Sustainability in travel: forging ahead or grasping at straws?

If 2017 was the year that overtourism was recognised as a major challenge for the global travel and tourism industry, then 2018 is the year the sector woke up to the scale of the plastic problem. It was just not too long ago that a brightly coloured straw in a cocktail against a backdrop of sun and sea was perceived as the image of a carefree holiday, but the tide has clearly turned in 2018 as plastic straws became public enemy #1.

Straws collected at a beach

This year, many travel and tourism players are finally sitting up to take steps toward plastic elimination. My inbox this year has been inundated with press releases from hotel chains, tour operators, cruise liners, airlines and cities declaring war on single-use plastic (e.g. straws). Any progress is progress, and any attempt at curtailing impacts of plastic pollution is better than none at all, but going strawless is still a low-hanging fruit.

As a huge industry – international tourist arrivals grew seven per cent to reach 1.3 billion in 2017 – the travel sector needs to show greater leadership and gumption in sustainable practices. Now is the best time for travel companies and operators to make sustainability central to their efforts and apply these principles throughout the business and the supply chain, as the plastic movement quickly moves from the fringes to the mainstream this year.

And things are looking up a little bit. In a sector where providing the ‘best’ guest experience is the holy grail, more travel sellers are taking bolder steps to apply sustainability in their efforts, even when it means adjusting the ‘comfort level’ of their guests.

Exo Travel, for example, is discontinuing wet wipes and reusable bottles during tours to curtail the environmental impact of their operations. Peregrine Adventures, having banned unnecessary single-use plastics on its adventure cruises, has written into all of its contracts asking suppliers not to use products like single-use straws, cups, water bottles, and plastic bags on board. Given the enormity of the plastic problem, it shouldn’t stop there.

Will sustainability be your company’s story in 2019? And will 2019 be the year that the travel and tourism industry becomes a force of change for the world?

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