Investors driving travel towards ‘tipping point’ on sustainability

Investors, governments and regulators are driving the increased focus on sustainability in travel and not consumer demand, despite greater public awareness of the climate crisis and environmental degradation.

That is according to Deloitte lead partner for travel and aviation Alistair Pritchard, who told an Abta conference on Delivering Sustainable Travel “we’re at an absolute tipping point” on sustainability.

He identified “the number-one driver” of action as “investors, governments and regulators”, followed by “the C suite” of senior executives “whose bonuses will be at risk”, then employees “in particular, the younger generation who see this as important”.

But Pritchard argued: “There is still a way to go on consumer recognition of this. Most consumers acknowledge climate and sustainability are important, but don’t always take the most sustainable decisions.

“There is not enough understanding of sustainability among businesses at the moment, let alone among consumers.”

He insisted: “Consumers are behind. It’s investors, governments and regulators driving change.”

Consumer research presented to the conference by media and entertainment group Global appeared to contradict this conclusion, suggesting almost two thirds of consumers (64%) see sustainability as “important when planning holidays”.

Global senior commercial insight executive Sarah Wordsworth reported survey findings in which one in three consumers said they thought about sustainability when researching a holiday and one in four claimed to have chosen accommodation with a sustainability certification.

However, these findings were challenged by industry figures.

Lisa McAuley, owner of Silver Travel Advisor, noted a survey of 3,000 of the group’s members in July last year found sustainability ranked eighth of 10 priorities when booking a holiday.

Barrhead Travel head of communications Karen Musgrave told the conference: “I can guarantee not one single customer who has come through our door has asked for a sustainable holiday.”

Carole Savage, managing director of sustainable excursions provider Not In The Guidebooks, agreed saying: “No one is talking about sustainable holidays.

“But when you frame it as local, people absolutely want it. People don’t ask for sustainability. It’s about creating a better holiday that is sustainable.”

Abta head of sustainability Claire Jenkinson told the conference: “It’s a bit of a myth that sustainability is not important to customers. You find when you highlight this stuff, it sells really well.

“But if you wait for someone to say ‘I’d like a sustainable holiday’ you will be waiting a while.

She argued: “The more specific and tangible you can make it the more it will resonate.”

Musgrave suggested: “Maybe we can influence the decision making [of] customers who aren’t thinking about sustainability.”

She noted: “If you see somewhere offering plastic cups and straws you’re aghast, so there is an expectation.”

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