Developing sustainable policies and digital technology are “critical” for travel and tourism companies and organisations as the sector recovers from the pandemic, according to an analyst.

Caroline Bremner, head of travel and tourism research at Euromonitor International, told a World Travel Market webinar last week that digitalisation will drive recovery, as more consumers will book online or mobiles and demand contactless interactions.

There is increasing interest from consumers to have a positive impact on their environment, Bremner added.

“Sustainability does resonate even more than last year,” she said.

According to Euromonitor’s recent Voice of the Consumer survey, 66% of consumers globally want to have a positive impact on the environment through their daily actions in 2021.

Reducing plastics is seen as the most popular ‘green’ activity, found the survey.

“The combination of digital and sustainable is a winning combination,” Bremner told the webinar.

She also highlighted the need to train staff to offer good service that can’t be offered by technology, adding: “Leave the check-in to machines but get the local insight from locals – unique experiences that you cannot get from a machine.”

However, she said travel is behind other sectors when it comes to companies’ sustainability credentials, such as investing in communities or having a chief executive who is a “sustainability activist”.

Nonetheless, Bremner said there is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” in the UK to showcase innovation and sustainability in tourism and travel, as the United Nations Climate Change Conference is due to take place in Glasgow in November 2021.

She pointed to several case studies around the world which are leading the way in sustainability – including Palau in the western Pacific, which claims to be world’s first carbon-neutral destination and where visitors must take a mandatory eco-pledge.

She highlighted how the Hello Hong Kong campaign encouraged domestic tourism in 2020, while New Zealand aims to have 90% of local residents happy with tourism activities and supportive of growth.

Other case studies were Planeterra – the community tourism organisation established by G Adventures’ founder Bruce Poon Tip which runs more than 100 projects around the world – and Borana Conservancy in Kenya which achieved Global Ecosphere Reserve status in 2020.

She said low-cost carrier easyJet is “committed to climate-friendly” travel, thanks to its policies to offset fuel and invest in forestation and renewable energy.

The trend towards more environmentally friendly travel has seen an increased demand for holidays which are closer to home, or offer natural and sustainable experiences, she added.

Conversely, there is less interest in travel for activities such as shopping, group tours and city breaks.

Looking at influences on booking travel, research from Euromonitor showed that free cancellations are the most popular policy,

“It is challenging for operators and airlines but resonates well,” said Bremner.

Free upgrades are also popular, followed by flexible payment terms.

She noted how augmented reality and virtual reality technology can be used to influence, reassure and build confidence among consumers.

Other influences are conversations with family members, especially for younger travellers.

Euromonitor’s research found that 53% of Generation Z and 45% of Millennials in the UK say family conversations are extremely to very influential – the figures drop to 38% for Generation X and 32% for Baby Boomers.

Unsurprisingly, social media influencers are more important younger travellers than older consumers – in the UK 53% of Generation Z and 48% of Millennials 53% say they are extremely to very influential.