Sustainability steps for travel and tourism businesses

1 March 2023

What travel and tourism businesses can do in 2023 and beyond

Thoughts by our CEO, Anthony Rawlins

In part 1, I looked at the sustainability challenges facing travel and tourism, how we got here, and what we could learn from the fashion industry. This time, I want to explore some practical steps that tourist boards, DMOs, and individual travel and tourism businesses can take in 2023 and beyond, or at least think about, on their journey to becoming more sustainable.

As night follows day, people will always want to discover new places, experience new things, and explore new cultures. So it’s on us, as an industry, to help them do it as sustainably as possible – all while catering for evermore environmentally aware consumers in a cost-of-living crisis.

While there is no silver bullet, here are a few things we could do…

1. Lift up sustainability champions

Could tourist boards do more to promote themselves as sustainable destinations? For example, identifying the most sustainable travel and tourism businesses in their area and promoting them as such in their comms. It’s not about naming and shaming businesses that aren’t, it’s about lifting up those who pay special attention to sustainability. Ideally, this will encourage less sustainable ones to follow suit and, over time, improve sustainability overall.  

2. Accredit where its due  

Could industry create a series of subsidised sustainability courses that travel and tourism businesses can sign up to? These would provide a framework, education, and training on sustainable practices that businesses could realistically and cost-effectively implement. It could also be supported by an accreditation programme, recognised by industry and consumers alike – a bit like the Food Standards Agency’s food hygiene ratings you see in so many revenues that sell food.

3. Bake in the cost of sustainability where possible

Just as the retail sector’s done so successfully, bake in the inevitable costs of becoming more sustainable into your pricing. Most people won’t worry too much about small increases if you frame it in the context of doing the right thing for people and planet. Ask yourself what costs in your product/offer/experience could you absorb so consumers don't have to make a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice? And how could you frame any cost increases in the sustainability context?

Missed Part 1? We've got you covered...

Click here.

4. Focus on marginal gains 

There are countless little things you can do that, added together, can have a huge impact. From banning single-use plastic, to putting recycling bins in hotel rooms, to switching to renewable gas and electricity suppliers, to installing water-bottle filling stations (with branded reusable bottles), to fitting charging points for electric vehicles, to tracking food miles, to using certified ‘green’ appliances and environmentally friendly cleaning products…the list is endless.

Inevitably, the above may cost more initially and, no doubt, you’re already doing a bunch of things, but the point is to have a plan. In many respects, it’s about drawing on that same energy and spirit of innovation we saw right across our industry during the pandemic. How did you innovate? How did you rise to the challenge? Because, as night follows day, sustainability will become increasingly important in the years ahead, and doing the minimum or having to suddenly play catch-up will blunt your competitive edge. 

5. Take responsibility, from start to finish

If you’re a tour operator, could you take on the responsibility of sustainability for your customers’ entire end-to-end journey? So not just ensuring the most sustainable forms of travel and accommodation (including carbon-offsetting flights), but also the journey to and from the airport, for example. Or making sure the entire holiday experience – and whatever it involves – has a minimal carbon impact, without compromising on the quality of your offer. 

6. Clear and creative = compelling

As a business that works in travel and tourism marketing and communications, we're increasingly finding sustainable and ethical messages are landing more powerfully than ever with consumers. Especially, if they’re framed in a compelling way to resonate emotionally. In fact, in our experience many consumers are happy to pay a little more if they see the extra value of doing so. L’Estrange, for example, is certainly not the cheapest, but its messaging around its ethical, sustainable and long-lasting clothing range more than offsets its premium price tag.

So positioning your travel or tourism business through the sustainability lens is, in my view, a real opportunity. Yes, there are some hurdles to overcome and some investments to be made, but sustainability, pitched in the right way, can be a very strong differentiator in what will become an increasingly competitive market. A market that will only attract more scrutiny from outside the industry. 

Last Word...

To my mind, the way forward is clear: tourist boards and DMOs need to push their green credentials (including through sustainable accreditation) and promote sustainability more rigorously. Travel and tourism businesses need to have an honest conversation about how they can provide what they do more sustainably, and what costs they can realistically price into their offer, so consumers don’t have to make ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choices when it comes to protecting the planet.

What’s also clear is that if our industry doesn’t get ahead of the sustainability curve, we’ll soon be forced to by the Government, the media, or by the ultimate arbiter of success and failure – consumers.

 It’s time to act.

Do as many of the above as you can and I promise you’ll see positive results. And if you need a friendly, experienced hand to help you along your journey, well, get in touch


Anthony Rawlins, Navigate CEO

I’ve spent the last 18 years honing my marketing and strategic skills in the travel, tourism and experience sectors. As an entrepreneur, I’ve also created several other companies to make the most of opportunities I see in our industry and the wider world of business.