Travel firms ‘need to lead customers on sustainable change’

Travel companies need to take the lead on sustainability and explain to customers why they are making changes to reduce their carbon footprint, delegates at Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Spring Forum were told.

Cosmos Tours chief executive Giles Hawke said he believes sustainability is not yet at the forefront of consumers’ minds when they book a holiday, but that will change in time.

“Consumers will one day vote with their feet and book with sustainable companies,” he said in a panel discussion. “It’s not happening now, but it will come.

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“Some of it will be up to us as tour operators or hoteliers to force that change, and I think consumers will be pushing for it more and more, including luxury consumers.”

Hawke added he thinks companies with sustainability at their core will also reap the rewards when it comes to attracting new employees and staff retention, adding the “tangible push” from suppliers to become more sustainable gives him “great optimism”.

These views were echoed by Prue Stone, group head of sustainability at Hotelplan.

“My optimism comes from the changes I’ve already seen and the changes that I know are coming at a fast pace, which gives me a lot of hope,” she said.

Stone emphasised the need for suppliers to explain sustainable-led changes to their customers. “If you have the conviction to make a change you should stand by it, tell the customer what you’ve done and why,” she added.

“You should do what you believe in if it’s the right thing, but make sure you explain it to your customers.”

She told delegates that Hotelplan does not currently vet its suppliers to ensure they have sustainable practices in place, instead preferring to “take them on the journey” to develop their understanding.

“We aren’t vetting existing suppliers at the moment,” she said. “But we’ve just gone through an enormous carbon audit which allowed us to see how various suppliers are performing and we can work on that year-on-year.

“My approach is to not turn your back on anyone [for not being sustainable], because I would much rather everyone takes incremental steps than you just shutting the door on them and not bringing them along on the journey with you.”

Aishling McLoughlin, business development director of Iberostar, said the hotel group faced “resistance” when it first became plastic free but that guests have since adapted.

“We found there was some resistance from some markets when we were in the first throes of becoming plastic-free,” she said. “But we’re not going to go back on our word just because a customer has requested it, and we’ve found that those customers have now adapted and the majority of guests appreciate the effort.

“Luxury doesn’t have to mean waste, and that’s what clients are understanding more and more.”

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