Last week I headed down to the Google Offices for Travel Weekly’s Sustainable Travel Event. Joined by the Kiwano community, spirits were high. Unfortunately, good intentions and a ‘green’ agenda aren’t always enough. Despite my skepticism, mainstream events like this are relatively new, and seeing them at all is both positive and hopeful for the tourism industry.
Written by Rebecca Woolford
Although the lineup of speakers and fancy Google offices could be a perceived draw to attend Travel Weekly‘s annual sustainability event, the biggest pull factor is always going to be the opportunity to meet up with the Kiwano community.
‘Building community is a requisite foundation for building a better world’.
As social animals, our instinct is to find strength in numbers. So, when we find a common mission, a strong sense of purpose, and a feeling of belonging, the size of the group and limited resources are no match for a group of businesswomen with FIRE in both their hearts and minds.
“In the face of a seemingly impossible challenge, women and girls are a fierce source of possibility.” Dr Katherine Wilkinson.
Time with friends and Kiwano Ambassadors Annika, Rachel, Marie, Emma & Carolyn
3 KEY Takeaways From Travel Weekly’s Sustainability Event
1. Sustainable Travel Is About The Environment. It’s Also About Community.
I had high hopes for Bruce Poon Tip, Founder of G-Adventures and visionary behind the groundbreaking film The Last Tourist. I’m glad to report he didn’t disappoint.
Bruce’s authenticity, knowledge, energy, and messaging made him the highlight of Travel Weekly’s sustainability event by a long shot. It worried me how many ‘unqualified’ and largely ‘unknowledgeable’ people were invited to the stage to talk about ‘sustainability’, at points it appeared to be related to who had the biggest marketing budget. Bruce restored my faith and made the 10-hour journey worthwhile.
Bruce Poon Tip on stage at Travel Weekly’s Sustainability Event
For some, it was a pleasant reminder. For others, it seemed like new information.
Bruce shared how ‘Travel and tourism have the power to transform lives and help eliminate poverty by uplifting communities.’ When done right it can be the most effective vehicle we have to create a fairer and more equal world.
Said to provide 1 in 10 jobs globally, more than half being women, tourism has a unique position and important role to play in solving many of the challenges people around the world face.
In a world in which 1 in 9 people still don’t have enough to eat, with the world’s richest 1% owning more wealth than all 99% put together AND with tourism leakage as high as 80% in some destinations – we need to build back better travel.
G-Adventures is one of the leading tour operators in community-based tourism. Placing ‘community’ at the center of the travel experiences. It may sound obvious but this community-first approach – across the 200,000 travel agencies and tour operators that operate today – is the minority, not the majority.
Bruce Poon Tip went on to challenge the notion of taking a trip or holiday and our mindsets. Stating ‘travel is a privilege it’s not a right’ and by changing our mindsets and internalising this notion, our travel experiences become so much more fulfilling – to ourselves, to the communities, and to environments.
Bruce Poon Tip in Google’s offices sharing how travel has lost its way
G-Adventures runs a variety of community-based projects such as Oodles of Noodles in Vietnam; Bikes with Purpose in Belize; and Women with Wheels in India; it was a beautiful thing to see Bruce proudly share inspiring video clips filled with hope.
“We define sustainability as community development and by communities who can benefit from tourism.”Bruce Poon Tip, Founder of G-Adventures
You can learn more about community-based tourism and how to evolve your business for the better in THIS Trustpilot-rated, on-demand learning experience.
Click here to catch the 5 big questions the film The Last Tourist will force you to ask yourself.
“The highlight of the event was listening to keynote speaker Bruce Poon Tip. A key point was that often when people take holidays they lose sight of the destination. He shared how ‘Everyone is trying to create that experience that makes you feel like you have never left home. It’s no longer travel.’ I loved his point on how promoting home comforts is putting travel’s future at risk. We should be embracing the destination, and that means stepping out of our comfort zones.”Emma Summers From Travel Counsellors | Kiwano Graduate and Ambassador
2. Animal Welfare Is The Elephant In The Room That Few Are Talking About.
Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2Holidays had it coming. Perhaps he should have been better prepared for a ‘sustainable travel’ event.
Captive dolphins swim in chlorine tanks 200,000 times smaller than their natural range in the wild
Below is the moment when Rachel Tredwell, Kiwano Ambassador, and TTG Sustainable Champion raised her hand to ask Steve why Jet2Holidays continues to profit from wildlife entertainment.
Steve’s response was flaky, confused, and a little embarrassing to say the least. The best possible response that could have earned Steve more likes and trust would have sounded something like this… ‘Thank you for raising this today. It’s not a topic I know much about. I will look into how we can do better as a company, as you know sustainability is a journey, not a destination.’
Instead, the response was…
“We’re not North Korea or Cuba. We are not going to try and dictate to people how to live their lives. This is what our customers want… What are we supposed to do, start censoring people?”Steve Heapy, Chief Executive at Jet2holidays.
Steve Heapy Chief Executive of Jet2Holidays speaking at Travel Weekly’s event.
The point Steve completely misses in the recording above is the fact that customers are not making informed choices, largely fed misinformation and greenwashing. You can click below to watch the 5 biggest lies marine parks and their marketing firms are feeding to people.
