Sustainability was the key theme for the first day of World Travel Market London, as travel experts, ministers, destinations, tourism firms and airlines gathered at the event running from November 7-9 at the ExCeL exhibition centre.
Other themes for panellists included accessible travel, how technology can improve the experience for travellers, diversity and inclusion – and how responsible tourism is good for business.
The industry needs to come together and work towards standard science-based targets, sharing best practice, delegates were told during sessions dedicated to sustainability, said experts.
Shannon Guihan, Chief Sustainability Officer for The Travel Corporation, which incorporates 40 brands, stressed success in carbon reduction should not be seen as a competitive advantage for individual companies but rather “something we need to do together as an industry”.
EasyJet Sustainability Director Jane Ashton said the airline is putting details of how it is meeting decarbonisation targets into the public domain and urged more airlines to do so.
Speakers on the ‘Landscape of Travel in 2030 and Beyond’ panel agreed sustainability is the key travel trend for the 2020s.
Fahd Hamidaddin, Chief Executive at the Saudi Tourism Authority, said climate change has been “factored into” the destination’s 2030 vision.
Peter Krueger, Chief Strategy Officer at TUI AG, highlighted how tourism is a “force for good,”, acting as a “value transfer from wealthy countries to less developed destinations”.
Julia Simpson, President and Chief Executive at the World Travel and Tourism Council, highlighted the importance of investing in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and writer Simon Calder said: “We will appreciate the value that travel brings to the world and to ourselves…spending money on places interested in sustainability and tackling overtourism, and whose human rights record we respect.”
More travellers in the future will be able to pay for their holidays with cryptocurrency, according to futurist Rohit Talwar at World Travel Market London. He also urged travel companies to consider developing experiences in the metaverse to cater for younger people and new audiences.
Sustainability was another issue for businesses. He urged them to see it as “an investment for the future”, not a cost.
Explorer and TV documentary maker Levison Wood – who has visited 120 countries over the past two decades – told delegates about his many adventures.
He talked about going off the beaten track in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, and how he is now highlighting the need to protect wildlife in destinations that he visits, such as the elephants of Botswana.
“The travel industry plays such a huge part in bridging communities,” he told the audience. “We are all ambassadors; we have a duty to show what the world can be like.”
More CEOs are pushing responsible tourism towards the top of their agendas – underlining its increasing importance in business decisions, delegates heard.
Charlotte Wwiebe, Group Sustainability Director at TUI Group, said new CEO Sebastian Ebel puts sustainability in his top-three most important objectives.
And Tasha Hayes, Operations Director and Sustainability Officer at Contiki, said her CEO, Adam Armstrong, “sits on every sustainability call”.
Meanwhile, Claire Whitely, Head of Environment at the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, said big brands are moving away from standardised guest experiences, with hotel chains incorporating local culture and artwork.
Carol Rose, Senior Sustainability Manager at ABTA, said research by the association showed that 41% say they would choose one company over another if the company had sustainable credentials.
Delegates also heard how there is a growing consumer demand for responsible travel.
Danielle D’Silva, Head of Sustainability for Booking.com, said demand is growing across all markets. Research carried out by Booking.com reveals 81% say responsible travel is important, 71% want to travel sustainably in the next 12 months – an increase of 10% on last year.
Empowering local people is key to helping tourism in the Asia-Pacific region to recover in a sustainable way.
A panel brought together by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), heard from the tourism ministers of India and the Maldives – Arvind Singh and Abdulla Mausoom – plus PATA Chief Executive Liz Ortiguera, Eric Ricaurte, Founder of hospitality consultancy Greenview, and Marga Nograles, Chief Operating Officer at the Philippines Tourism Promotions Board.
Ortiguera highlighted research showing sustainability is important to most travellers in the region, and how PATA is supporting destinations to train staff in sustainable planning.
Mausoom said Maldives aims to be the most sustainable destination in the world and is also making the islands more accessible to disabled travellers.
Singh said the Indian government is supporting initiatives such as homestay tourism, which helps boost local employment and producers.
Tourist destinations can learn from the wellness industry and should become more aligned to its principles post-Covid, a WTM London session heard.
Professor Terry Stevens, Managing Director of Stevens & Associates, said tourism has to benefit the whole community, just as wellness benefited the ‘whole’ person.
He cited the case of Mali Losinj, Croatia, where a tourism tax paid for local students’ university education to encourage them to return to their birthplace and start a business.
Anne Dimon, Wellness Tourism Association President and Chief Executive, said: “People need to feel their tourism dollar is going to the local community,”, adding that a selection of ‘clean eating’ restaurants, with local produce was a must.
Fledgling travel brands were urged by an expert panel to put product before technology – but to quickly embrace the latter.
Jono Vernon-Powell, Founder of Nomadic Thoughts, said start-up brands needed to remember that travel had “the best product on the planet” and Josh Ryan-Saha, Director, Traveltech for Scotland, said most businesses brought in a chief technology officer to build systems once the company was up and running.
The panel told how Barrhead Travel had undertaken three years’ worth of IT development in one year during lockdown, with a digital presence now a must for any travel brand.
Travel is a major part of world GDP, but woefully under-represented at the global top table, a panel at WTM London heard.
Paul Charles, Chief Executive of The PC Agency, said: “In the UK, [travel and tourism] puts £80 billion into the economy. Travel and tourism is 10% of global GDP and where it needs to start is at G20 level.”
The Chief Operating Officer of TUI Airline described summer 2022 as the most difficult in three decades.
Dawn Wilson said: “For our people in the aviation industry, they didn’t set out to fail. I saw a huge amount of resilience trying to keep everything going. The last thing we wanted to do was to delay the start or finish of someone’s holiday – they have saved up a lot for that.”
For the first time, The BIG Airline Session had an all-female panel, with Lynne Embleton, CEO of Aer Lingus, and Wizz Air UK Managing Director Marion Geoffroy.
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