WiT Singapore 2022: Sustainable travel hits the spotlight

It was present in several discussions and even at the top of a one-off poll among Web In Travel 2022 attendees Luke Clark from CP5 writes, sustainability could assert itself as a tangible and measurable quality feature for the travel industry.

With the global pandemic happily being placed right behind the scenes, a burgeoning storm around sustainable travel is something the travel industry is not just giving its concerted attention to – it seems to be rallying its troops for a more meaningful dialogue with the traveling public.

Danielle D’Silva, Head of Sustainability at Booking.com, has been the face of this strain for her company since February 2022. “It’s about facilitating sustainable travel for our consumers, facilitating those choices in ways that have the greatest impact,” she notes. “And then it’s about working together to really drive that sustainable travel growth. We don’t just want a sustainable platform – we actually want a sustainable industry.”

Elsewhere, those who coordinate business travel for large corporations are putting sustainability high on their global agenda and setting tough targets for carbon reduction – including capping the number of people attending events. “Ultimately, we’re trying to drive behavior change here,” said Brenda Quek, associate director of travel, meetings and events program for Asia Pacific and director of engagement at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP.

According to Quek, this includes working with travel approvers to help them make informed decisions — including removing day trips by air from their travel policies and using rail travel over air wherever possible. Being more vigilant also includes tracking the number of participants in a single meeting and comparing it to the virtual participants.

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Elsewhere, numerous organizations follow suit when it comes to travel policies. The University of Oxford in the UK is aiming for a 20% air travel reduction target by 2025, opting for non-first class rail travel whenever possible and proposing an air fare of GB30 (US$34) per tonne of carbon used.

Hoteliers are now increasingly concerned with managing and articulating the tangible performance improvements they are making onsite today.

“You can only control what you can control,” says Marcus Hanna, Managing Director of Fairmont & Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore. “In our complex we have an aquaponic farm where we grow fish and vegetables. It’s great to say to a corporate client, ‘Please know that your green leaves that you are eating in your conference today have grown to level five.’” Filtered water has since been introduced in the hotel’s south tower and convention center, while motion sensors Built-in rooms help shut off power when there’s no movement, and an eco-waste system in kitchens helps turn food waste into compost.

“We need to focus on what we do best – and make sure we’re doing it better than our competitors to ensure we’re the first choice for this traveler.”

Of course, while the frequency of travel can be impacted by being more vigilant about unnecessary carbon consumption, the depth of the experience could certainly be improved. “Our focus is on getting people to stay longer,” says Andrew Dixon, owner of Nikoi and Cempedak Island resorts. “The guest consumes three times as much CO2 on the short boat trip to our island as for the entire stay on the property.”

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In the meantime, further improvements are needed in the area of ​​meetings and congresses, particularly as far as definitions are concerned. “It’s not easy to understand how we define sustainability meetings and events – and for that we need a lot of support from suppliers,” says Quek.

“We’re conducting an event audit on Web In Travel,” notes Yeoh Siew Hoon, founder of WiT. “The process is not easy: it is complicated and there are some meetings. But we have good partners.” Yeoh said WiT has been collaborating with its 2021 Startup of the Year, Thrust Carbon and Marina Bay Sands, and will present its findings on the second day of the event.

Asked if the travel industry is doing enough, Booking.com’s D’Silva believes that while there’s still a long way to go on both the supply side and the consumer side, the urgency of the conversation is finally here.

“I saw that every panel today was talking about sustainability – that’s a huge development compared to a few years ago,” she says. “Awareness seems to be rising, and there’s really intent behind what we’re working on.”

However, some still seem to lack a concerted focus on immediate and concrete action. “I don’t think we’re doing nearly enough,” says Dixon. “There is too much marketing for what people are up to – and still very little local action.” When asked about the best low hanging fruit action for the travel industry to prioritize, his answer was simple. “Turn off the air conditioning,” says Dixon. “There are so many simple things that can be done.”

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While government regulation of the industry is inevitable, D’Silva says that if done responsibly, it can help provide the industry with guard rails for its much-needed development – and help consumers trust the sustainability claims being made.

Staying one step ahead of this regulation can be a crucial step for the industry. In November 2021, the Travalyst Coalition was launched, a sustainable travel badge that its partners hope can become a credible and globally relevant sustainability effort to help global travelers make better-informed choices. Along with founding partner Booking.com, the coalition supported by the Duke of Sussex now includes Skyscanner, TripAdvisor, Trip.com, Visa, Google and Expedia Group.

“What we have to do is work together. And the Travalyst Coalition is a really good example,” says D’Silva. “The goal was to set industry standards and definitions that would ultimately help those who wanted to make informed choices for more responsible travel.”

“The idea is that we can really shape this industry together, inform regulations and make sure we have a common definition of sustainable travel – it’s something that’s clear across the industry,” notes D’Silva. “Different definitions, different methods do not make it any easier – we must have a clear approach and move forward together in lockstep.”

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