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Sustainability Isn’t An Option For The Tourism Industry Anymore

sustainable travel

Most of us saw the grim report this summer from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international team of scientists brought together by the United Nations. Rising oceans, extreme weather, heat waves, wildfires, floods … the effects of climate change aren’t just predictions. They’re happening in 2021. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the time to act is now.

Where does the travel industry fit into the fight for our future? Recently, members of the TURNER team sat in on an illuminating United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) panel, featuring discussions on just that topic. One thing is for sure. Sustainability isn’t an option anymore. It’s a necessity.

A few key takeaways:

First, let’s define our terms: sustainable tourism is tourism that takes full account of its environmental and social impact. That’s right — it’s more than just reducing our carbon footprints (though that is obviously extremely important). Sustainable travel also includes positively impacting local communities — including teaching, helping people achieve economic freedom, and medical care. In the USTOA panel, Alexander + Roberts president Bob Drumm stressed the importance of diversity, saying that being inclusive and approaching sustainability from an equitable standpoint is very important.

In the USTOA panel, Tourism Cares’ Greg Takehara encouraged travel pros to think of sustainability as your insurance policy. A major part of any tourism product often is the eco-system of a destination — the beaches, the forests, the lakes, the wildlife. Damage to these treasures is damage to that product. By investing in sustainability now, you’re ensuring a brighter future for your destination, hotel, or travel experience. It’s time to think about ROI in a different, more forward-thinking way.

More and more, your bottom line will depend upon your eco-friendliness. A recent Booking.com global survey put it down in black and white: 83 percent (out of 29,000 respondents) said that they believed sustainable travel to be vital. Additionally, 61 percent said that the pandemic had only increased their desire to travel in a sustainable fashion. As more awareness about the effects of climate change spreads, expect these numbers to climb even higher. Don’t wait. Demand is growing — and not just among consumers. Media is going to be increasingly focused on sustainability questions, advised Keith Sproule of Abercrombie & Kent.

Another note — about half of the respondents reported that finding sustainably minded hotels is a challenge. But that’s changing fast. For one thing, Google just introduced an “Eco-Certified” badge for hotels. When you search for hotels, properties that are certified for “meeting high standards of sustainability from certain independent organizations, like Green Key or EarthCheck, will have an eco-certified badge next to their name.” Consumers can even go deeper by clicking the “About” button, which will highlight a hotel’s sustainability practices, from waste reduction efforts to water conservation measures.

The result of this and other developments in the tourism/hospitality space will be savvier consumers when it comes to eco-friendly options. Sustainability will be as important as other amenities to potential guests and travelers. That’s why it’s key not only to implement sustainable practices, but also to tell the story of those sustainable practices to travelers. In the USTOA panel, Takehara encouraged travel professionals to not be too humble about your efforts. It’s essential to weave your sustainability message throughout your brand narrative; it shouldn’t just be a lone page on your website.

From that same Booking.com survey: “While three out of four accommodation providers say they have implemented at least some kind of sustainability practices at their property, only one-third actively communicate about their efforts proactively to potential guests.

The speakers on the USTOA panel all encouraged one thing: collaboration. We’re all in this together, after all. That means sharing resources, educating each other, and having ongoing conversations. Together, the travel industry can help to bring about real change.

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