On April 24, this report was edited to add companies’ environmental initiatives.
In the lead-up to this year’s Earth Day on April 22, the
travel industry highlighted some of its top sustainability goals, including a
determination to reduce its reliance on single-use plastic and a call for
travel companies to work toward the emission-reduction goals laid out in the
Paris climate accord, despite the fact that President Trump decided to pull out
of the agreement last year.
“Our industry is integral to the success of the Paris
Agreement,” Hilton Worldwide Holdings CEO Christopher Nassetta said last
week at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Buenos Aires. “And
so we’d like to call on all our member companies to embrace the Paris Agreement
and incorporate its objectives by establishing carbon-reduction targets for
your own businesses.”
The Paris climate pact, established in 2015, set
multinational goals to move to greener energy sources, reduce emissions and
limit the rise of global temperatures.
Indeed, in an era when the Trump administration has not only
pulled out of the Paris pact but has encouraged the Environmental Protection
Agency to roll back regulations and enforcement, the concern for this Earth Day
is how to keep the travel industry on course with the sustainability goals it
must implement to protect the destinations it sells.
Elizabeth Becker, author of “Overbooked,” which
delves into the travel industry’s impact on global economies and the
environment, said that “the average company does not have [sustainable
travel measures] baked in as a top priority. No, they don’t.”
Becker said she was concerned there could be a slip in some
of the progress that has been made in sustainable travel due to the lack of
oversight and enforcement under the Trump administration.
In the current climate, however, it also appears that some
players in the travel industry have a strengthened sense of determination to do
better by the environment in an effort to somehow compensate for the
Casey Hanisko, president of the business services division
of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), said, “There is a
heightened awareness of the need to maintain a passionate approach to making
sure that, with the power of the industry, we’re moving the needle.”
The ATTA teamed up with Travelers Against Plastic earlier
this year to conduct a survey about travel companies’ use of single-use plastic
While 92% of the more than 500 respondents reported that
they are extremely concerned with the environmental impact of single-use
plastic bottles, 60% reported that their businesses still used them on all or
some of their trips, averaging two bottles per guest per day.
Christine Mackay, co-founder of Travelers Against Plastic
and the founder and executive director of the tour company Crooked Trails, has
for the past 15 years been requiring Crooked Trails guests to purify their own
water using a SteriPEN or similar portable water purification system. Four
years ago, fed up with the number of plastic bottles defacing tourist sites,
she decided she needed to help other travel companies and travelers get
“Everyone is realizing, ‘Oh my God! We’ve surrounded
ourselves in this crap that won’t go away,'” Mackay said
Nevertheless, she admitted that completely eliminating
plastic water bottles in the travel industry is a long shot.
“To see locations where you’re not going to see any
more plastic water bottles on the beaches or in the rivers and along the sides
of the road, we’re a ways off from that,” she said. “What we’re
really doing right now is we’re trying to build momentum.”
A certain degree of momentum does appear to be building.
With this year’s official Earth Day campaign focused on ending plastics
pollution, Iberostar Group last week announced that its more than 110 hotels
would be free of single-use plastics by 2019. The initiative will start with
its 36 properties in Spain this summer.
One big wake-up call for the industry was the news earlier
this month that the popular Philippines tourism destination Boracay Island
would be closed to tourists for six months beginning April 26 so that beaches
and waters polluted by tourism-related overdevelopment could be cleaned.
Among those sounding an alarm was Trafalgar CEO Gavin
Tollman, who outlined some of the changes he feels the industry needs to
embrace in order to save itself.
“When [Philippines president Rodrigo] Duterte made the
decision to really shut a destination down to tourism, it scared me,”
Tollman said. “It’s about taking action now before anything can become
He said travel companies, including his own, need to be
willing to change the ways things have been done. That includes working to get
tourists off the beaten path to reduce the crush on destinations that are
experiencing overtourism and bring tourism dollars to communities that have not
traditionally benefited from the industry.
He suggested spreading out the travel seasons more and
working to get travelers to head out more during the off-season and not just
the crowded high seasons.
Tollman said that Trafalgar, too, is looking at ways to
reduce its distribution of single-use plastic bottles. Also, it is offering
things like e-documents this year, in lieu of paper documents.
Other travel companies vow to do their part
Travel companies have issued plans and promises for
reducing emissions and single-use plastics, and outlined their commitments to
sustainability and the environment. Here are examples:
• Hotel-casino resort operator MGM Resorts International,
which boasts the country’s largest contiguous rooftop solar array atop the Mandalay
Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, said Thursday that it’s investing in a
100-megawatt solar array that will be built on a 640-acre site 25 miles north
of the city by the end of 2020. MGM, which is partnering with Chicago-based
Invenergy on the project, says the array will be used to power its 13 Las Vegas
Strip properties and will produce enough energy to power the equivalent of
• Intrepid Travel introduced a series of trips that include
more “human-powered” experiences such as a walking safari in South
Africa, walking expeditions in Morocco and Djibouti, as well as several cycling
tours. The tour operator offsets its trips by investing in renewable energy
projects but the company said offsetting isn’t enough. “It’s nearly
impossible to eliminate all vehicle transportation and activities that require
machine power from our trips, but it’s important for us to minimize our output
whenever possible,” the company said.
• Virtuoso this month released the results of its 2018
Virtuoso Luxe Report that focused on sustainability, in which advisors noted
which aspects of sustainable tourism are most important to their clients and
thus that they are committed to selling as well. They include reducing plastic
waste, protecting wildlife, eating local foods and supporting local farmers,
staying at green hotels and conserving coral reefs. “As travelers, our choice
makes a big difference when we reward those businesses that are committed to a
more sustainable future right now with our hard-earned cash,” said Costas
Christ, Virtuoso’s global strategist, sustainability.
• For Earth Day 2018, The Travel Corporation vowed to commit
a portion of its profits to its TreadRight Wildlife Initiative, one of the tour
conglomerate’s philanthropic endeavors that provides funding to a big cat
conservation project in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
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