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Travel and Climate Emergency: Lots of Talk but Not Enough Action

10/25/2021
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Travel and tourism businesses are much more exposed to climate change than those in other industries, given that the travel experience takes places in local destinations, often emerging countries with fragile ecosystems that are prone to climatic events and natural disasters. Coastal destinations are especially vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events. Hence, two thirds of travel companies deem climate impacts as being a significant reason to develop business resilience.

Travel and tourism is also a major source of carbon emissions, a cross it must bear, where the industry is considered to account from 5% to 8% of emissions. It could be even higher, given that international aviation sits outside of the Paris Agreement.

Some progress in sustainability, but greater engagement needed

Travel businesses, however, are not as driven by sustainability as those in other industries, such as packaging, retail or fashion. 58% of travel business respondents adopt strategies that put social, environmental and economic concerns at their heart, compared with an all-industry average of 66%.

Some progress is evident, whereby 53% of travel companies ensure that sustainability features and initiatives are incorporated in NPD launches, up nearly 10% over 2020-2021. Nevertheless, the level of investment in innovation and R&D remains below-average. The number of travel businesses driven by purpose also remains below the industry average, yet markedly improved over 2020-2021, jumping almost 10 percentage points to 47%.imagefaskg.pngSource: Voice of the Industry: Sustainability Survey
Note: Fielded in June 2021

Climate action ramped up

In 2021, the sheer number of travel companies that jumped onto engaging with climate action SDG13 increased sharply, by 10 percentage points, to reach 58% of travel businesses, giving greater focus to climate action to mitigate negative impacts on the environment.

The phenomenal drop in international tourism spending, of 75%, was painful especially for emerging countries and those destinations heavily reliant on tourism revenues for jobs and opportunities. Embracing climate action is a key vehicle for recovery, working in partnership with local Destination Marketing/Management Organisations (DMOs) and communities to ensure a safe and sustainable reopening to protect the environment in destinations, and biodiversity where tourism relies heavily on cultural and natural assets.

imagebku5.pngSource: Voice of the Industry: Sustainability Survey
Note: Fielded in June 2020 and June 2021

More “blah, blah, blah” than action

Despite travel and tourism showing high levels of awareness, with 80% of travel executives stating that climate action is very or extremely important to their business, the industry performs less well compared with others in implementing strategies to achieve net zero emissions. Only 7% of travel businesses have a net zero carbon strategy currently in place. This is low compared with other industries, such as finance and automotive, whose words seem to be more aligned with their actions.

It is imperative that travel and tourism moves beyond mere words and awareness to walk the talk when it comes to climate action, with tangible strategies aligned with the 1.5°C pathway, just as Greta Thunberg called out, “there is still too much blah, blah, blah”.

Where style is often chosen over substance, there is acceptance that more must be done to accelerate a sustainable transformation, with 72% of travel businesses acknowledging that they could improve their sustainability initiatives.

Of those companies that are implementing sustainability strategies, there is a strong communication element, where 70% communicate these to customers, and over half (51%) use storytelling and compelling messaging, whilst 24% use social media influencers, above the industry average of 17%.

image5qfkn.pngSource: Voice of the Industry: Sustainability Survey
Note: Fielded in June 2021

High hopes for COP

Scotland, one of the four nations of the UK, is playing host to the much-anticipated United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the follow-up to the Paris Agreement.

The stakes could not be higher to tackle global warming, with only nine years before the 2030 target for hitting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As host, Scotland’s national tourism organisation, VisitScotland, was the first country to declare a climate emergency.

Together with Tourism Declares, The Travel Foundation, VisitScotland and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism will officially be launched. The declaration aims to stimulate decarbonisation, embrace science-based targets and carbon removal, given that transport carbon emissions from tourism are forecast to see an increase of 25% by 2030, compared with 2016 levels.

The declaration will sit within the One Planet vision for responsible recovery post COVID-19 and the United Nations Sustainable Development framework to promote the regeneration of ecosystems, biodiversity and communities, for a resilient and robust recovery.

Decarbonising tourism is critical and involves the measurement and disclosure of CO2 emissions by the industry, accelerating the switch to net zero and encouraging travel businesses to engage with carbon removal. There is much ground to be covered, where only 10% of travel businesses undertake carbon capture, while less than one third (32%) offset their emissions. Harnessing the power of partnership, there are high hopes that COP26 will be the catalyst for positive change on the path to net zero.

Read about Euromonitor International's new travel innovation research by downloading Travel Rewired: Innovation Strategies for a Resilient Recovery

For further information, please contact Caroline Bremner, Senior Industry Manager – Travel, on caroline.bremner@euromonitor.com

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