How can travel companies save the traditional summer holiday?

By Linsey McNeill
Home » How can travel companies save the traditional summer holiday?

In the week that TUI CEO Sebastian Ebel announced that the travel giant is looking at cooler alternatives to the Mediterranean for summer holidays, such as the Nordic region and the coasts of Belgium, Holland and Poland, brand expert Steph Thomas warned travel companies need to act fast to save the traditional summer getaway.

Referring to the recent wildfires in Greece and Portugal, and the first-person accounts of ‘ash raining down on sunloungers’ while families were forced to flee to beaches for safety, Steph said travellers are no longer be able to ‘look away’ and ignore the problem of sustainability.

“They may do more to trigger green behaviours than any government hectoring or legislation. Climate change has suddenly become personal. And it’s a more urgent problem for tourism than pretty much any other sector,” she said.

Damage caused by Rhodes wildfires

“And it’s only going to get worse. The canary down the mine, the European summer holiday, will have to rethink its decades-old formula much faster than anyone predicted, followed by the winter ski break and other popular options. 

“If mass tourism doesn’t start to take this stuff seriously, it’s game over, but for the mainstream travel brands, it’s hard to know what to do. Best practice is often the domain of smaller virtuous travel brands, who were born on the promise of driving responsible behaviour. Yet their efforts are a drop in the ocean compared to the impact of the industry giants; the airlines, the package holiday companies, the global car rental businesses, the hotel chains. 

“Travel that is marketed as responsible and ethical largely continues to be a niche, often the preserve of the reasonably well-off.  But there is the potential for inspiring and innovative challenger brands to influence change at a scale that is disproportionate to their size – we know this because we see it in other industries. 

“Ethical, ‘green’ travel brands exhibit some common behaviours which the behemoths of the industry could do well to study.  It might be easy to laugh these smaller players off as making a negligible impact, but what’s the alternative, to watch while Rome burns, quite literally? 

“Challenger traveller brands think about their purpose and their audiences in a way that might be alien to the big players in the sector, but there’s much to learn. The former have had to think of their brand narratives as less about selling and more about helping consumers believe that they can make a positive impact.”

Why travel needs to take Gen Z concerns seriously

Steph said the change is being driven quite significantly by Gen Z, who demand that brands are purpose-led and deliver a positive legacy. 

“And they have real financial heft – a combined spending power of $360 billion (and rapidly rising), which means travel companies need to listen to what they have to say.  

“No-one is asking travel brands to sacrifice profit in order to do good but rather to find a way for both to positively co-exist. Balancing commercial gain and communal gain; material purpose with a moral purpose; thinking different with doing different – in a way that is credible and accountable.”

And now for some good news…

Japan Airlines is showing that big players can behave like innovators, said Steph.

“Their minimalist approach to travel encourages passengers to rent their holiday wardrobes at their destination meaning minimal luggage is required. More luggage burns more fuel and air travel releases 8,000,000kg of CO2 into the atmosphere, with only 1% of us offsetting our emissions. 

“Others are moving us away from a colonialised view of the world to a more localised one, challenging notions of supremacy and pushing us towards harmony. Undiscovered Mountains provides sustainable activities-based holidays in the Alps. It only takes guests to areas where tourism has a positive impact on local communities and bolsters the local economy.  

“Responsible Travel makes a similar promise to support local communities and preserve nature. 

“B corp certified Intrepid Travel , a leader in responsible, ethical small group adventures for over 30 years sustains local communities and the planet. Another responsible travel pioneer is G Adventures, behaving as much ‘as a social enterprise as a small group travel company, benefitting and supporting local communities through small group travel’. 

“Further from home, Lokal is a platform committed to supporting livelihoods and protecting nature in Southeast Asia and Latin America. It is anti-traditional tourism which according to the UN gives only $5 of every $100 that is spent by international travellers back into local communities.”

Redefining the holiday and how we travel

“If the travel industry is to survive, every part of it needs to drive a huge shift in all of our psyches as to what a holiday is and what it means to travel,” added Steph.

“It’s a once in a generation opportunity to rethink what we do and how we do it. 

“But as the examples in this article have shown, the companies that are making a difference have a mindset that is about giving back, not entitlement. We all need to be thinking about an industry and an approach to travel that unlocks more for others. No one said it’s going to be easy, but it’s business and industry critical and there’s no room for fudging it.”

Steph Thomas is Brand Strategist at FreshBritain

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