Comment: Sustainability focus will reap long-term rewards

Bold action will benefit staff, communities, customers and investors, says Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook Group chief executive

Today, Thomas Cook launched a new three-year sustainability strategy, promising to “Make a Difference with Every Holiday”. Our strategy, taking us to 2020, provides us with clear direction to ensure we are making a positive difference to the destinations we travel to, while reducing our impact on the environment.

While we have been working on sustainability for over a decade, we  have not always given it the focus it deserves. We recognised that to be truly successful, we needed to align our sustainability objectives more closely to our strategy and the decision I made two years ago to put our customers back at the heart of the business.

This new and bold approach is designed to enable us to energise the debate on sustainable tourism and realign our ambitions as a sector, in order that we move faster towards a sustainable society. Most importantly, it allows us to align our sustainability journey, to our customer’s journey – maximising impact.

At its most effective, tourism delivers economic growth, opportunity, and skills development around the world. As one of the world’s biggest employers, and one of the global economy’s lead  growth sectors, tourism is an important tool that can bring investment and economic opportunity to every part of the world, and lead us to a more sustainable future.

Holidays that provide a real link with the regions and communities visited improve the experience for the holidaymaker, while providing greater economic benefit locally. A sustainably-managed destination filled with the smells of local food and the sounds of local voices delivers more benefit for local people, and helps to create vibrant local supply chains.

We know that the tourism sector is behind where it needs to be to deliver a fairer, more sustainable and ethical future. Industry standards within tourism are not strong or ambitious enough to deliver the outcomes we need.

By making use of technological developments, and offering better training for tourism staff, we can significantly reduce the resources required to deliver holidays. Whether it is Thomas Cook’s water management project, our policy on animal welfare, or our collaborative approach to developing a sustainable food programme, we can demonstrate that we have some of the best practices within our sector that have the potential to positively transform destinations around the world.

As an industry, our carbon emissions remain our single biggest environmental challenge. 2017 was one of the three warmest on record and the hottest ever non-El Nino year. The Arctic had its lowest-ever February sea ice levels and is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, potentially disturbing the predictability of the Gulf Stream and jet streams.

It is difficult to balance the benefits of tourism with its associated negative impacts. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we have some of them.

We know it will take time to create the change needed but through collaboration with the industry, suppliers, employees, customers and other key stakeholders we can make a difference. Our strategy is sharply focussed on three key targets of maximising our charitable impact, improving our fuel efficiency, and ensuring all of our own brand hotels are Travelife accredited.

While our targets are ambitious, this is only our first step and I want to go much further as a business.  I believe bold action on this agenda will help us deliver a more profitable and sustainable business over the longer term, to the benefit of our people, our communities, our customers – and our investors.

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