Focus on greenwashing ‘complicates messaging’, says Tui head of sustainability

Communicating with consumers on sustainability is becoming harder due to increasing scrutiny of the travel industry and environmental claims by regulatory authorities.

Tui Group head of sustainability Ian Corbett told Abta’s Delivering Sustainable Travel conference: “We’re being forced to use language that is not the easiest for customers to understand to comply with the regulations around ‘greenwashing’. It makes the communication challenge even harder.”

Corbett noted Tui, Jet2holidays, easyJet holidays, Booking.com and others now seek to label accommodation which has a sustainability certification. But he said: “We can’t use the terms ‘green’ or ‘fair’. Booking.com had to agree not to use a leaf and not to use green [to signify more-sustainable accommodation].”

He pointed out: “A lot of people use the word ‘sustainable’ but there is a lack of knowledge out there. When we surveyed customers, they said: “Can you make it really clear? [But] we can’t translate certification easily into a customer-friendly message.”

Corbett noted: “We offer [search] filters, but customers don’t tend to use filters even on price.”

Natalie Allard, head of communications at the Travalyst coalition, said: “Everyone is talking about sustainability, and with a lot of talk comes scrutiny. You can’t just say something is ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’, you have to back it up.”

Travalyst – which includes Booking, Expedia, Google, Skyscanner, Tripadvisor, Amadeus, Travelport and Sabre – is seeking to develop credible and clear sustainability messaging for consumers.

Allard said: “We’re trying to get information on sustainability in front of people before they book a flight or hotel. The scale of what we’re trying to do is huge and Travalyst is tiny – we have a team of 15. “We don’t want people to be too scared to talk about what they are doing, so regulation is a key issue. We don’t want combatting greenwashing to lead to ‘greenhushing’.”

Eleni Skarveli, UK director of the Greek National Tourism Organisation, said: “Until we have sustainability at the same level as health and safety, we have to shout about it. We have to communicate.”

European consumer authorities wrote to 20 EU-based airlines this month identifying “potentially misleading claims” on sustainability and giving the carriers 30 days to comply with EU law on “green- washing” (Travel Weekly, May 16).

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