Pressure from governments and regulators to force travel firms to operate more sustainably is necessary to unlock the investment needed in green technologies.
Giles Hawke, chief executive of Cosmos and Avalon Waterways, said operating sustainably came at a price, meaning firms that chose to ignore it had an unfair advantage.
He said Cosmos had a five to 10-year plan for sustainability. This included an ambition to move to electric coaches and river cruise ships.
He accused rivals of prioritising profits, adding: “Businesses need more pressure from governments, because there is a cost to running sustainably and if you don’t you can offer lower prices in the market.”
Hawke said investment in technology to support the switch to electric would only come if all operators were pressured to back the transition.
The ocean cruise sector has committed to a 40% reduction in per-passenger emissions by 2030, a figure described as a “firm promise” by outgoing Clia Europe director general Ukko Metsola.
A further ambition by the cruise sector to become carbon neutral by 2050 was a “vision” the industry had adopted globally and one that Metsola said would require government support. “Clia members cannot do this alone,” he said. “We are talking about replacing fossil fuels with something else. We are not in the petrochemical business.”
Pressed on the shipping sector’s use of the most dirty type of fuel, Metsola said cruise operators were developing greener alternatives.
He said Covid was the “biggest challenge” operators were struggling with today, but stressed: “The crisis has not weakened our determination to focus on sustainability. It’s a business-critical issue.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of The Advantage Travel Partnership, said businesses were in “survival mode” and did not need more costs imposed by governments.
She said sustainability was “at the heart of the agenda” but the industry must work more collaboratively on agreed standards to measure and report its environmental impact.