate.”

Mr. Thirayuth Chirathivat, Chief Executive Officer Centara Hotels and Resorts

Centara aims to have 100% of its properties certified to an international sustainability standard and eliminate single-use plastic items in the entire guest journey.

“By adopting sustainable, green practices, we are actively choosing to be more aware of our environmental impact. This not only protects the natural surroundings that enhance the guest experience in so many of the locations where we operate but also creates long-term benefits for the company, our customers and our employees. Setting long-term sustainability goals allows us to incorporate green practices into our identity and ensures that all our stakeholders are aligned with Centara’s values and vision for a more mindful, ecologically conscious future.”

Mr. Thirayuth Chirathivat, Chief Executive Officer Centara Hotels and Resorts

Their latest sustainability report highlights the area that they have targeted which include:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, installing automatic lighting systems and solar power
  • Reducing waste, increasing recycling and converting organic waste into fertiliser and bio-fermented water
  • Beach cleaning programmes at all beach-front resorts
  • Distribution of meals to underprivileged people
  • Guidleines and agreements with partners and suppliers

Industry Sustainability

Travalyst is a non-profit organisation set up by Booking.com, Skyscanner, Trip.com Group, Tripadvisor, and Visa and led by The Duke of Sussex.

It is working to identify – and help bring about – the systemic changes needed in order for sustainable travel to be taken out of the niche, and into the mainstream.  

Travalyst is committed to being a driving force that redefines what it means to travel, helping everyone explore the world in a way that protects both people and places, and secures a positive future for destinations and local communities for generations to come.

They believe that the travel and tourism industry now finds itself in a unique moment in time to address some of the greatest systemic challenges caused by the industry’s acceleration in recent years, and to take the opportunity to create a more sustainable future for destinations, communities, and travellers alike.

“We know that to not travel again is not an option. It is our role—it is our obligation—to assist recovery and forge the right path forward; a path where we can again explore our world and expand our horizons, whilst the natural environment and wildlife flourish, and communities are supported. That is what we mean by sustainability in tourism and is what we strive towards as Travalyst.”

The Duke of Sussex, The Re-emergence of Travel, Travalyst

Key findings in a the recent Travalyst report The Re-emergence of Travel include:

  • When communities are involved in the process of creating solutions from the start, then it is possible to develop sustainable, scalable, and profitable approaches for the long-term.
  • New and emerging sustainable tourism models that focus on full transparency, sharing value, and building resilience and regeneration in local communities must become the norm.
  • This is the right time to act. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for travellers to reconsider their own impact and demand more from businesses and governments to drive sustainable development.
  • Current business models need to continue to be adaptable and innovative to cater to a more fluid consumer environment, recognising the uncertainty we’re living through.
  • Supporting innovation in energy must remain a priority for the entire industry, as it is for the world, with a strong focus on options for reliable, renewable power that aids self-sufficiency and is affordable. 
  • Collaboration is essential to this success. In the year that changed everything, glimpses of communities coming together, with acts of compassion in times of desperate need, were both uplifting and plentiful. Harnessing this collective mindset as the industry rebuilds will be vital.

WTTC & Harvard Learning Insight

As the global Travel & Tourism private sector looks to the future, actions it might consider include:
1. Make sustainability the default option set as the expected norm.
2. Simplify options and choice sets, incorporating sustainability as the most likely option a traveller will make.
3. Where there is a choice, visualise its impact simply to promote pro-sustainability behaviours.
4. When relevant use targeted information and timely education to incentivise clients to choose the sustainable option, and employees to optimise sustainability performance.
5. Calculate the positive impact of collective pro-sustainability behaviours and capture them in your business impact statements and sustainability plan.
6. Connect your business agenda with the wider global strategy of the Sustainable Development Goals as a shared purpose.

Changing Consumer Attitudes

Although there has been increasing awareness of the impact of travel, it is clear that many travellers either did not consider sustainability or it was low on their priorities.

The last few years has seen that gradually change and the pandemic seems to have been a catalyst for many to consider sustainability as far more important than previously.

49% of travelers admit that the pandemic has shifted their attitude to make
positive changes in their everyday lives.