Moreover, travel agents across the UK are rallying together to ask travel giants to stop selling these types of attractions. Off stage, Steve seemed to agree that he didn’t want to upset the travel business community. Unless he wants a petition like this one directed at his business, he better get moving.
Press play to hear the 5 most common justifications you’ll hear for marine parks from 8.40…
“Animal welfare is a fundamental pillar within sustainability, yet it continues to be overlooked. It’s a subject of huge importance in the travel agent community. Events like this are a great opportunity to challenge tour operators and industry partners on their animal welfare policies. Jet2 Holidays and Travalyst were both questioned LIVE on stage by the Kiwano community about their businesses which are still failing wildlife. “Marie Rowe From Travel Counsellors | Kiwano Graduate and Ambassador
“I wouldn’t have had the knowledge or confidence to raise my hand at an event like this last year. Arming yourself with knowledge feels good and future-proofs your travel business in a fast-changing market, whether that’s on wildlife tourism or tourism leakage. Education is the most powerful tool we have to change the world. I love being a part of this travel business community.”Rachel Tredwell From Not Just Travel | Kiwano Graduate and Ambassador
“Steve Heapy disappointed me by attempting to sidestep the issue of captive wildlife in tourism saying, ‘If it’s what my customers want I will sell it.’ I am sure that if most Jet2Hoilday customers and agents knew the extent of the suffering the captive wildlife experience, they wouldn’t be on board. He also ignored the fact that giants like Expedia have already removed captive wildlife from their sales portfolio.”Carolyn Joyner Travel Counsellors | Kiwano Graduate
3. Greenwashing ALERT!!! Even ‘Sustainability’ Events Can Fall Victim
When I saw that MSC Cruise was one of the proud sponsors of Travel Weekly’s sustainability event hosted in Google’s London office, I thought WTF. Am I missing something?
Cruising is a notoriously filthy and controversial sector of the travel industry. Sure, air travel isn’t doing the climate any favors but large CRUISE LINES like MSC have negative impacts that are so much more far-reaching.
Furthermore, Euro News shared a study that found that a large cruiseliner can have a bigger carbon footprint than 12,000 cars, while an overnight stay onboard uses 12 times more energy than a hotel.
As expected my question (see below) for MSC cruises was hushed by the event organisers, ‘time’ was to blame or so they said. I got a big, wide grin from Antonio Paradiso, MD of MSC Cruises as I was asked to lower my hand by the mediator. He wasn’t going to get away that easy.
My arm was pretty tired by lunchtime. Challenging the status quo and asking questions drives change.
I genuinely want to express my gratitude to Antonio and MSC Cruises, as his flashy videos and speeches throughout were valuable lessons in greenwashing for both me and my students. The group of travel agents who’d invested time learning the theory on greenwashing here was able to see it play out in 3D. ‘The paint on the hull… good for the fish’ was a group favourite.
Approaching Antonio as he walked off stage – when the eyes and ears of the audience had already been diverted elsewhere – I asked him about THIS grade F report by Friends of the Earth. I asked when he planned to tackle the toxic water pollution issue that his ships bring to our oceans and marine life. His response was a perfect blend of flustered, mumbly, and generic. Antonio cut our conversation short waving his arm at me, stating he had to leave. Leaving the room red-faced I could only hope that a seed had been planted in his mind’s eye.
3 FACTS about Large Cruise Lines Like MSC and Why They Are Greenwashing Experts
1) The 218 cruise ships operating in Europe last year emitted more than four times more sulphur oxides than all the continent’s cars combined, according to the NGO Transport & Environment. Sulphur dioxide causes respiratory problems, it’s also a key component of acid rain.
2) A large cruise ship during a weeklong voyage produces 210,000 gallons of sewage and 130 gallons of hazardous waste. Despite the ‘sustainability’ message these ships still discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of scrubber wastewater— which is filled with heavy metals and other toxic contaminants that harm marine animals like orcas and sea turtles.
3) Cruise ships not only hurt the environment, they hurt local communities and they don’t pay taxes. Large cruise companies like MSC are also one of the worst offenders of tourism leakage, where money jumps out of the destinations.
Greenwashing is a harmful and deceitful way of advertising that a company is more sustainable than it is. Many believe MSC’s “environmentally advanced” ship could be considered greenwashing. This year Cruise line’s greenwashing was exposed concerning shore power.
A Letter To The Event Organisers At Travel Weekly
Dear Travel Weekly,
Thank you for inviting me to this year’s event. Running events isn’t easy and I know no one is perfect. The very fact you’re even putting on an event like this is a good thing.
However, there is room for improvement. I’d like to share 3 ways your sustainability event next year could be even BETTER.
Firstly, I did see the small vegan section at lunch but serving lamb at a sustainability conference, really? Did you know that it is one of the most carbon-intensive foods on the planet because of its land and water requirements coupled with methane emissions and contributions to decreased biodiversity?
Number two. Please, please, please consider your sponsors and what they say about you. Think long and hard about brand association, and building trust with your audience. As you heard from Google themselves, those who’ll win the race are those who earn people’s trust.
Finally, more diversity of speakers would take Travel Weekly’s events to the next level. From gender to race. Just as ecosystems need biodiversity to thrive, society and even events like this need cultural diversity to grow new possibilities. ‘Monoculture deadens our collective potential.’
I hope you’ll consider these suggestions and welcome you and your team to our next webinar, or online training to support your continued understanding of this topic.