As world leaders meet in Glasgow for COP26, the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, research released today (Monday 1 November) by WTM London, reaffirms that senior travel industry executives remain committed to the environment and sustainability.
COP26’s agenda this year will set reductions target for 2030 that will support reaching net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century. Nations and private sector partners will also discuss how to protect communities and natural habitats. WTM London has been at the forefront of responsible and sustainable tourism for number of years and has had a dedicated program for responsible tourism at every event since 1994.
This year, the WTM Industry Report asked nearly 700 professionals from around the globe, as well as 1000 UK travelers, about their attitudes to sustainability and the extent to which it plays into their decision-making processes.
Responses from professionals suggest that the travel industry is taking its responsibilities seriously, not only to the natural environment but also to human civilization. More than one-in-four (27%) stated that sustainability was the number one priority, with a further 43% saying it was in the top three.
Around one-in-five (22%) are aware of sustainability’s importance but do not rank it in the top three. Less than one-in-ten (7%) admitted it was not currently part of their business thinking.
Senior industry executives also revealed that the pandemic has catapulted sustainability up the agenda. Almost six-in-ten (59%) said that sustainability became the top priority during the pandemic, with a further one-in-four adding that it was the top priority before the outbreak and remained so.
Over the years WTM London and its responsible tourism partners have been instrumental in ensuring that the conversation around sustainable and responsible tourism extends beyond the climate emergency and includes equal opportunities in the workplace, decent pay and conditions, health, education, empowerment of girls, reduced inequalities and more.
For example, WTM founded Just a Drop in 1998, a charity dedicated to bringing clean drinking water and sanitation to communities in need and which has helped nearly two million people around the world.
However, travel’s impact on the planet is often framed exclusively around the greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. Carbon offsetting is one mechanism in place to address this – travelers and suppliers have the chance to donate cash to organizations who will spend the money on projects which will offset the emissions from their flight. Carbon offsetting, however, is not without its critics and travelers themselves, as well as some environmental campaigners, remain to be convinced.
Responses from more than 1,000 British travelers for the WTM Industry Report revealed that four-in-ten claim to have used carbon offsetting – 8% said they offset every flight with 15% doing so most of the time, 16% some of the time. With one-in-three actively refusing to offset flights when offered the chance to do so, the net result is a slight positive for offsetting.
However, the remaining 24% replied that they did not even know what carbon offsetting means, suggesting that individual companies and the wider travel industry need to communicate the theory and practice of carbon offsetting more clearly. Airlines, aggregators, online and retail agents also have a role to play in engaging with travelers.
At the enterprise level, there are some executives who also revealed a lack of awareness related to sustainability. Many companies from across different industries have signed up the United Nation’s Race to Zero campaign, committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
The World Travel and Tourism Council will officially launch its Net Zero Roadmap at COP26. This roadmap for the industry, soft-launched earlier in September, will include bespoke frameworks for specific parts of the travel and tourism ecosystem, to help accelerate their climate commitments and emissions reduction timeline.
But when WTM London asked professionals about whether their own business had a formal “carbon reduction” strategy in place, more than one-in-four (26%) were unable to say if such a policy existed. More than one-in-three (37%) said that there was no policy in place.
The remaining 36% acknowledged that there was a policy in place, but only 26% actually implemented the policy. One-in-ten travel execs admitted that that their employer had a carbon reduction policy in place, which it did not implement.
Despite this mixed picture, executives seem to think that travel is outperforming other sectors when it comes to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly 40% said travel is doing better than other sectors with only 21% thinking the opposite. Around one-in-four (23%) see travel’s efforts as comparable with other sectors, with 18% of the sample not sure how travel is faring.
Simon Press, Exhibition Director, WTM London, said: “While we are proud of WTM’s decades-long efforts to lead the debate around sustainable and responsible tourism, we are not complacent. These findings show that we still have some way to get the industry fully on board with our vision for a sustainable and responsible tourism future.
“If anything, we need to shout even louder. The climate emergency is not going away and the need to stop the planet warming up is critical. But the travel industry also needs to be active in promoting diversity, inclusivity and the economic benefits if we want the travelling public, governments and regulators to see travel and tourism as a force for good, rather than something to be targeted and taxed.”