The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered Intrepid Travel to remove a misleading advert. While the Australian headquartered travel company is known for being transparent about its climate-conscious approach as a B-Corp company, the misstep points to the broader issue of how easily sustainability can lead to perceived greenwashing within the industry.
The advert featured two women in front of the Giza Pyramids in Egypt with the text, “People and planet-friendly small group adventures since 1989”. It formed part of a billboard campaign in the UK’s London Underground in November 2022.
The ASA received a complaint that the phrase ‘planet-friendly’ was misleading about the impact of Intrepid’s holidays on the environment.
While the regulator noted Intrepid Travel’s comments that it did not offer flights as part of this particular adventure tour, the understanding that the claim was a narrow reference to their tour offering was unclear.
The ASA considered the phrase “people and planet-friendly small group adventures” to be “an absolute claim”, implying “that taking part in an Intrepid tour caused no environmental damage throughout its full life cycle”. Yet, together with the presentation of the Giza Pyramids in Egypt it indicated that “such tours were international and that it would be necessary to travel, in most cases by flying, to take part in their tours,” the regulator detailed in its ruling.
“We considered that this impression was further reinforced by the claim not referring specifically to the tours offered by Intrepid Travel, and considered that, in the absence of qualifying information, “adventures” was likely to be interpreted by consumers as referring to holidays as a whole, which would include flights to and from the destination country,” according to the ASA ruling.
Intrepid responded to the ruling, with its EMEA managing director Zina Bencheikh calling it a “positive step that regulators are becoming more stringent around advertising claims related to climate change and the environment and they will investigate even just one complaint.”
“The ASA’s ruling on ‘planet-friendly’ was a good learning opportunity for us,” said Bencheikh. “This will encourage all travel companies to be more mindful of how they talk about their impact on the environment. Regulation is rapidly evolving. It’s up to us to not only do good work, but find the clearest way to communicate it to our customers.”
Intrepid’s chief customer officer Leigh Barnes further noted that when it comes to talking about environmental impact in travel advertising it was better to avoid and remove subjective and vague language like “Friendly” and “Safe”, as well as consider the entire life cycle of the trip.