Sustainability has moved way beyond phasing out plastic straws. Francisca Kellett, the travel journalist and founder of Mundi & Co, looks at five key movements shaking up the travel industry right now.
- Slow travel
If there is one thing we’ve learnt during the pandemic, it’s the benefits of slowing down, of taking our time. Travel is no different, and the red tape now often associated with it means that spending longer in a destination makes total sense – to make the most of our time away.
This goes hand-in-hand with a new-found interest in “authentic” experiences, whether that’s meeting local insiders or discovering off-the-beaten-track gems. Spending longer in a destination can also have the added benefit of ensuring that tourist dollars filter down into the community, rather than going straight into the pockets of multinationals.
Another strand of slow travel is, of course, the actual journey – opting to travel by train, car, boat or even bike instead of flying. Not only can the journey be more enjoyable, but the effect on a holiday’s carbon emissions are substantial: taking the train to Madrid, for example, emits around 43kg of CO2 per passenger, compared to 118kg by plane. New operators such as Byway.travel are springing up in response, offering flight-free holidays around the UK and to Europe.
- New tech in aviation
You can’t talk about sustainability without talking about aviation, and given that it accounts for 80 per cent of a holiday’s carbon footprint – and contributes towards 2.5 per cent of global carbon emissions – it’s high time the industry stepped up. Last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) took a big step in committing to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, using a variety of measures including investing in sustainable aviation fuel, carbon capture and zero-emissions power sources. Some airlines have also committed to offsetting all flights for passengers, although that has not been without controversy (see Offsetting, below) and is certainly not the answer.
New technology, however, just might be – hence the investment in hydrogen-powered planes, for example. Start-up ZeroAvia ran the world’s first zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell test flight last year. Backed by British Airways, it aims to have a 50-seater in the air within five years. Airbus, meanwhile, is planning to build the first commercial airliners that run on hydrogen, which could be in operation by 2030.
- Carbon offsetting 2.0
One quick win seen as “ethical” for many years has been carbon offsetting – paying an extra levy to buy carbon credits, which are then used to remove the equivalent carbon emissions through projects such as tree-planting, forest protection or distributing energy-efficient stoves and lighting.
The travel industry has leapt on the idea. EasyJet, for example, now offsets all its flights, as do various tour operators, such as Original Travel, and luxury hotels, including Soneva Fushi in the Maldives. But carbon offsetting is not without its controversies. Quantifying the carbon benefits of projects can be difficult, making the system unreliable, and some sustainability experts regard it as a distraction that only encourages people to fly more. The British tour operator Responsible Travel ditched offsetting in 2009, citing the belief that it gives travellers a free pass to fly as much as they want.
Even the aviation industry acknowledges that offsetting can only be an interim measure. In my view, it’s better than nothing (especially when combined with flying less) – but be sure to pick a reliable offsetting tool, such as southpole.com.
- Going zero waste
Did you know that food is the second-largest contributor to a holiday’s carbon footprint? Just think of those self-serve buffets, plates piled high and then left, half-eaten, for most of it to go in the bin.
Hotels are catching on, with new initiatives being brought in to tackle waste. Raithwaite Sandsend, a Mundi & Co client, has introduced a new zero-waste dining ethos, including using byproducts on menus, sourcing 80 per cent of produce within a 30-mile radius, and creating in-house filtered still and fizzy water to reduce drinks waste. At the Constance Ephelia in the Seychelles, they’ve found that by introducing food servers at the buffets – rather than letting guests help themselves – the resort has reduced food waste by 60 per cent. Even taking into account the costs of hiring additional staff, this has led to financial savings.
Red Carnation, meanwhile, uses an AI-enabled measurement tool that photographs and weighs surplus food as it is thrown away, providing reports on what is being discarded. The hotels’ teams can then more accurately adjust their purchasing, thereby reducing waste and, crucially, reducing spend.
Brands such as COMO, including the pictured COMO Parrot Cay are significantly reducing their waste outputs across the board and growing their own produce on site
Another silver lining of the past 18 months is that companies have realised that collaboration can be far more effective than competition. Google, for example, recently announced that it was joining Travalyst, a global sustainable travel coalition founded by Booking.com, Tripadvisor, Trip.com, Flightscanner and Visa to offer environmental ratings. Launched by Prince Harry two years ago, Travalyst aims to provide transparent reporting and easy-to-use eco-labels which allow travellers to make better choices. So when you search for a hotel or flight, you’ll be able to compare the carbon emissions of different routes and see if a hotel is sustainable.
COP26, the United Nations climate change conference, also saw a big advancement in collaboration with the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism. The declaration was signed by more than 300 travel organisations and hotel groups, including Accor and destinations ranging from Scotland to Barbados, with signatories committing to halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050. One of the key players is Intrepid, which has also launched a free open-source carbon measurement toolkit. The guide, produced in partnership with industry decarbonisation collective Tourism Declares A climate Emergency, helps tour operators to decarbonise their operations in line with a 1.5C future.
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