"The challenges presented by sustainable tourism can be significant, even overwhelming at times."
With much still to achieve, we rarely take time to reflect how the mindset and operations of the UK’s major tour operators have changed in this regard over the past decade.
Ten years ago, the growing public pressure on many large organisations to assume responsibility for environmental and community impacts had largely bypassed the leisure travel industry. Indeed, when the Government issued a challenge to UK outbound tourism to work with stakeholders to create a blueprint for sustainable tourism, it was the first time that most of the individuals involved from my organisation had worked collaboratively with stakeholders as diverse as NGOs, academics, government representatives and industry peers. Sitting round the large Chatham House conference tables we wrestled with our different perspectives, priorities, modes of communication and ways of working. Yet out of that process emerged two frameworks which to this day continue to drive the mainstream outbound travel industry to adopt and adapt to more sustainable practices – the Travel Foundation, and the Travelife Supplier Sustainability System.
Fast forward 10 years, and the contrast is stark. At TUI UK today, ‘Responsible Leadership’ is not only a core value for the business, but also a basis on which colleague objectives are set and performance measured. Our ‘Holidays Forever’ long-term sustainability commitments feed into business strategy across tour operations, airline, shops, and crucially, our supply chain. Sustainability is an integral part of colleague training and customer communications, at all levels and across all media. Public reporting on targets and performance is now commonplace, data is audited, and accommodation suppliers are contractually required to continuously improve their environmental, workplace and community practices by subscribing to Travelife.
Excitingly, we’ve seen real business benefits which drive us on. TUI Travel can attribute £21m of cost savings to environmental efficiencies over the past four years. We’ve established clear positive correlation between our customers’ holiday satisfaction overall and their rating of our approach to environment and community’. We’ve experienced how a commitment to sustainability has engaged and empowered existing colleagues, as well as attract new ones.
Many of the sustainability challenges of 10 years ago remain with us today. Some - like water scarcity and waste management in destinations, and the dependency of our industry on fossil fuels - have become even more pressing. But what has changed is greater industry realisation that solving these challenges is key to future business success, not only for individual tour operators but for the industry as a whole.
A decade ago it was unimaginable that Thomson Airways would be trialling weekly flights on sustainable biofuels made from waste vegetable oil, or that Thomson and First Choice would be engaging experts to work with our exclusive resort hotels to enhance economic benefit to local communities. That perspective gives us courage to address the controversial challenges of the day head on – such as scaling up production of next generation sustainable aviation biofuels, or improving local livelihoods whilst satisfying the growing demand for All Inclusive holidays.
So it’s worth a moment’s reflection back over the past 10 years – as long as it doesn’t lead to us taking our collective foot off the accelerator for any longer than just one moment!
Jane Ashton, Director of Group Sustainable Development, TUI Travel PLC