Comment: Pushing travel companies in a greener direction

Alastair Dickenson of travel management company Diversity Travel looks at how companies can make meaningful, long-term changes on environmental action 

It can be difficult to raise the conversation about sustainability and environmental action in the travel and tourism sector because of the nature of the business.

I have worked in the travel sector for more than 25 years and have experienced first-hand the damaging impact the industry’s poor reputation and credibility on climate change has on having meaningful discussions about solutions to this important global issue.

According to a recent study, referenced by the World Economic Forum, the travel industry is responsible for roughly eight percent of global carbon emissions.

Despite this, we still see disappointing representation from the travel and tourism sector at major international climate discussions. When we do have a seat at the table, there is often disproportionate treatment to representatives compared with other sectors.

This is notwithstanding that much more needs to be done across this sector to address climate change, but it does highlight a larger hurdle travel professionals face when taking action and bringing forward creative solutions. And this includes travel management companies (TMC).

Diversity Travel was the one of the first TMC to introduce a specialist sustainability and environmental action role in 2021, a position I’m privileged to now undertake, with the main aim of changing how our company thinks and acts on sustainability. This is important because consumer trust and our sector’s credibility needs to be rebuilt.

Mintel wrote in their Sustainability in Travel (2024) report that trust in travel companies transitioning to sustainable travel remains low, echoing the feeling of scepticism reported on by Travel Weekly last year.

Culture change is key if the travel and tourism sector is to truly address this issue. The first step is to promote transparency with sustainability, which is how I plan to approach this role.

Diversity Travel’s commitment to sustainability

Diversity Travel has been carbon neutral since 2011, and achieved the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Standard in 2008 which has been maintained since.

Our ambition has since been to become an industry leader on this issue.

It is why we’re on track to achieve our net zero targets across scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by the end of 2025, and why we’ve invested in this Head of Environmental Action role.

Core to our approach on climate has been investing in both people and technology, which we see as equally essential with one another. I think it’s what sets us apart from other TMC’s and it’s what our clients really value.

We understand that keeping costs low is still a high priority for our clients, and this can sometimes impact on sustainable choices. This may be because of my account management background, but I think having someone at the other end of the phone, who understands your business needs, and can weigh that up when suggesting sustainable solutions is extra important.

In an effort to change our culture around environmental action, we provide sustainability training for the team, who can then advise clients with confidence on what options are available to reduce the carbon footprint of their trip, whether through carbon offsets, alternative transport options (such as rail), or limiting the amount of non-sustainable travel options to choose from.

Technology and data analytics will increasingly play a vital role in gaining credibility on climate change. We have invested in external analysts to provide our clients with accurate data and insights on their travel plans, and to promote a more transparent approach to sustainability in the travel and tourism sector.

One of the first changes I’m making in this role will be to publish our Sustainability Report annually, to openly share our progress and next steps, and in an effort to win back trust and support for the sector’s commitment to sustainability.

Another priority will be to upgrade our booking system using this technology to give customers information regarding the sustainability ratings of not only methods of travel, but hotels and meals too. It will no longer produce results when searching for short-haul flights like London to Paris, for example, and instead display sustainable travel options.

We will be an active voice.

While individual corporate responsibility remains important, as shown above, reducing the carbon emissions of our clients will be the most effective way to both lower overall carbon emissions across the sector and to restore trust and credibility.

How other travel companies can create a culture of sustainability

Here are my tips for companies across our sector, whether that be business or leisure travel, to make meaningful, long-term changes on environmental action and to create a culture of sustainability:

  1. Invest in your team first – easy to forget this in the world of AI and automation. This can be through external training or new guidance and policies, upskilling the whole team, not just client- or customer-facing roles, will have a positive long-term impact in changing the culture of your business.
  2. Take an active role – encouraging customers is one thing, but that’s easy. An active role means you are directing proceedings more, and prepared to have those conversations.
  3. Promote transparency – something we all need to do more, across the sector, to build back trust. This can be through reporting progress, or encouraging feedback and conversations about sustainability with clients.
  4. Lead by example – culture change comes from the top-down. Our Board of Directors were the first to take action by unanimously declaring a climate emergency. We have taken consistent action on this issue as a result. Be ambitious and don’t wait for others to take action before you do.

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