Executives, marketeers and operations professionals are just some of the key personnel in hospitality that will do well to stay ahead of the conversation around sustainability. This is because the sustainability agenda represents both major opportunity and substantive threat, such that early movers are set to be rewarded.
Increased understanding of how climate change is already impacting communities and ecosystems has given rise to consumer pressure on organisations to do more, not least those in the travel sector.
A 2018 study that estimated tourism to account for 8% was widely reported, and over recent years, measures such as the closure of beaches in Southeast Asia to allow ecosystems to recover have also been high-profile. At the World Travel Market event in London this month, the rising position of sustainability on the list of industry priorities was reflected by everything from the events programme to the show’s zoning.
Apart from cultural trends towards greater travel within rich economies like those in Western Europe , rapid expansion of the global middle class will contribute substantially to growth in tourism over the next decade – according to a study referenced by the European Commission, the group will expand from 3.2 billion in 2016 to more than 5.3 billion by 2030.
So, if continued growth is inevitable and unsustainable, it is up to industry to find a way forward that makes business sense in the short term, acknowledging that a failure to act is likely storing up a larger cost for the future.
One way that innovative travel companies are harnessing this opportunity is to capture visitors who are actively looking for sustainable travel. Small-scale initiatives are many and varied, from a resort in Finland which offers guests the chance to reduce their bill by participating in eco-friendly activities to an initiative that has used fly fishing to both hook visitors and help restore local fish stocks.
While not all tourists will seek to make an active contribution to their destination, companies will need to be clear on their environmental efforts in order to protect market share as more visitors actively seek out responsible options. The fate of SeaWorld is a good cautionary tale for those who underestimate the power of proactive reputation management.
Sales, marketing and distribution professionals must also be aware of how their properties are presented by OTAs and agents. As Skyscanner begins to label flights for their CO2 emissions , it seems likely that other parts of the market will follow suit. With a highly competitive market, a differential that might be clearly listed in an online marketplace may well have sway in a close decision.
Governments are also quick to respond to changing public attitudes and while new legislation takes time to come into force, it is wise for businesses to expect new measures. Industries can often stave off aggressive regulation and burdensome reporting requirements by showing that they are both responsible and continually improving. Buy-in at the highest level of the company is needed to incorporate this into a business’s strategy.
Companies that seek a sustainable approach can often exchange a costly, last minute ‘compliance’ for proactive process-improvement which can often save money in the process. However, the more advanced this process gets, the more it requires operational change for the business itself and even its suppliers, who should also be expected to meet the organisation’s standards.
The willingness to do things differently, rather than tinker at the edges will be the difference between those who flourish in the new sustainable landscape and those who are left to catch up. The ability to view sustainability as an opportunity to improve rather than a burden, combined with the opportunity to protect the places and people that make travel valuable will ensure that in years to come, people retain the opportunity to be both international travellers and world citizens.