Climate Action

3 ways hotels and tourists can work together to decarbonize travel

The hospitality industry is well-placed to lead the travel industry's move towards net zero.

The hospitality industry is well-placed to lead the travel industry's move towards net zero. Image: Unsplash/Mantas Hesthaven

Peter Lochbihler
Global Head of Public Affairs, Booking.com
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  • As the world races to achieve net zero by 2050, the hospitality industry is well-placed to lead the decarbonization of the travel and tourism sector.
  • Tourists' climate awareness is growing and investments into sustainable hotels often pay for themselves, but how can we boost the pace of progress?
  • Here are three ways travellers, hotels and platforms can work together to create more sustainable travel and achieve global net-zero goals.

The hospitality industry has an unmatched opportunity to lead decarbonization in the travel and tourism sector.

The collective agreement made through the Glasgow Declaration aims for the sector to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. This, coupled with growing consumer interest in sustainable travel options, is setting the stage for tourism to decarbonize.

The end goal is clear but getting there won’t be easy, and all stakeholders need to recognize the on-the-ground realities for travellers and accommodation providers.

Consumers want climate-friendly options but are worried about the price of sustainable travel amidst rising inflation and cost-of-living woes.

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Providers – especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – often lack the resources and sometimes knowledge to take the necessary steps towards becoming more sustainable; like retrofitting ventilation systems, powering rooms with renewable energy, or accurately accounting for their emissions.

In a recent report, the World Economic Forum tackled the question of How to Create the Sustainable Travel Products Customers Want. The knowing-doing gap is perhaps the biggest impediment, as is illustrated below, but the flip side of it, I believe, is a sustainability flywheel for climate action.

The say-do gap is the discrepancy between what say and what they do in practice.
The say-do gap is the discrepancy between what say and what they do in practice. Image: World Economic Forum and Accenture

Any action, large or small, by travellers, providers or digital platforms, or other players in the tourism ecosystem feed off and reinforce each other, thus creating an ever stronger momentum behind the net-zero agenda.

Here are three ways the hospitality industry, travellers and travel platforms can work together make tourism more sustainable:

1. Recognize the realities for travellers

Booking.com’s research – gathered over eight years from more than 33,000 travellers across 35 countries and territories – shows that consumers are torn between a desire to travel more sustainably and a need to be mindful about their spending.

Three-quarters (76%) of people say they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months, but the same proportion believe that the global energy crisis and the rising cost of living is impacting their spending plans.

It’s clear that consumers want the industry to bring the cost of sustainability down. Half (49%) of travellers believe that sustainable travel options are too expensive – they want discounts and incentives to encourage them to opt for climate-friendly options (up 12% from 2022), whilst 42% would be swayed to travel more sustainably with reward points that could be converted into free perks.

Travel providers also need to make sustainable options more obvious to consumers. Despite good intentions, almost half (44%) of people say they don’t know where to find more sustainable options.

About half (51%) believe that there aren't enough options, and almost three-quarters (74%) want travel companies to offer more sustainable options (up from 66% in 2022). Tourism leaders can and should act now to rectify these issues.

2. Empower hospitality entrepreneurs to pursue sustainable practices

Driving sustainability in the accommodation industry is the other side of the coin – after all, travellers can’t select sustainable options if there are no properties to offer them.

Accommodation generates about 10% of the total annual emissions of the travel and tourism sector. Even though this is a relatively small fraction, the accommodation industry has a distinct advantage over others like aviation: it’s not dependent on technological breakthroughs to cut emissions. It’s a question of technology adoption rather than invention.

Notably, 75% of the potential emission savings for a typical hotel are associated with just three measures: retrofitting efficient heating, ventilation and cooling systems; using energy-efficient appliances; and installing double-glazed windows.

What does a net zero hotel look like?
Image: Visual Capitalist/Booking.com

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is already leading these efforts by providing hotels with basic criteria for the implementation of sustainable practices that could form the basis of future sectoral standardization.

But the capacity to reach net zero isn’t distributed evenly. Research from the WTTC shows that it’s harder for SMEs to define and pursue decarbonization as opposed to the larger, more established brands with greater resources and expertise at their disposal.

Small hospitality entrepreneurs need financial aid to achieve net zero; but they also need guidance on how to make their businesses more sustainable.

A recent McKinsey study shows that methodologies like the marginal abatement cost curve (MACC) – a calculation and graph that measure and compare the costs and benefits of individual sustainability actions – can be highly effective at streamlining hotels’ decarbonization plans.

3. Match supply with demand to accelerate action

Consumers who seek and hospitality entrepreneurs who provide sustainable options must be able to find each other if the sector is to achieve net zero by 2050.

And that’s where online travel platforms are uniquely positioned to make a difference. Booking.com’s Travel Sustainable initiative is but one example, where we introduced an internationally recognizable badge for properties who adopt independently verified sustainability practices.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

For its part, the EU Commission’s draft directives on empowering consumers for the green transition and on green claims seek to instil trust in environmental labels and discourage greenwashing. Smart regulation in this realm will encourage investments in sustainability, increasing its scale and impact.

Thinking about synergies that travel consumers, providers, platforms, and regulators could unlock, an old proverb comes to mind: if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

On the topic of sustainability, we must go far and fast. But, thankfully, many of the tools and technologies to get the travel industry to net zero are already available. Now we need the willpower and work together to accelerate the flywheel.

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Climate ActionIndustries in DepthBusiness
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