Giving Back With Positive Impact In The Travel Industry

Giving Back With Positive Impact In The Travel Industry

As we start a new year, full of good intent, the travel industry is looking at what it can ‘do better’ in 2023.

The trends of 2022 that continue to dominate ultimately centre on what we as consumers, employees, and indeed, leaders of companies now value. These include authentic and human-led experiences, responsible tourism and business practices, fairness and equal opportunities (not only in the workplace, but across communities), plus a desire to achieve a balanced lifestyle – preserving physical and mental health.

All of these universal values point to a new way of conducting business – one that will not only guarantee financial gains, but perhaps as importantly, emotional satisfaction and a sense of purpose.

That’s why I believe the 2023 mantra for industry success should be ‘to give back with positive impact’.

With the industry only just accepting that greenwashing is most definitely ‘out’ and positive, long-term strategies for positive action, is ‘in’, we can see a handful of pioneers across multiple sub-sectors emerging.

With the UAE set to host COP28 in 2023, the year the region’s leading travel trade show, Arabian Travel Market, celebrates its 30th edition, event organiser, RX Global, has announced a Net Zero Pledge for the company and the show. It has committed to 30 long-term goals working towards net zero, that significantly, not only focus on climate action, but responsible consumption and production, social pledges regarding equality, and economic promises relating to “decent work and economic growth”. In addition, ‘Working Towards Net Zero’ will be the official ATM Dubai 2023 theme running throughout the show and all conference discussions.

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In the region, Saudi-based Red Sea Global (RSG) stands out as a trailblazer of large-scale regenerative tourism projects and its tagline – ‘for people and planet’ – says it all. The developer behind The Red Sea and Amaala giga projects is committed to delivering a positive impact on the environment and local communities, and recently unveiled new standards in transparency and accountability in its annual Sustainability Report. External appraisals of ESG performance saw RSG become the first development in the Middle East to secure platinum certification under the globally-recognised standard for green construction, LEED for Cities. It achieved excellence in governance, with an ESG score of 91% according to the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB); signed an MoU with Ethmar and Ghoroos to support local communities, such as through agricultural development opportunities; and rolled out a Vocational Training agreement to support local talent.

Globally, a recent ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) in Travel and Tourism – Thematic Research” report by GlobalData Plc, cited Aéroports de Paris (now Groupe ADP), Air France KLM, Booking Holdings, Carnival Corporation, Comcast, East Japan Railway Company, easyJet, Europcar, Expedia Group, IHG Hotels & Resorts, International Airlines Group, Marriott International, Melia, Royal Schiphol Group, Walt Disney, VINCI, and Wizz Air, among the leading public companies focusing on ESG in the travel and tourism sector. In the private sector, Europe dominates, with

Deutsche Bahn, G Adventures, Hurtigruten, Intrepid Group, Ponant, Responsible Travel and Sawday’s all highlighted.

An experience-driven tour operator, Intrepid Travel has become known for immersive group trips that leave a legacy for travellers and communities. Its not-for-profit organisation, The Intrepid Foundation, helps improve the livelihoods of vulnerable individuals and communities across the world through skills training, lobbying for gender equality and creating jobs through community based experiences. It has contributed nearly $7.4  million to more than 135 community organisations since 2002.

Another UK-based firm, Sawday’s, encompassing an accommodation booking platform and a glamping directory, Canopy & Stars, was founded on principles of slow travel and social and environmental responsibility. It ranks highly on the B Corporation index for its responsible approach to employee welfare – staff own a 52% share of the business with the Sawday family and the company’s charitable trust owning 24% each. The company has committed to planting one million trees by the end of 2025.

But as is often the case when we look at innovations and progress globally, it is other sectors that we can look to for the greatest inspiration in terms of how far a ‘give back with positive impact’ approach can go.

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In the fashion industry, apparel brand Patagonia is a stand-out contender: 98% of products are made from recycled materials; 75,000-plus workers benefit from participation in the Fair Trade programme; 100% of electricity needs in the US are met with renewable electricity. And this is just scratching the surface, with the company revealing this month it had developed a sustainable washing machine with Samsung.

Global brands recognised for their social impact include the big hitters, with the likes of Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, CBRE, Disney, Google and IKEA all featuring in the Sustainability Mag’s top 10. At top slot is Lego, which has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to source responsible materials for production. In 2015, it pledged $15 million to reduce its carbon footprint over the following 15 years and in 2018, introduced a line of products made of bioplastic from sugarcane. The energy Lego uses to manufacture its toys is derived entirely from wind power.

Paying it back – or forward for that matter – is not only the foundation for success, but that much sought-after feel-good feeling, as the F&B industry has proven. In the US, a standout example is Everytable, which is on a mission to ensure very American citizen has a healthy meal at a low cost – importantly, lower than the price of a not-so-healthy Bic Mac, recognising that fast food is often the cheapest option for low-income individuals. It doesn’t stop there – the company also helps citizens become an owner of an Everytable restaurant, working with the governments to offer subsidies, offering cheap loans, and providing training. Everytable also runs a pay-if-forward project, enabling customers to buy a meal for someone else.

It’s a successful model because it is heartfelt and offers a positive customer and community experience.

The feel-good factor never goes out of fashion – it’s time to give back – in fact, in 2023, it’s well overdue.

Dutch hotel company CitizenM is also moving into the metaverse having bought a virtual space in a game called the Sandbox. Here, it will connect with players, explore marketing opportunities and even raise funds to build a real-world property.

The list of metaverse examples for travel and tourism is endless, with Barbados opening a new virtual embassy, South Korea launching a metaverse replica of its capital city, Seoul, and the island of Tuvalu in the South Pacific building a digital version of itself to preserve its history as it faces erasure due to climate change. “As our land disappears we have no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation,” Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe told the COP27 climate summit last year. With the country’s land, ocean and culture its most precious assets, no matter what happens in the physical world, they will be protected in the cloud, he added.

From staff training to virtual guest experiences to digital twins, these, and many more examples of useful applications for the metaverse will be discussed at this year’s Arabian Travel Market, taking place at Dubai World Trade Centre from May 1 to 4.

Experts in this field will debate The Future of Travel and Tourism in the Metaverse, looking at how it can play a key role in advancing the industry and how stakeholders can be part of this new world. The session will be moderated by Karl Escritt, the CEO of Like Digital & Partners, an expert in delivering digital transformation projects for world-leading brands including Atlantis the Palm, One&Only, Vodafone, McLaren, British Airways, The Macallan and Majid Al Futtaim.

He will be joined by Emanual Erden, Web3 and Metaverse Consultant at exclusible, with expertise in creating metaverse products for luxury brands including Fortune 500 companies, as well as digital twins for destinations; Gauthier Guillaume, Founder and CEO at GG&Grace International and GraceVirtualReality (GVR), creator of virtual reality tools for the hospitality sector with a mission to “revolutionise the guest experience” through VR and AR innovations; and Joël Kremer, Partner, Moyosa Media, which builds 3D spaces, from showrooms to galleries for retail, the automotive industry and cultural attractions.

This panel session will discuss what the metaverse is, and what it isn’t; the pros, the cons, and the possibilities; and why some travel and tourism entities are reticent to jump on the bandwagon.

Whether you are on board or sitting on the fence, it’s worth noting that metaverse platforms grew by 15 million users year-over-year in Q3 2023 to 520 million monthly active users (MAUs), according to a report from the analyst firm Metaversed.

As Mckinsey & Company highlights in its Value Creation in the Metaverse report, “with its potential to generate up to $5 trillion in value by 2030, the metaverse is too big for companies to ignore”.

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