The industry has to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2050 and needs government support to do it, the Abta Travel Convention heard on Wednesday.
Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid Group managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), said reducing or offsetting carbon emissions “is no longer enough”.
Bencheikh insisted: “The entire industry has to take global warming seriously.
“We have to make net zero by 2050 achievable. Without a healthy planet we don’t have a travel industry.
At Intrepid, she said: “We measure and act to reduce and offset. But the science shows this is no longer enough. We need to set a target to decarbonise.
“Certification is a way to show customers we really care about what we’re doing. I recommend looking for independent verification. It shows you’re committed.”
But Bencheikh argued: “We need support [from government] rather than for the industry to be penalised [by carbon taxes].”
Royal Caribbean Cruises EMEA vice-president Ben Bouldin agreed, admitting de-carbonisation “is not an easy challenge for cruise”.
He noted: “The industry is investing in a cleaner fleet. Our ask of government is for infrastructure. We need investment on shore, whether that is investment in LNG [liquefied natural gas] or shore-side power.”
Bouldin noted: “We partner with the WWF which helps set targets that are achievable and meaningful and enables us to talk to our guests about the journey we’re on.
“Just last week we said we’re going to reduce our carbon emissions by 25% from today by 2025.”
Yet Bouldin described the way the industry had come together during the Covid crisis as “amazing” and insisted: “The industry’s approach to these goals will be stronger post-pandemic.”
Manuel Butler, UK director of the Spanish National Tourist Office, argued: “Over-tourism is the most serious problem we face. It’s an issue of social sustainability.
“Tourism is on the political agenda. We have to take residents into consideration, spread tourism and put the accent on metrics when we talk about growth.
“It’s a big challenge to make the population aware of the benefits of tourism, but we have to spread awareness of the benefits.”
Bencheikh noted: “It’s not only about carbon. It’s about many other areas. We’ve launched an initiative to increase awareness around vaccine equity. If the world is not vaccinated, travel can’t resume.
“Less than 2% of low income countries have access to vaccines and they are often the ones waiting for tourism to return.”
Abta director of industry affairs Susan Deer reported the association had begun collecting data on members’ sustainability efforts, saying: “Members are at very different places on the sustainability journey. Some are really just setting out.
“We’ve identified three areas we want to support – de-carbonisation, staff training and how travel agents communicate with customers about what they are selling.
“We’re focusing on those three priority areas for new tools and guidance.”