Travel leaders and consumers claim they take sustainability and responsible tourism seriously, but new research shows many are talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Research released by World Travel Market – timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow – reveals sustainability practices that exist but aren’t implemented by travel companies; confusion over company policy on issues such as carbon reduction; plus a significant proportion of consumers who say they don’t consider the environment at all when travelling.
The results have led WTM London Exhibition Director Simon Press to urge: “We need to shout even louder. The climate emergency is not going away and the need to stop the planet warming up is critical.
“The travel industry clearly has some way to go convince all customers of the need to start thinking more seriously about the environmental and sustainable impact of our trips.”
The 2021 WTM Industry Report shows 27% of global industry leaders state sustainability is their number-one priority, with a further 43% saying it is in the top three.
But when WTM London asked professionals about whether their own business had a formal carbon reduction strategy in place, 26% were unable to say if such a policy existed, with 37% saying there was no policy in place.
The remaining 36% acknowledged that there was a policy in place, but only 26% actually implemented it.
And one in 10 travel execs said their employer had a carbon reduction policy in place, which it did not implement.
Despite this mixed picture, executives seem to think that travel is outperforming other sectors when it comes to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly 40% said travel is doing better than other sectors.
Meanwhile, responses from more than 1,000 British travellers show that four in 10 claim to have used carbon offsetting – 8% said they offset every flight, with 15% doing so most of the time and 16% some of the time. One in three don’t offset when offered the chance to do so.
Shockingly, the remaining 24% replied that they did not even know what carbon offsetting means.
Nevertheless, three in four UK travellers claim the environment and sustainability is an important factor when choosing a trip.
The report found that 78% attached some level of importance to the environment and sustainability, with 18% saying it was extremely important and 23% saying it was quite important.
But the most common response to the question saw 38% of Brits describe these issues as ‘somewhat important’.
On the other hand, there remains a hardcore of British travellers who remain unconvinced, with 16% dismissing sustainability as not very important and 7% saying not at all.
And 15% said they do not consider the environment at all when travelling.
Mr Press added: “While we are proud of WTM’s decades-long efforts to lead the debate around sustainable and responsible tourism, we are not complacent. These findings show that we still have some way to get the industry fully on board with our vision for a sustainable and responsible tourism future.
“COP 26, taking place at the same time as WTM London, will bring sustainability to the top of the news agenda, and the travel industry needs convert this interest into action.”
WTM London takes place over the next three days (Monday 1-Wednesday 3 November) at ExCeL, London. WTM World Responsible Tourism Day – the largest day of responsible tourism action in the world – is on Wednesday 3 November.