In the summer issue of The Ethical Corporation magazine we assess the challenges for the travel sector in meeting its promise to get onto a more sustainable flightpath as it zooms back to life after COVID 19

With the travel and tourism industry roaring back to life after going into hibernation due to COVID 19, we take a timely look at the state of sustainability in the sector in our summer issue.

We last featured travel and tourism in the magazine in January 2019, just before the pandemic took hold and the world went into lockdown. While many other sectors were able to shift to working online during the pandemic, travel and tourism fell off a cliff after two decades of surging growth, which saw international tourist arrivals hit 1.47 billion, a doubling since 2000.

As the industry cranks up again, the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC) has called for it to be rebuilt on a more sustainable and resilient model “that balances the needs of people, planet and prosperity with net-zero commitments and climate action playing a key role” in its recovery.

The sector’s climate footprint is substantial, accounting for 8%-11% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in 2019.  Accommodation comprises 21%, while 75% comes from transport. 

According to WTTC, 61% of global travellers say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably, and 69% expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable options.

In this edition of the magazine we check in with each part of the industry to assess how they are responding to the challenge of getting onto a sustainable growth path after two years of lack of revenue. 

Mark Hillsdon opens the issue by reporting on the hospitality sector, which has been slow out of the blocks in addressing its impacts in energy and water use and prodigious production of waste.  With the launch of the WTTC’s Hotel Sustainability Basics initiative, the idea is that no hotel, however small, is left behind in the push to introduce sustainability. He also looks at a bid to bring ‘regenerative’ tourism to the Red Sea.

(Credit: Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Angeli Mehta reports on the drive to turn tourism from prime threat into saviour of global biodiversity by channelling funds from the multi-billion-dollar industry into protecting nature. Nature tourism is already a big contributor to global GDP, generating $600 billion in income in 2015, but only 2% of that sum was invested in preserving nature, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

Book a flight for business or leisure these days, and you’ll likely be given the option of “carbon-neutral” travel by purchasing offsets. With criticisms of voluntary offsetting well-rehearsed, particularly in regards to its failure to account for the true social cost of carbon, Angeli Mehta reports on efforts to make the market more transparent, and deliver tangible benefits for nature and local communities. 

With business travel forecast to fully recover by 2024, Mike Scott asks whether companies will heed a campaign by U.S. and European NGO Environment & Transport to reduce corporate travel emissions by 50%, compared with 2019 levels. While one study found that tackling climate change is now the top priority for 88% of the business travel sector, only 14% think the industry is well advanced in adopting greener practices, like alternatives to air travel and taking fewer trips. 

He also reports on the tailwinds growing behind tackling aviation emissions. With sustainable aviation fuels in commercial quantities still more than a decade away, the sector is focusing on efficiency improvements and electrification.

And I look at the increasing use of private jets, despite all the net-zero rhetoric from the corporate sector, examining claims from some in the industry that offsetting and investment in sustainable aviation fuel can somehow justify this most climate-damaging form of travel.

We end the issue with a look at the cruise industry. Caroline Palmer reports that while the fastest-growing sector of the travel industry is vowing to clean up its outsized environmental and social impact, it faces some choppy seas ahead.


World Tourism and Travel Council  Coronavirus  pandemic  GHG emissions  Hotel Sustainability Basics initiative  cruise ships  aviation industry  biodiversity  carbon offsets  International Union for Conservation of Nature 

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