Skift Take

More industry stakeholders now recognize what practices are effective for their sustainability journeys. In the overall industry, however, gaps persist and there’s still a lot more work to do to put these strategies into practice. That was what we heard this week from industry leaders during our sustainable tourism summit.

The rhetoric has been been louder for more sustainable, green travel, as the winding down of the global pandemic signals a new start for many tourist destinations and travel companies. On Wednesday, Skift sought to parse through what is real, and what are just words, to offer some concrete solutions to the industry with its Skift Sustainable Tourism Summit online. Destinations actively being more inclusive of marginalized communities was certainly one major takeaway. Others included the superiority of science-based carbon targets over carbon offsets, unsustainable labor practices, action on climate change remains inadequate and sustainable stances can win over investors.

Much of Action on Climate Change Remains Weak

Many industry suppliers still are not serious about combating climate change. Only 10 out of the 1,100 airlines and 20 out of over 400,000 hotels have joined the UN’s Race to Zero campaign, Skift Senior Vice President of Research Haixia Wang shared in a presentation.

A lot of industry efforts remains talk and surface level. “Half of companies, maybe even a little bit more, still hasn’t done anything,” said Intrepid Travel chairman and co-founder Darrell Wade told us. “At the World Travel and Tourism Council, there is a good number of companies talking the right way and a certain number that are really committing, but not enough companies putting rubber on the road.”

Science-Based Carbon Targets Kill Cop-Outs

Hotels and airlines tout their carbon offset purchases. However, carbon offsets don’t do much. “The use of carbon credits must not be counted as emissions reduction targets toward the progress of the companies’ near-term or long-term science-based targets,” Wang said. “It means there’s a huge gap in the industry’s carbon reduction efforts,” said Wang.

Focusing on science-based targets gets at the heart of the issue in climate change: carbon emissions reduction. From this perspective, less than 20 percent of any hotels worldwide have taken any steps to adjusting their steps to reducing carbon emissions, according to Wang.

Under science-based targets, suppliers find they have a lot of work to do. “Science-based targets purely look at your actual emissions because emissions is what counts,” said Warren said. “As tour operators, we got a lot to do. We still emit a lot of carbon,” he acknowledged.

Sustainable Tourism Is Everyone’s Business

Successful sustainable tourism requires historically marginalized communities be involved in how destinations are managed, maintained and marketed to visitors. There’s a greater recognition than before to ensure communities benefit as well as have a greater say in the tourism that flows to their areas.

Destination Greater Victoria CEO and President Paul Nursey said his organization learned from its past mistakes on how to collaborate with Indigenous groups. The Songhees, an Indigenous people of Greater Victoria, have historically been marginalized in Canada. In fact, Greater Victoria’s flagship hotel is built on Songhees’ traditional climbing bed, according to Nursey. In the 1990s, their areas suffered from overtourism.

Fast forward, the Songheese now take the lead in tourism to their lands. “Through tourism and the visitor economy, they are reclaiming their identities through walking tours and canoe tours,” Nursey said. “They have chosen to deliberately that tourism will be a force for good and part of claiming who they are.” Destination Greater Victoria provides marketing, research and other kinds of support to the Songheese and moves in “lockstep and to make sure it’s their stories to tell and it’s not ours.”

VisitScotland CEO Malcolm Roughead told us he worked with destination stakeholders to develop a visitor management plan that enables “fragile, rural” communities to benefit economically and environmentally from the tourism they receive. “Without those communities, we wouldn’t have a product to offer,” said Roughead.

In some countries, however, communities remain excluded. In fact, many are treated condescendingly. “Communities are always wiling but most the time they are excluded,” said Sustainable Tourism and Travel Agenda Founder and principal consultant Judy Kepher Gona. “They are told they don’t understand.”

Unsustainable Labor Practices Remain Ignored

The young are the future, but many in the travel industry don’t act like it when it comes to employing them. In some countries, the tourism industry struggles to attract youth. Most of Kenya’s university graduates in tourism don’t end up working in the industry, according to Gona.

In Kenya, the youth view tourism as an abusive industry. Employers don’t pay fair wages and prefer to hire cheap unskilled labor. “In some universities, less than 15 percent of their graduates end up in the tourism industry. They have lost faith in the industry,” said Gona. “The space is not there for them. Even when they get in, they feel the employment is unfair.”

Sustainable labor isn’t receiving the attention it should. Even worse, the necessary discussions still aren’t there. Talking about labor issues remain an uncomfortable topic in the industry, especially in Africa, according to Gona. To combat such issues, Gona runs a youth ministry program that supports hundreds of young people of 17 universities. The program enables youth to meet industry practioners every month on sustainable development in.

Sustainability Stances Attracts Investors

Investors are paying more attention to the sustainability histories of companies. More are actively researching and getting into the details of what companies doing when it comes labor practices, carbon footprint, diversity and more.

Intrepid, which has a B-Corps Certification, recently received a large investment from a family-owned private equity firm. “They sought us out specifically for our sustainability stance,” Wade said. “We got a really attractive valuation based on our sustainability stance.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article described Wade as CEO.

Tags: carbon offsets, climate change, sustainability, tourism