WTM London: Covid-19 drives sustainability to the top of the agenda
As world leaders gather in Glasgow for COP26, research published at the UK event reaffirms that travel industry executives remain committed to the environment
This year's COP26 agenda will set a 2030 reduction target that will help achieve net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. Nations and private sector partners will also discuss how to protect communities and natural habitats. WTM London has been at the forefront of responsible and sustainable tourism for several years and has had a dedicated responsible tourism program at each event since 1994.
This year, the WTM Industry Report asked nearly 700 professionals from around the world, as well as 1,000 travelers from the UK, about their attitudes towards sustainability and the extent to which it influences their decision-making processes.
The responses from professionals suggest that the travel industry is taking its responsibilities seriously, not only to the natural environment, but to human civilization as well. More than one in four (27%) said sustainability was the number one priority, and a further 43% said it was in the top three.
About one in five (22%) is aware of the importance of sustainability, but does not rank it in the top three. Fewer than one in ten (7%) admitted that it was not currently part of their business thinking.
Senior industry executives also revealed that the pandemic has catapulted sustainability high on the agenda. Almost six in ten (59%) said that sustainability became the top priority during the pandemic, with one in four adding that it was and remained the top priority before the outbreak.
Over the years, WTM London and its responsible tourism partners have been instrumental in ensuring that the conversation about sustainable and responsible tourism extends beyond the climate emergency and includes equal opportunities in the workplace, wages and decent conditions, health, education, empowerment of girls, reduction of inequalities and more.
For example, WTM founded Just a Drop in 1998, a charity dedicated to bringing clean water and sanitation to communities in need and which has helped nearly two million people around the world.
However, the impact of travel on the planet is often framed exclusively by greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. Carbon offsetting is one mechanism to address this: Travelers and suppliers have the opportunity to donate cash to organizations that will spend the money on projects that will offset the emissions from their flight. However, carbon offsetting is not without its critics and travelers themselves, as well as some environmental activists, remain to be convinced.
Responses from over 1,000 British travelers to the WTM Industry Report revealed that four in ten claim to have used carbon offset: 8% said it offset every flight and 15% did so most of the time, 16% sometimes. Given that one in three actively refuse to compensate flights when offered the opportunity to do so, the net result is slightly positive to compensate.
However, the remaining 24% responded that they did not even know what carbon offsetting means, suggesting that individual companies and the travel industry in general should communicate carbon offset theory and practice more clearly. Airlines, aggregators, retail and online agents also have a role to play in interacting with travelers.
At the corporate level, there are some executives who also revealed a lack of awareness related to sustainability. Many companies from different industries have signed up to the United Nations Race to Zero campaign, committing to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
The World Travel and Tourism Council will officially launch its Net Zero Roadmap at COP26. This industry roadmap, gently released in early September, will include tailored frameworks for specific parts of the travel and tourism ecosystem, to help accelerate your climate commitments and emissions reduction schedule.
But when WTM London asked professionals if their own business had a formal “carbon cut” strategy, more than one in four (26%) could not say whether such a policy existed. More than one in three (37%) said there was no policy in place.
The remaining 36% acknowledged that there was a policy in place, but only 26% actually implemented it. One in ten travel executives admitted that their employer had a carbon reduction policy in place, which they did not implement.
Despite this mixed picture, executives seem to think that travel is outperforming other industries when it comes to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Almost 40% said that travel works better than other sectors and only 21% think otherwise. About one in four (23%) consider travel efforts comparable to other sectors, and 18% of the sample are unsure how they are doing.
Simon Press, Exhibition Director for WTM London, said: “While we are proud of WTM's decades-long efforts to lead the debate around sustainable and responsible tourism, we are not complacent. These findings show that we still have some way to get the industry to fully adhere to our vision of a sustainable and responsible tourism future.
“If anything, we have to scream even louder. The climate emergency is not going away and the need to stop global warming is fundamental. But the travel industry must also be active in promoting diversity, inclusion and economic benefits if we want the traveling public, governments and regulators to see travel and tourism as a force for good, rather than something that must be objective and taxed. "
WTM London takes place over three days (Monday 1 - Wednesday 3 November) at ExCeL - London. WTM World Responsible Tourism Day is November 3.