Travelling with a conscience

rethink sustainability

Travelling with a conscience

Do sustainable living and international travel go together? The data points to major challenges that need to be overcome before the answer can be affirmative. The global tourism industry today generates around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and aircraft could contribute up to 15% of all global warming from human activities in the next 50 years.

The global tourism industry today generates around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and aircraft could contribute up to 15% of all global warming from human activities in the next 50 years.

Ironically, tourism is one of the industries that is likely to suffer from climate change. Rising sea levels could flood island resorts like the Maldives, melt the snow in the Alps and make sun-soaked destinations too hot to bear. Yet, destinations like the Maldives or Mauritius that are at risk are also almost entirely dependent on the revenues tourism brings in. The 'flight shame' movement has led to a drop in passengers in some northern European countries and may also lead to changes in plans for airport extensions.

In the face of this dilemma, more and more travellers are looking for sustainable travel choices.

In the face of this dilemma, more and more travellers are looking for sustainable travel choices. Many of the most popular eco-tourism destinations, though, require travellers to fly. In addition to the ecological footprint of aviation, eco-tourism typically also requires other forms of transportation, and may contribute to noise pollution, littering and depletion of natural resources such as water (for pools and golf courses).

Can we ever travel with a clear conscience?

Simplifying sustainable choices

Current sustainable alternatives may not be perfect but they are a step in the right direction. Individuals can do their part and make choices to mitigate their environmental impact. This can be as simple as packing light, using eco-friendly transport options where possible and minimising or returning home with their own waste. Some countries insist on tourists making an effort - in Rwanda it is illegal for visitors to bring in plastic bags.

Individuals can do their part and make choices to mitigate their environmental impact.

But travellers are also looking for assistance with calculating their carbon footprint — and with reducing their impact when traveling. As a result, travel organisations that cater specifically to the eco-conscious traveller are thriving. Their aim is to provide the same quality accommodation, far-flung destinations and luxury experience as any travel company, while addressing the sustainability concerns of their guests.

Travel organisations that cater specifically to the eco-conscious traveller are thriving.

Luxury wellness resort brand, Six Senses, was recently acquired by InterContinental Hotels & Resorts (IHG) following the expansion of its sustainable wellness resorts across Thailand and Bhutan. In Bhutan, five such resorts offer not just luxury spas and organically sourced gastronomy, but also a way for travellers to connect with the country's spiritual traditions and natural resources through community outreach programmes that include wildlife protection.

IHG is looking to grow the Six Senses estate to more than 60 properties, including in urban markets such as West Chelsea, Manhattan. The venture capital group supporting the acquisition said of the deal: "Six Senses fits well with our core themes of investing in sustainability and wellness with a focus on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) integration and we're proud of the work we have done to build it into one of the world's best luxury hotel brands."

But this is still be the proverbial drop in the ocean compared to the challenges presented by the unsustainable infrastructure that currently supports international travel.


The aviation industry invests in sustainability

The number of people flying is projected to double over the next 15 years. The traditional approach to reducing the impact of aviation has been to offset the greenhouse gas emissions generated by flying through carbon offset schemes. However, a growing number of voices are rejecting this approach as a long-term solution. The idea behind carbon offsets is that you pay extra to a scheme that invests in lower carbon alternatives elsewhere, cancelling out the carbon impact of your flight. However, a 2017 study on offsets showed that even the most rigorous schemes aren't effective. In response to such research, the European Union has decided it will no longer allow offsets to be counted towards emission reduction targets, starting in 2021.

Rather than offsetting carbon emissions, the problem needs to be tackled at the source. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) thinks this is possible. IATA envisions that it will be possible to fly commercially without climate impact by 2050.

Rather than offsetting carbon emissions, the problem needs to be tackled at the source. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) thinks this is possible. IATA envisions that it will be possible to fly commercially without climate impact by 2050. This would be achieved through a combination of new technology, more efficient air traffic management, new fuels and a coordinated attempt to improve the air transportation infrastructure as a whole.

Airlines are promising to improve their sustainability records, too. Scandinavian airline group (SAS) has pledged to reduce flight emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2005, and to regularly use renewable jet fuel by 2020. By 2030, SAS aims to lower its overall CO2 emissions by 25% compared to 2005. Rolls Royce meanwhile is accelerating plans to develop electric and hybrid aerospace engines.

United Airlines used 2019's World Environment Day in June to showcase its Flight for the Planet, billed as "the most eco-friendly commercial flight of its kind in the history of aviation." The airline claims it is the first airline to demonstrate all the key elements of sustainability in a single flight — use of sustainable aviation biofuel, zero cabin waste efforts, carbon offsetting and operational efficiencies. United Airlines pledged to halve its carbon footprint by 2050.

Travellers, investors and regulators are looking for a more unified approach to sustainability

Such pledges are welcome, but travellers, investors and regulators are looking for a more unified approach to sustainability. One such attempt is the September 2019 launch of Travalyst, a partnership between Visa, Booking.com, Skyscanner, Ctrip and TripAdvisor to "mobilise the travel industry as a catalyst for good." Travalyst announced it will work on a variety of environmental initiatives, including protecting wildlife, and tackling climate change, environmental damage and overtourism.

The press launch was fronted by HRH Prince Harry and provided an apt reminder of the challenges the travel industry faces. Having recently suffered brickbats in the press for taking private jets as well as flying frequently by commercial, the Prince responded: "We can all do better. And, while no-one is perfect, we are all responsible for our own individual impact; the question is what we do to balance it out."

Initiatives launched by airlines and the growing number of travel companies set up to cater to eco-conscious consumers show the industry is finally moving in the right direction. But with many industry pledges seeking to deliver on ecological promises decades down the line, real progress may yet take some time.

Important information

This document is issued by Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd or an entity of the Group (hereinafter “Lombard Odier”). It is not intended for distribution, publication, or use in any jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, or use would be unlawful, nor is it aimed at any person or entity to whom it would be unlawful to address such a document. This document was not prepared by the Financial Research Department of Lombard Odier.

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