Industry Report: COVID pushes sustainability towards the top of the agenda

Industry Report: COVID pushes sustainability towards the top of the agenda

As world leaders meet in Glasgow for COP26, the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, research released today (Monday 1 November) by WTM London, reaffirms that senior travel industry executives remain committed to the environment and sustainability.

COP26’s agenda this year will set reductions target for 2030 that will support reaching net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century. Nations and private sector partners will also discuss how to protect communities and natural habitats. WTM London has been at the forefront of responsible and sustainable tourism for number of years and has had a dedicated programme for responsible tourism at every event since 1994.

This year, the WTM Industry Report asked nearly 700 professionals from around the globe, as well as 1000 UK travellers, about their attitudes to sustainability and the extent to which it plays into their decision-making processes.

Responses from professionals suggest that the travel industry is taking its responsibilities seriously, not only to the natural environment but also to human civilisation. More than one-in-four (27%) stated that sustainability was the number one priority, with a further 43% saying it was in the top three.

Around one-in-five (22%) are aware of sustainability’s importance but do not rank it in the top three. Less than one-in-ten (7%) admitted it was not currently part of their business thinking.

Senior industry executives also revealed that the pandemic has catapulted sustainability up the agenda. Almost six-in-ten (59%) said that sustainability became the top priority during the pandemic, with a further one-in-four adding that it was the top priority before the outbreak and remained so.

Over the years WTM London and its responsible tourism partners have been instrumental in ensuring that the conversation around sustainable and responsible tourism extends beyond the climate emergency and includes equal opportunities in the workplace, decent pay and conditions, health, education, empowerment of girls, reduced inequalities and more.

For example, WTM founded Just a Drop in 1998, a charity dedicated to bringing clean drinking water and sanitation to communities in need and which has helped nearly two million people around the world.

However, travel’s impact on the planet is often framed exclusively around the greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.  Carbon offsetting is one mechanism in place to address this – travellers and suppliers have the chance to donate cash to organisations who will spend the money on projects which will offset the emissions from their flight. Carbon offsetting, however, is not without its critics and travellers themselves, as well as some environmental campaigners, remain to be convinced.

Responses from more than 1,000 British travellers for the WTM Industry Report revealed that four-in-ten claim to have used carbon offsetting – 8% said they offset every flight with 15% doing so most of the time, 16% some of the time. With one-in-three actively refusing to offset flights when offered the chance to do so, the net result is a slight positive for offsetting.

However, the remaining 24% replied that they did not even know what carbon offsetting means, suggesting that individual companies and the wider travel industry need to communicate the theory and practice of carbon offsetting more clearly. Airlines, aggregators, online and retail agents also have a role to play in engaging with travellers.

At the enterprise level, there are some executives who also revealed a lack of awareness related to sustainability. Many companies from across different industries have signed up the United Nation’s Race to Zero campaign, committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

The World Travel and Tourism Council will officially launch its Net Zero Roadmap at COP26. This roadmap for the industry, soft-launched earlier in September, will include bespoke frameworks for specific parts of the travel and tourism ecosystem, to help accelerate their climate commitments and emissions reduction timeline.

But when WTM London asked professionals about whether their own business had a formal “carbon reduction” strategy in place, more than one-in-four (26%) were unable to say if such a policy existed. More than one-in-three (37%) said that there was no policy in place.

The remaining 36% acknowledged that there was a policy in place, but only 26% actually implemented the policy. One-in-ten travel execs admitted that that their employer had a carbon reduction policy in place, which it did not implement.

Despite this mixed picture, executives seem to think that travel is outperforming other sectors when it comes to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly 40% said travel is doing better than other sectors with only 21% thinking the opposite. Around one-in-four (23%) see travel’s efforts as comparable with other sectors, with 18% of the sample not sure how travel is faring.

Simon Press, Exhibition Director, WTM London, said: “While we are proud of WTM’s decades-long efforts to lead the debate around sustainable and responsible tourism, we are not complacent. These findings show that we still have some way to get the industry fully on board with our vision for a sustainable and responsible tourism future.

“If anything, we need to shout even louder. The climate emergency is not going away and the need to stop the planet warming up is critical. But the travel industry also needs to be active in promoting diversity, inclusivity and the economic benefits if we want the travelling public, governments and regulators to see travel and tourism as a force for good, rather than something to be targeted and taxed.”

WTM London takes place over the next three day (Monday 1 – Wednesday 3 November) at ExCeL – London. WTM World Responsible Tourism Day – the largest day of responsible tourism action in the world – is on Wednesday 3 November.