Booking.com 2021 Sustainable Travel Report

Research has demonstrated that many travellers are doing far more research into their trips than before.

Credit Ethan Robertson on Unsplash

The travel industry is quickly need to learn what is now important to customers and how they can deliver and demonstrate sustainability. At the same time they are having to demonstrate that they are Covid-safe and ensuring cleanliness and controls.

People who want to reduce general waste while on future trips

91% Thailand

89% Italy

87% Spain

88% Vietnam

87% China

85% UK

84% Canada

84% France

83% Singapore

82% Germany

81% USA

80% New Zealand

74% Australia

74% Russia

Booking.com 2021 Sustainable Travel Report

Much of that is likely to be because they need to find out where might be open, what safety protocols in place and what restrictions there are.

However it is clear that environmental and social responsibility are also key factors.

Many of these sustainable pledges are coming to fruition, with travelers revealing that while on vacation in the past 12 months, 45% made a conscious decision to turn off their air conditioning/heater in their accommodation when they weren’t there, 43% took their own reusable water bottle, rather than buying bottled water while on vacation and 33% did activities to support the local community. In fact, over half (53%) have admitted that they get annoyed if somewhere they are staying stops them from being sustainable, for example by not offering recycling facilities. The positive signs are indeed there, but there is still lots of room for improvement with more than half of travelers not yet thinking about the local community during their trips or taking these small steps to minimise their impact.

Booking.com 2021 Sustainable Travel Report

This mindset is increasingly important to younger travellers.

Research concludes that around one third of millennials would like to see more availability of sustainable travel options and ways to reduce their carbon emissions when travelling.

The figures among older travellers, although not as high, were still significant and increasing.

Barriers To Sustainable Travel

Not all travellers are aware of the opportunities available to them and not all travel organisations are up to speed or engaged in the process, although that is improving.

While 81% of travelers say they want to stay in a sustainable accommodation in the upcoming year – which is a notable increase from 62% in 2016, when Booking.com first conducted its sustainable travel research and up 7% from 74% in 2020, just prior to the pandemic – barriers still remain. In fact, when looking just at the 40% of global travelers that said they have not stayed in a sustainable property in the past year, 36%  said they didn’t even know that they existed, 32% said they couldn’t find any options where they were traveling and 31%  said that they didn’t know how to find them. In fact, 49% of travelers still believe that in 2021, there simply aren’t enough sustainable travel options available.

In terms of awareness and intentions, travelers and properties do appear to be on the same page, with new research revealing that 82% of Booking.com’s accommodation partners surveyed view sustainability in the hospitality industry as being important. This mirrors the 83%  of travelers who also believe sustainable travel is an important issue. However, although 3 out of 4 accommodation partners say they have implemented sustainable steps at their property, only one-third (31%) actively communicate about their efforts proactively to potential guests, with this mostly happening at the time of check-in (59%), indicating that significant challenges remain to making sustainability information easy to access for travelers at earlier stages of the booking process.

Booking.com 2021 Sustainable Travel Report

Cost has also been a barrier to some people whether there is a real increase in prices or perceived.

As more and more travel providers move to a sustainable model, and it becomes an increasing sales point, then cost implications are likely to reduce and sustainable travel will become more affordable, if not already, and accessible.

WTTC & Harvard Learning Insight

THERE ARE MANY BARRIERS to the mainstreaming of sustainability in business, such as consumer demand, policy failing to drive enough market incentives and the prevailing short termism of financial markets.
leading companies are widening their view beyond immediate operational impacts and thinking about the broader systems in which they operate.
Conscious consumers have pushed the sector forward on some issues, such as
single-use plastics, but sectoral motivations have largely been reactive, with only a few companies and destinations embracing it strategically and holistically.
To date compared to other sectors, Travel & Tourism businesses do
not feature strongly on indices like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, FTSE4Good, CDP Climate Performance Leadership Index, or Newsweek Green Rankings.
There is still no universally accepted sustainability standard or
certification for Travel & Tourism, perhaps reflecting the complexity of the sector.

Coming Next

In the next part of this series we will look at the the issues and desire to reopen borders to foreign tourists following the Covid-19 pandemic.

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