Tourism risks being viewed as “dirty” and needs to “get on the front foot” on sustainability and work on a practical level or risk “scepticism” from customers, warn industry leaders.
Abta sustainability director Nikki White told the Travel Convention in Tokyo: “There is definitely a rise of a more conscious traveller. Lots of people are asking questions about single plastics or animal welfare.
“There are customers who are more conscious and those who want to forget about it [sustainability]. But it should be provided through the supply chain so they don’t have to think about it.”
Tui UK commercial director Richard Sofer agreed, saying: “It’s not just customers demanding we do the right thing, it’s also employees.”
Tony Roberts, Clia UK and Ireland chairman and Princess Cruises UK and Europe vice-president, said: “This is the right thing to do, we are all awakening to that, and there is a lot to be done.
“In Germany, tourism is viewed as dirty, as almost like the tobacco industry. We have a chance to get on the front foot here if we make sure we take the right steps.
“What we’re not doing is telling a story about what is being done. There is a negative perception of the industry.
“For example, on a cruise ship we recycle on average 60% more than at home because the facilities are so advanced.”
White said: “There is an awful lot of confusion about what companies should be doing. We need to come back to the practical level and work out a plan so we don’t attract scepticism in consumers’ eyes.
“On flying, we have not got all the answers yet. Destinations are not always aware. Not many governments have a joined up plan. There are solutions, but we are not getting to them quickly enough.”
She added: “If we make this too big, it can be too much – people don’t know where to start. [But when] we take our Travelife audits of hotels back to tour operators they get it.
“Whatever the size of a business, everybody has to do something. We have a lot of guidance at Abta – there is something for everybody.”
Roberts said: “There is a role for the industry associations. In Dubrovnik, we [Clia] devised a scheme with the mayor to manage tourism.
“We need to do more of that rather than just shutting the doors or levying a tax because that just moves the problem somewhere else.”
Sofer agreed: “It’s more complex than putting up taxes. The focus has to be on reducing emissions. It’s up to the owners of aircraft to have the most fuel-efficient aircraft. Offsetting is not a way out.”
He added: “We need to reduce waste at source, from brochures in stores to food in resorts.
“Not everyone has the same resources, but doing something is better than nothing. There are many ways you can reduce waste and reduce your carbon footprint.”
At Tui, he said: “We are not looking to out-compete other businesses on sustainability. We share. We are businesses, but we are also parents thinking about our kids.”