There’s little debate over the fact that sustainability has moved up the agenda for travel suppliers of all types – driven both by regular reports about climate change and by feedback from consumers that the environmental impact of their travel does weigh on their minds.
But as the industry tries to tackle the question of how to make itself more “green,” one question being debated is what will be the impetus for real change – not just in the form of offsetting carbon but in actually reducing the carbon footprint of travel?
During a discussion at Travelport’s “Future of Retail” customer event in Dubai, panelists agreed the stimulus to move the industry toward greater sustainability will come from the corporate travel sector first.
The logic is simple. Many large corporations have committed to strict carbon reduction guidelines that have a direct connection to their travel activities, such as Microsoft which earlier this month restructured its internal carbon fee on business travel to incentivize more aggressive steps to reduce emissions.
John Bevan, divisional senior vice president at Dnata Travel Group, says these commitments mean companies such as his have to figure out how to provide meaningful climate impact data to their corporate clients.
“They have huge targets, very fast targets to net zero. They want to know what is the least impact route to go from A to B. Once we’ve cracked that and have reliable data, then that will automatically appear in leisure and influence leisure travelers,” Bevan says.
“So I think through necessity and through setting strict targets, the corporate businesses are putting pressure on us.”
Nicole Sautter, manager of global sustainability for American Express Global Business Travel, says large corporations can also stimulate progress on sustainability by using their size and influence to spur change. For example, Sautter says on the question of sustainable aviation fuel, it’s not just a matter of stimulating demand for it, but also supply – which she says is lacking.
“It would only take a few decision makers [in business travel] to make a decision to invest in sustainable aviation fuel to send a market signal to producers,” she says.
And while many corporations are accelerating action on sustainability, Bevan says his informal survey of Dnata’s B2C entities finds that consumers are still not willing to pay for things such as carbon offsets.
That finding is backed up by a recent Phocuswright report based on a survey of more than 5,200 travelers in Europe. It found that while more than two-thirds are likely to fly less to reduce their carbon footprint, the majority of respondents are not willing to pay extra for sustainable flight measures.
Panelist Steve Barrass, CEO of TAG, says while carbon footprint reduction – not carbon offsetting – is the best solution, at a minimum “everybody should be doing something” – including individual leisure travelers.
“Is it going to cost more – yes. How will we deal with that cost? Some will be passed on to the customer, some providers are reducing margins … because it’s the right thing to do. And is it going to be less convenient – yes. But the price, I promise you that, is worth it,” he says.