At the 2021 ABTA Travel Convention, responsible tourism industry leaders from Intrepid, Royal Caribbean Cruises and the Spanish National Tourist Office spoke on sustainability.
ABTA’s director of industry relations Susan Deer moderated the panel, which hosted Zina Bencheikh (managing director EMEA, Intrepid Group), Ben Bouldin (vice president EMEA, Royal Caribbean Cruises) and Manuel Butler (UK director, Spanish National Tourist Office).
The panel was asked to discuss whether the net zero by 2050 pledge is a possibility in the travel industry, as well as the issues of lacking government support and overtourism.
“The entire industry has to take global warming seriously,” said Bencheikh, who also highlighted the importance of global Covid vaccine distribution.
“We have to make net zero by 2050 achievable. Without a healthy planet we don’t have a travel industry.”
Speaking on Intrepid Group’s actions, she said: “We measure and act to reduce and offset. But the science shows this is no longer enough. We need to set a target to decarbonise.
“Certification is a way to show customers we really care about what we’re doing. I recommend looking for independent verification. It shows you’re committed.”
Speaking on behalf of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Bouldin admitted that decarbonisation “is not an easy challenge for cruise”. He emphasised the need for the cruise industry to operate as a ‘partnership’ between the cruise lines and their destinations, in order to prioritise sustainability and a positive social impact on the ground.
Social sustainability was also raised by Butler, who said that “overtourism is the most serious problem we face. The pandemic has put tourism on the political agenda. We have to take residents into consideration.”
The panellists agreed that government support for the industry is needed, rather than penalisation by carbon taxes.
On ABTA’s behalf, Deer noted the association had begun collecting data on members’ responsible tourism efforts.
“We’ve identified three areas we want to support, “she said. “De-carbonisation, staff training and how travel agents communicate with customers about what they are selling.”
It echoes the remarks made by ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer in his opening speech at the convention.
“Meeting the sustainability challenge head-on is not only a political necessity but also a commercial one,” he said.
“Customer confidence, which has taken a knock over the past 18 months, is essential to our industry’s recovery and future prosperity. And part of that confidence is confidence to travel with a good conscience.
“Last year at our Convention we launched our ‘Tourism for Good’ report, setting out a sustainability journey that will allow tourism to deliver real benefits, while managing its downsides.
“It’s not just customers who are demanding high sustainability standards, but employees, too. And residents in destinations. And, increasingly, investors.”