Comment: The industry needs to act as one to tackle climate change

Travel could find itself a pariah industry for future generations, warns Digital Drums chief executive Steve Dunne

I’m not long back from a summer cruise around Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

It was fabulous for many reasons, but perhaps the most striking thing to me was the lifestyle and ethos of the people in those countries. They are all about community, humanity, wellbeing of society and, most strikingly, the environment.

They may pay eye-watering taxes, but they seem so content with life – and very determined about the environment and climate change. Taxi drivers, tour guides and locals told me of their universal approach to climate care; from Sweden deriving more than half its national energy supplies from renewables, to nine out of 10 Danes owning a bike. In Norway, I was told about the ‘pant’ reward system for returning plastic bottles and aluminium cans, while in Finland, I heard about the plans for the world’s first zero-waste communities.

Climate care in the UK

And everywhere across the region, I heard the word ‘flygskam’. The Swedish word translates as ‘flight shame’. A movement that originated in Sweden in 2017, it has taken hold in the region and is moving rapidly into Germany and the Benelux countries. In the UK, Flight Free 2020, a similar movement, is gaining profile. According to the World Economic Forum, passenger numbers at Swedish airports have fallen by 8% this year, coinciding with the rise of the buzzword. Extrapolate that statistic across Europe and it’s a significant figure that may well rise.

Now, there is no doubt the UK travel industry has embraced climate care action, sustainability and social responsibility in recent years.

I’ve applauded Hurtigruten’s world-first, battery-powered cruise ship; Royal Caribbean’s clean-energy ships; Tui Group’s commitment to remove 250 million single-use plastic items from its hotels, cruise ships, airlines and offices by the end of 2020; and various initiatives by other brands. However, much of this work is being undertaken as individual brand initiatives, as opposed to industry-wide ones, which may turn out to be a weakness of the sector.

Industry-wide action

As awareness and impatience, particularly among younger generations, with regard to climate change grows, the industry will increasingly be under the microscope. Individual initiatives will be overshadowed by travel brands with disreputable records. Responsible travel brands may be tarred with the same brush as those not making any effort.

There needs to be an industry-wide initiative, or body, to draw together brands’ climate-conscious efforts, co-ordinate activity, set standards by which the public can judge and communicate successes.

Every trade body needs to be involved because the public sees the industry as a single entity. And it must be done soon. Otherwise, when 600 people go to a travel conference 6,000 miles away, the media and public will forget brands’ individual progress on climate change and seize upon the industry’s seemingly ironic disregard for its CO2 emissions. So, let’s act as one industry on climate care and what we are doing to address it; if not, travel could find itself a pariah industry for future generations – and that will not help anyone.

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