Five reasons sustainability is essential for Travel & Tourism

Sustainable tourism has been on everyone’s agenda for over a decade. The UN International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in 2017 in particular focused the wider world’s attention on it. But we still have a long way to go and the challenges of adapting business models in often radical ways are myriad.

Here are five reasons why sustainability must be built into tourism business models.

Tourists are demanding it

Image: Shutterstock

The BBC television documentary Blue Planet, hosted by David Attenborough felt like a watershed moment in the UK in particular. Suddenly everyone was talking about plastic pollution. But reducing plastic use is just the tip of a very large waste-berg. A recent survey of travellers in 12 major markets showed that nearly 90% want to travel sustainably and that two thirds would be willing to spend more to ensure their trip has as low an impact as possible. These numbers represent a significant increase on even a couple years ago. Now Travel & Tourism needs to work harder to make it easier for travellers to make the choices they want to make. That’s about creating more straight forward indicators of sustainable practice — such as being able to choose a hotel that has certain standards of sustainability certification, a destination that supports and involves communities and restaurants that source their food from local farms and fields.

Travel is growing.

Tourism is growing fast — clocking up nearly 4% growth in Travel & Tourism GDP 2018. In doing so it’s bringing jobs to developing economies and lifting people out of poverty. Travel & Tourism is a force for good and governments across the globe are realising its value. Witness the ambitious plans of host country for the WTTC Global Summit in 2018 — Argentina. A key focus here is eco-tourism with the intention to double the amount of space given over to National Parks. Planning for managed growth at destination level and building sustainability into plans from the start is essential for success over the longer term. The very things that people want to see and experience when they travel can be spoilt by too great a volume.

It’s cheaper in the long run

While transitioning to more sustainable ways of working can incur costs, finding ways to reduce water and energy use, minimise carbon emissions and minimise waste all make great business and financial sense. Large infrastructure projects like hotels, airports and cruise ships are not easy to retrofit. But as new projects are developed, making sustainability a focus rather than a nice to have is crucial. Many travel businesses are now setting ambitious goals for sustainability. Tui’s Better Holidays, Better World strategy is one example. As Fritz Joussen, TUI CEO puts it: “It futureproofs our business.”

Local communities want it

Too many tourists in a small number of ultra-popular destinations is a theme that has also dominated headlines. There’s a huge risk to Travel & Tourism if we don’t solve these problems quickly. Some of those most impacted by unsustainable tourism practices are the people travel businesses depend on for offering visitors meaningful cultural experiences. But these local communities are best placed to develop plans for sustainable growth. Spotting the problems first, local people come up with the most workable solutions. Copenhagen’s Localhood strategy which focuses on ‘people-based growth’ is a great example of this approach.

Employees want it

The coming generations are passionate about protecting our planet. Millennials who are increasingly the most dynamic and powerful generation in the workplace make choices as employees based on business practices. Deloitte’s most recent worldwide survey of Millennials revealed growing dissatisfaction with the corporate world. Only a minority think businesses behave ethically (48% vs 65% in 2017) and that business leaders are committed to helping improve society (47% vs 62% in 2017). There’s been a 17% rise in Millennials saying they plan to leave their current job in the next couple of years. Ethical business practice for this generation and the generations to come is fundamentally important. As a sector we need to appreciate that if we want to attract and retain the brightest people, we need to push the sustainability agenda harder and faster.

Watch this year’s WTTC Global Summit 2019 in Seville, Spain on 2–4 Aprillive at: wttc.org/livestream