Opinion: In a transparent world sustainability is an imperative

By Sue Hurdle, chief executive, the Travel Foundation

Today’s tourism marketplace is decidedly different to that of 20, even 10 years ago.

The advent of technology has put more information and more power into the hands of the consumer, and reputations can now be won and lost with a click of a button.

What’s more, in a world where everyone’s a critic, demands and expectations are reaching new levels.

Research conducted by the Travel Foundation and Abta show customers want more from the firms they book with; not just a holiday that offers value for money and good weather, but something more – authentic and different experiences – and sustainability is key to delivering this.

Let’s set the record straight – sustainable tourism is not a niche product; it can be mainstream and customers want what it offers, although they may not be asking for it by name.

This is not just the view of the Travel Foundation – these were among the key points made by industry representatives during a panel debate at the Travel Foundation annual meeting in London last week.

We were lucky enough to have been joined by Tui UK & Ireland, Kuoni, Fair Trade Tourism South Africa and Turquoise Holidays to hear their first-hand experience of customer demand for sustainable tourism.

What struck me most was that, regardless of where they were coming from commercially, sustainability just made good business sense to them, and had moved significantly up the agenda from being a ‘nice to have’ to being a strategic imperative.

We learned that led by fair trade, organic or sustainably-sourced options in the supermarket, consumers are beginning to be more aware of the impact their choices are making. What’s more, while it may not yet figure in the purchasing decision for many, customers expect the companies they buy from to be doing something about it, and benefit when it is.

Jeremy Ellis of Tui revealed 86% of customers surveyed globally by the company wanted it to behave more responsibly, and customer questionnaires revealed compelling links between sustainability and customer experience, with high satisfaction levels being recorded by those customers who had stayed in a  hotel with a sustainability certification.

James Bell, of Turquoise Holidays, a boutique operator specialising in honeymoons, admitted his company’s sustainability journey had just begun, and that it was being driven by customer enquiries about the contribution of holidays to destinations, leading to the business investigating how it could improve the impacts of its products both in the UK and overseas, starting with an audit of all suppliers.

Kuoni meanwhile has been working with Fairtrade Tourism South Africa on launching the first ever Fairtrade holiday. Kuoni’s Francis Torilla explained how the company believes in a time when sustainability will be built-in, making the only choice a sustainable one.

While we enjoyed some very different takes on the subject, the message that came across is a simple one – customers do care about it and they expect companies to be taking care of the people and the places they love to visit.

After all, looking after the resources your business is dependent on is quite simply good business sense, isn’t it?

In conjunction with Forum for the Future, the Travel Foundation has launched a new white paper, “Survival of the Fittest”, which offers business practical advice on building sustainability into their strategy. It is available as a free download from

July is Make Holidays Greener Month – get involved by downloading the free posters and sharing the tips and resources at

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