World Travel Market (WTM) Portfolio comprises leading travel events, online portals and virtual platforms across four continents, generating more than $7.5 billion of industry deals. The events are:

WTM London, the leading global event for the travel industry, is the must-attend three-day exhibition for the worldwide travel and tourism industry. Around 50,000 senior travel industry professionals, government ministers and international media visit ExCeL London every November, generating over £3.71 billion in travel industry contracts. In 2020, WTM Virtual facilitated 20,000+ meetings and held 42 live content sessions over the 3-days show.

Next live event: Monday 1 to 3 November 2021 at ExCel London

Next WTM Virtual: Monday 8 to 9 November 2021 – Virtual

Travel Forward London is the leading travel technology event, co-located with WTM London. Travel Forward is renowned for showcasing the next-generation technologies for the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. Over 19,000 travel officials and 150+ innovative solution providers attend for 3 days of cutting-edge insights, open debate and unrivalled networking opportunities. The combination of a 2-day conference, interactive exhibition and start-up showcase makes Travel Forward truly unique.

Next live event: Monday 1 November to Wednesday 3 November 2021 at ExCel London

Next Travel Forward Virtual: Monday 8 November to Tuesday 9 November 2021 – Virtual

London Travel Week, brought to you by WTM London, is the one-stop-shop for event hosts and visitors to be able to shape the next 12 months of travel together. The festival of events supports the global travel and tourism industry through capturing invaluable news and enhancing industry connections.

Next event: Friday 29 October – Friday 5 November 2021

WTM Virtualis the WTM Portfolio virtual platform, created to offer global delegates the chance to arrange one-to-one virtual meetings, to do business, attend conference sessions and roundtables, take part in speed networking and more. WTM Virtual embrace the global leading travel shows in one platform.

WTM Latin America takes place annually in São Paulo and attracts around 19,000 tourism professionals during a three-day event. The show offers qualified content, as well as networking and business opportunities. In its ninth edition – the first 100% virtual – WTM Latin America followed its focus on effective business generation and reached the milestone of 4,200 meetings held between buyers, travel agents and exhibitors.

Next event: Tuesday 5 to Thursday 7 April 2022 – Expo Center Norte, SP, Brazil

WTM Africa launched in 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. More than 6,000 travel industry professionals attend Africa’s leading inbound and outbound travel and tourism market. WTM Africa delivers a proven mix of hosted buyers, media, pre-scheduled appointments, on-site networking, evening functions and invited travel trade visitors.

Next event: Monday 11 to Wednesday 13 April 2022 – Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town

Arabian Travel Market (ATM), now on its 29th year, is the leading, international travel and tourism event in the Middle East for inbound and outbound tourism professionals. ATM 2021 showcased over 1,300 exhibiting companies from 62 countries across nine halls at Dubai World Trade Centre, with visitors from more than 140 countries over the four days. Arabian Travel Market is part of Arabian Travel Week. #IdeasArriveHere

Next in-person event: Sunday 8 to Wednesday 11 May 2022, Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai

Arabian Travel Week is a festival of events taking place within and alongside Arabian Travel Market 2022. Providing a renewed focus for the Middle East’s travel and tourism sector, it includes ATM Virtual, ILTM Arabia, Arival Dubai, Influencers’ events and activations, as well as Travel Forward. It also features the ATM Buyer Forums, ATM Speed Networking Events as well as a series of country summits.

WTM Global Hub, is the new WTM Portfolio online portal created to connect and support travel industry professionals around the world. The resource hub offers the latest guidance and knowledge to help exhibitors, buyers and others in the travel industry face the challenges of the global coronavirus pandemic. WTM Portfolio is tapping into its global network of experts to create content for the hub.

About RX (Reed Exhibitions)

RX is in the business of building businesses for individuals, communities and organisations. We elevate the power of face-to-face events by combining data and digital products to help customers learn about markets, source products and complete transactions at over 400 events in 22 countries across 43 industry sectors. RX is passionate about making a positive impact on society and is fully committed to creating an inclusive work environment for all our people. RX is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.


RELX is a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. The Group serves customers in more than 180 countries and has offices in about 40 countries. It employs over 33,000 people, of whom almost half are in North America. The shares of RELX PLC, the parent company, are traded on the London, Amsterdam and New York Stock Exchanges using the following ticker symbols: London: REL; Amsterdam: REN; New York: RELX. The market capitalisation is approximately £33bn, €39bn, $47bn.*

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