Comment: Can Prince Harry help travel forge a sustainable future?

Following the launch of new global partnership Travalyst, Lee Hayhurst says there was clear commitment from the Duke of Sussex to make an impact, but the scale of the task is daunting

While there was no doubting the ambition of new global sustainable partnership Travalyst, launched by the Duke of Sussex on Tuesday, there was little concrete detail about what it intends to do.

What was clear was that this was no knee jerk reaction to recent criticism of Prince Harry and his wife of their own personal travel habits – the prince is clearly passionate about this issue and prepared to face down any critics.

He spoke knowledgeably about the problems of the impact of tourism he has seen and was at ease leading a panel discussion with the bosses of some of the world’s biggest travel firms, plus Visa, at one point teasing Skyscanner boss Bryan Dove about him wearing proper leather shoes for the launch instead of his usual trainers.

Travalyst said that it’s launch partners, also including, TripAdvisor and Skyscanner parent Ctrip, we’re chosen because they were the companies that showed the most enthusiasm for the partnership and, indeed, they make up a seriously powerful and influential set of consumer facing brands.

But none of them actually owns or invests in the core product of travel – hotels, airlines, transfer companies, destinations and attractions – and none of them pass the sort of regulations that are going to be needed if Travalyst is going to achieve its goals of ensuring travel has a sustainable future.

Clearly airlines and engine manufacturers like Rolls Royce, major global hotel and resort chains, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), trade bodies and legislators are all crucial if this industry is going to change and meet the demands for operating in a more sustainable way.

And then there are the innovative technology companies such as those developing new forms of mass transport like self driving cars and hyperloop and clean ways to generate and store energy.

We were told the launch partners have signed up for an initial three year period and that new partners will be sought to join the Travalyst movement and within 18 months we will hear more about what it intends to do.

Time may be of the essence. The travel industry finds itself today at the centre of heightened concerns about the impact of man’s activity on the environment. The Greta Thunberg generation may be more curious about the world than previous ones, but it is also likely to question the morals of jumping on airplanes fuelled by kerosene to experience it.

In Holland, where Travalyst was launched, and Germany and other parts of Northern Europe Flygskam (flight shaming) is a well established cultural phenomenon and it’s now here in the UK, and only bound to grow.

The Guardian newspaper told a pre-launch discussion that it has already taken an editorial decision to feature less long-haul destinations due to concerns about the environment. How does that align with one of Travalyst’s core aims of ensuring tourism is a more potent force for supporting disadvantaged local communities, many of which will be a long-haul flight away for Brits?

In his speech, the Duke himself cited the closure of Maya Beach on Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, which had to close due to over-tourism and will place a strict limit on visitor numbers in the future. Is restricting access to only those lucky enough to be able to afford to visit these vulnerable destinations the answer?

The UK is also poised to have the most almighty of rows about the expansion of Heathrow which will be fought in the media on the battle ground of its environmental impact and the sense of investing in a ‘dirty’ industry, versus the clear need for Britain to invest in its infrastructure to cope with what will inevitably be increasing numbers of people travelling, with London being high on many tourists’ and businesses’ list of destinations.

Travalyst insists it is not about people travelling less, but travelling differently. So it needs to put the case for travel, the many tangible and intangible benefits associated with it, that can be weighed against the inevitable footprint of moving people around the planet in vast numbers, without just being an exercise in greenwashing.

It also needs to avoid becoming a movement for the privileged business and private jet classes to preach to the less well off about their travel habits. If Travalyst is to have the impact it intends it needs to appeal to the mass market, the millions of people who jet off each year for their fortnight in the sun having scrimped and saved to afford the best holiday possible to enjoy with their families and loved ones.

They aren’t necessarily travelling with the sole intention of immersing themselves in a foreign culture, to ‘live like a local’ and support local communities with their tourism spend.

But they will almost certainly want to know that the choices they make of where to go and which companies to go with are not harming the places they visit, and are doing some good.

The scale of the task is daunting, but if Travalyst can galvanise this huge global industry to make operating sustainably an expectation rather than a choice it will have a great chance of achieving its hugely ambitious goals.


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