Travel companies should stop talking to consumers about sustainability and get on with providing more sustainable products, according to the head of Pura Aventura, an operator which specialises in sustainable holidays.
Thomas Power, Pura Aventura chief executive, told the Spain Sustainability Day conference in London: “We keep bashing our heads on the idea consumers will demand sustainability. They will not. We need to speak differently.”
He suggested the growing number of consumer surveys which suggest increasing demand for sustainable holidays are misleading, arguing: “There is all this data telling us people are choosing sustainability, but there is a gap between their intention and action, between what they say and do, and this gap is probably greater in travel than anywhere.”
Power told the conference, hosted by the Spanish Tourism Office: “We give ourselves permission to relax when we go on holiday. We don’t set the alarm. We don’t go on a diet. That doesn’t tally with the language of sustainability.
“When we talk about sustainability, consumers hear fear, concern, guilt. Our language has to change. Let’s stop talking about sustainability to clients. Let’s stop asking them to offset flights. [But] let’s develop sustainability from suppliers up.”
He insisted: “Nothing we say on sustainability touches on the indulgence of travel. We can talk to each other about carbon and carbon leakage, but to our visitors we need to talk about amazing places and the quality of accommodation and food.
“It’s time to act [on sustainability] not because consumers are bashing our doors down to buy sustainable travel, but because it’s a business opportunity to sell what is amazing and, by the way, also sustainable.”
However, Spanish Tourism Office director general Miguel Sanx Castedo told the conference: “We need to inform people what we do as an industry, and what we mean by a sustainable transformation. We need to educate people on how to travel sustainably.”
Castedo highlighted the Spanish government’s allocation of €3.4 billion “to the transformation of tourism” and argued: “We need to speed up the transformation. We either do the transformation or we will not be a viable destination.”
He added: “As the world’s biggest destination, we have a responsibility to the industry. We want to show leadership to the rest of the world.”