ABTA takes the responsible approach

by Steve Hartridge

The challenge of adopting more sustainable and responsible tourism practices across the travel sector was one of the key themes of this year’s ABTA Travel Convention in Tokyo (October 7-9).

Under the conference tagline ‘Brave New World’, a succession of speakers addressed the role travel plays in climate change and the urgent need for the industry to come together to find long-term solutions.

Delegates were told that the sector’s carbon imprint was unsustainable and it has to move more urgently in response to customer demands for cleaner and more ethical holiday choices - although most speakers admitted there was no easy quick fix.

ABTA Chief Executive Mark Tanzer – without noting the irony of hosting a conference in a destination that required an 11-hour flight to reach - said the industry was working to improve travel’s social and environmental footprint challenge but admitted the long-term health of the industry would depend on how it addressed the carbon challenge.

During his opening remarks he told delegates that a ‘middle ground’ needed to be found where customers can continue to travel without shame and the industry can be confident it is doing good”.

He urged the government to find funds to invest in researching technology such as new bio-fuels but said he would not welcome any additional taxes on flying.

However Tim Williamson, Customer Director at Responsible Travel took a different stance and called for the introduction of a green flying duty.

He pointed out that if aviation were a country it would be the seventh largest emitter of CO2 in he world, just behind Germany.

He noted that just 15% of people in the UK account for 70% of flights while 1% take 20% of flights and said the extra tax was needed as “serious amounts of money is needed to research synthetic fuels and renewable energy sources”.

He also called on the government to make aviation tax fairer by including private jets which he said “are amazingly immune from APD and other taxes,” and said the rail industry, which is a cleaner travel option, deserved more tax breaks.

“I am not anti-flying. I run a travel business,” he said, adding that millions of people around the world rely on tourism. For them tourism is not a luxury item it is a lifeline.

“But I can’t sugar coat this… consumers need to fly less, be charged more for those flights and pay a tax on those flights. I know these are uncomfortable truths for the travel industry,” he said.

Writer and broadcaster Gabrielle Walker (pictured) said global warming was ‘putting the planet on steroids and destroying its natural resources.’

“It is probably already too late to save Australia’s Great Barrier Reef,” she said.

Climate change was already affecting consumer choices as risk-related factors such as the likelihood of a major storm or flood are now increasingly being taken into account when choosing a holiday destination, she added.

“Aviation is the big elephant in the room….it is perhaps time for flight shame and train brag,” she said.

Whilst noting KLM’s ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign, which encourages travellers and the aviation industry to share responsibility for minimising the impact of flying, and easyJet’s plan for pledging to fly electric aircraft by 2027, she said more needed to be done before these changes become a reality.

“Measures like these and the advance of biofuels promise much but can’t provide the whole answer,” she added. “The industry needs to come together now to find the more of the right solutions."

“It’s not enough to just stop using plastic straws and think it is OK and job done,” she added.

Patrick Marsden, Head of Travel for MaCher, a company that partners with brands to help them put in place responsibly sourced products, said those in travel are ‘becoming the bad guys’.

“Our impact on the on environment is being questioned like never before. Companies must make meaningful changes or people will abandon them for those that are,” he said.

“Those in the travel industry must be willing to help each other, even their competitors. We will all win, in the eyes of our customers, by sharing best practices.”


Go back