Two-thirds of consumers are concerned about climate change, why aren’t travel businesses doing more?

Two-thirds of consumers are concerned about climate change, why aren’t travel businesses doing more?

Euromonitor’s research conducted in July and published here on the WTM Global Hub reported that 64% of global consumers are worried about climate change yet only 50% of travel companies are taking action on climate, Sustainable Development Goal 13. The travel industry is not doing significantly less than ‘all industries’ which the same research reports at 52%.

I have been asked to explain the difference between consumer sentiment and the business response.

The consumers and the businesses are self-reporting, and their answers will likely be subject to ‘social desirability bias’. One of the reasons why it is essential to be sceptical about opinion polls is that there is a tendency for respondents to tell the interviewer one thing and then vote differently in the privacy of the polling booth. The same can apply to market surveys.

It is one thing to be worried about an issue and quite something else to do anything about it. It is quite disturbing to hear that only 64% of consumers globally are concerned about climate change. Just this month we have evidence that temperatures in the Arctic Ocean between Canada, Russia and Europe are warming faster than predicted. 28 trillion tonnes of ice have disappeared from the surface of the Earth since 1994, and sea-level rise could be a metre by the time a baby born this year reaches 80. Carbon emissions from this year’s wildfires burning in the Arctic Circle have already outstripped 2019’s record levels, and the Amazon is on fire again. Climate change is a much more significant threat than COVID-19 and much more challenging to deal with.

To some extent, a quite large extent, I can, as an individual, avoid the risk of COVID-19.  There may even be a vaccine. But not so climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are a classic tragedy of the commons. Climate change cannot be avoided by individual action; any reduction I make in my greenhouse gas emissions can not protect me from global warming. Collective action at the international level, and that is what is required, can only be achieved by governments acting together to ensure that the polluter pays the price sufficient to ensure that they stop polluting.

Individual businesses and airlines see little, if any, first-mover advantage in reducing their emissions. To do so costs money and risks their being beaten on price by those who refuse to act without compulsion. I suspect that ‘social desirability bias’ is causing businesses to over-report their action on carbon. Many of them will at best be encouraging their clients to offset their emissions and as I have argued here before carbon offsetting is too good to be true.

There has been chatter about ‘revenge travel’ on social media and in some broadsheets. There will be some pent up demand, but the phrase has more to do with creating a catchy headline than contributing to any useful analysis. Domestic travel to self-catering accommodation has bounced back, for obvious reasons. People can take control of their biosecurity. International travel is much more uncertain. Potential holidaymakers recognise that throughout their journey, from airport to destination, in the destination, and back again, they need to be careful of their biosecurity.

YouGov polled adults in Britain between 2 – 3 July and found that while 45% expect to travel in the UK in the next six months, nearly two-thirds of the public (64%) would not feel safe travelling by plane. This was up from 40% on 8 June. The same survey revealed that residents populations are nervous of tourists bringing COVID-19 with them.

Travel and tourism will recover; we will get to grips with COVID-19. We can take steps to protect ourselves from the virus, but we cannot self-isolate from climate change. Action is required; climate change is a more significant danger to our species and our industry than COVID-19.

We urgently need to decarbonise travel and tourism. Back in April 2019, I wrote here that the aviation industry is our sector’s Achilles’ heel. Jane Ashton, formerly at TUI and now Sustainability Director at easyJet has acknowledged that there is an urgency about tackling climate change and that to tackle it, the aviation industry must “reinvent itself and…move to electric and hybrid aircraft powered by renewable energy.” We shall be debating this at WTM London in November.

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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