After bubbling under the surface for years, the issue of sustainability is becoming more of a concern for the travel and tourism industry, thanks to a shift in the ways consumers think about it.

“I think the customer is actually out in front of government,” Keith Barr, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, told delegates on Tuesday at the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Global Summit in Seville, Spain.

“I really believe that they are looking at us as operators or us as destinations or what kind of service you’re providing and going, ‘how are you delivering this to make sure you’re more and more sustainable.’”

A Call to Action

Air travel, which is a significant contributor to climate change, has always been the elephant in the room. It’s increasingly hard to square its adverse effects with the supposed benefits of tourism.

“I think as a hotel company and we as a tourism [industry] have to get out in front about sustainability. That’s single-use plastics, that’s reducing carbon footprint, that is about building with more sustainable materials and understanding your ongoing impact on the environment. And so I think government will legislate, but in fact businesses have to get out in front of it now,” Barr said.

In the past companies could maybe get away with fudging the issue. But in the age of social media and instant feedback, that’s no longer the case.

In the hotel industry, that means moving to bulk amenities and getting rid of plastic straws.

“I think that we have to walk the walk,” Barr said.

Photo Credit: Delegates at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Seville. Consumers are out in front of governments when it comes to sustainability, said IHG CEO Keith Barr. World Travel and Tourism Council