Travel and the climate emergency – what should the industry do?

Unless you’ve been in hiding, you will have noticed that a big news theme of 2019 has been climate change. The messages of David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion are being reported and heard loud and clear, from calls to eliminate plastic pollution to encouraging more eco-friendly transport. Ignoring the issues of travel and the climate emergency, by burying our heads in the sand or only paying lip-service to concerns about the planet is no longer an option. It’s time for all travel businesses to assess how they can contribute to a better future for the world. For one thing, it’s what customers are increasingly asking for.

In this year’s ABTA Holiday Habits Report, 54% of travellers expressed concern about the impact of climate change in relation to travel, with young people aged between 25 and 34 even more concerned. Companies are increasingly considering the environmental and social impacts of their tourism products. Many are developing excursions which support local communities and work with local authorities to manage tourist flow. A growing number of operators are joining Travelife, which accredits travel providers who commit to sustainability. This is done by gradually complying with various standards. It’s worth a look, and isn’t expensive considering what you get in return, including training and instruction in how to reduce carbon footprint.

It doesn’t have to be all about doom and gloom. People aren’t suddenly going to stop going on holiday or travelling. Tourist demand can actually lead to positive change. Those travelling to beaches who find them covered in plastic rubbish, or visiting a seaside bar still serving plastic straws, can and do name and shame on social media. The more the message about travel and the climate emergency is heard and spread, the quicker the change. Many changes can be quick to implement. Swapping suppliers to eco-friendly companies is straightforward, for example.

We don’t think it’s realistic to suggest that all flights will come to a halt. Of course, aviation is an issue in the climate change debate. But offsetting carbon emissions is part of the solution as are alternative forms of transport. Tourist-led train travel is seeing a boom, as is cruising, though some cruising companies are much more sustainably run than others. (Have a look at our recent cruising blog, here.) But we do encourage each and every tourism business to change the way they operate to make positive changes. Showing you’re concerned by making active changes is a badge of honour.

Another way destinations are choosing to manage the problem of too many tourists, which in turn leads to over consumption, is through tourist taxes. Japan and New Zealand have introduced tourist taxes this year, and many global cities are thinking about following suit. Venice charges an entry fee for day-visitors and Edinburgh is waiting for legislation to do the same, although there is a debate about how those taxes are spent. Even simple solutions such as park and ride – a not-so-new idea, help tackle pollution and make cities and the planet more sustainable. This Travel Weekly article suggests it’s a good way forward, and we agree. The move towards electric vehicles is also being picked up by progressive car hire companies. Why not make hiring electric on your next trip your first change as a travel consumer?

In a scientific paper called The Carbon Footprint of Global Tourism, lead researcher, Professor Manfred Lenzen from the University of Sydney, says that holidaymakers should take steps to make sure their travel does less harm to the planet. He opts for investing in forestation, rather than just hoping for the best and doing household recycling. He offsets his carbon footprint each time he flies. In an article for the Independent, he says, ‘If I flew from Melbourne to the UK return, I would pay at least an additional $425 (£240) to offset my emissions; for a return trip between Sydney and Brisbane, about $45 (£25) extra.’ We may be some way off all tourists opting themselves into such schemes, but the travel industry needs to find ways of offering tourists ways of offsetting their carbon at the point of purchase.

Don’t look away, let’s try and find solutions to the problems of travel and the climate emergency as an industry and as travellers ourselves.

Join the debate by commenting over on our LinkedIn page.