Sustainable travel practices must be extended to mid-range tour operators and the dynamic packaging sector which have yet to embrace them, according to Travel Foundation chairman Noel Josephides.

Josephides told The Travel Foundation annual general meeting in London: “The biggest problem we face is the mid-range of companies carrying 20,000-150,000 passengers a year. They very often don’t see the benefits of engaging in sustainability.”

He added: “Sustainability is not obvious to people buying component holidays, but unless we crack this there will be a big gap in what we are trying to do.”

However, the Sunvil managing director told the industry charity’s AGM “the biggest challenge” would be extending sustainable practice outside the UK to emerging outbound travel markets.

Josephides said: “The biggest growth in Cyprus is coming from Russia. Cyprus will receive 500,000 visitors from Russia this year and UK business to Cyprus is declining. But Russia is way behind us on sustainability. Russian tour operators are behaving as we did in the past. If we are going to protect destinations it is going to be a challenge.”

He added: “A lot of companies are not having an easy time. To an extent, all the effort is coming from the industry and not from clients. They don’t recognise what we are doing. Clients just think of somewhere as a nice place to go . . . [and] if companies feel clients are going to book anyway, why spend time on sustainability?

“But looking after a destination is important. I have seen the damage short-term thinking, slash and burn, can do. If a client is happy with a destination, you get repeat business.”

Josephides said: “Sustainability is beginning to be recognised as a route to saving money, reducing risk, retaining staff and meeting changing consumer demand. But we still have a long way to go with the grass roots of the industry, many of whom believe it is not for them.”

The Travel Foundation published a white paper yesterday making the business case for sustainability. Drawn up in collaboration with sustainable business organisation Forum for the Future and entitled Survival of the Fittest, the paper identifies six areas crucial to the industry’s future and suggests ways to operate more sustainably.

Travel Foundation chief executive Sue Hurdle said: “We hope this will become simply the way business is done, but we are a long way off that at the moment.”

Tourism minister John Penrose welcomed publication of the paper, telling the AGM: “I want to applaud the Travel Foundation and this initiative.

“Everyone talks about sustainability, but doing it is difficult. In many cases people don’t know how to get it done. It is not just a case of appealing to people’s better nature.

“This report makes clear sustainable practice is good for the bottom line as well as for the environment. This stuff must become mainstream. This report can help dispel any remaining doubts.”

The Travel Foundation is funded by donations from travel companies and holidaymakers, often through a small levy at the point of booking.

The charity engages in water, waste and energy-saving projects in destinations, works with local communities to spread the benefits of tourism and trains members of the industry in the UK.

Josephides said: “Economic circumstances have taken a toll, but the past year has been most successful in the Travel Foundation’s history.”