Sustainability and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are core values that many travel suppliers and visitors are committing to as they travel the globe. Doing more than talking about the need for changes, many travel suppliers are implementing major programs to ensure that there will continue to be special places for all travelers to experience now and in the future. Travel advisors are doing their part by stressing suppliers’ key initiatives when they sell to clients, many of whom are making their own choices based on shared beliefs.
Research is showing the commitment from travel companies to sustainability. More than half (53 percent) of the active members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) have a formal, documented sustainability strategy, according to a 2022 economic impact study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC). Roughly three-quarters of tour operator members stated that their “corporate values and culture” (77 percent) and “responding positively to global crises” (71 percent) were the main factors driving adoption of sustainability strategy.
The importance of this topic led USTOA to hold its first-ever Sustainability is Responsibility Summit (SIR) in Norway last year. The discussion continues at the Tourism Cares with Norway Meaningful Travel Summit to take place in April 2023.
“The Sustainability is Responsibility (SIR) Summit was an extraordinary way for industry leaders to exchange best practices and perspectives to promote responsible tourism,” says Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA. “We look forward to the second iteration of the Summit this year to continue the conversation and learn how the travel industry can continue to make a positive impact.”
One member of USTOA, Hurtigruten, has been at the forefront of sustainability for more than 15 years. The company was the first cruise liner to ban heavy fuel at that time and it was the first to ban all single-use plastic in 2018, according to Daniel Skjeldam, CEO of Hurtigruten Group. It launched the world’s first battery-hybrid-powered ship in 2019 and currently has four in its fleet. (See the sidebar for more on Hurtigruten’s sustainability initiatives.)
“We believe in protecting what we love, which is nature and wildlife,” says Skjeldam. “It’s as simple as that! As an industry, we have a responsibility to ensure minimal impact. We stand at the forefront of sustainability initiatives and commitments, and we believe we are setting a new standard of sustainability for the travel industry. But we need the whole industry to step up to achieve major results.”
In March 2022, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) made the commitment to pursue Net Zero Carbon Cruising Globally by 2050. All member cruise lines of CLIA have sustainability policies and practices actively in place, according to Anne Madison, senior vice president, global strategic communications and marketing for CLIA.
“Cruise lines today are more conscious of their impact on the environment than ever—and are reducing their emissions by using less fuel, utilizing new fuels, installing solar panels, and using recycled materials for interior design—and much more,” says Madison.
A January 2023 “Consumer Trends Report” from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) showed that 69 percent of consumers are actively seeking sustainable travel options, according to Virginia Messina, senior vice president of WTTC. Of that 69 percent, nearly 60 percent are either already paying to help offset their carbon emissions or say they are willing to do so at the right price, she adds. The study also showed that around three-quarters of high-end travelers are willing to pay extra to make their trips more sustainable.
Virtuoso has been committed to sustainability for more than 10 years, including having its own Sustainability Council that it formed in 2017 to strengthen and expand its efforts. In Virtuoso’s 2022 sustainability survey, more than 80 percent of surveyed travelers said that the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future and 75 percent of travelers are willing to pay more to travel responsibly if they know how the funds are being used.
“Once a client knows the specifics of what kind of positive impact their money can have in a destination, they're much more willing to spend with companies who contribute to that impact,” says Jennifer Allison, a travel advisor for Nashville Luxury Travel, an affiliate of Avenue Two Travel, a Virtuoso Agency in Nashville, Tenn. “Clients want to keep visiting these places and make sure that they're still around for their grandchildren to visit one day.”
Be pro-active when it comes to recommending sustainable travel products, says Annie Jones, owner and luxury travel advisor for Telos Travel, an affiliate of Avenue Two Travel, a Virtuoso Agency in Philadelphia. “Don’t ask if [clients] want the sustainable option–assume that they do and highlight the benefits to them,” she says. “Even if your clients are not actively talking to you about sustainability, odds are they care about at least one (or multiple) topics surrounding sustainability. Ask questions to find out where their passions lie—is it animal conservation? Gender equality? Education? Clean energy? Find out and tailor your itinerary decisions to fit their interests. We have a fundamental responsibility to take care of the places we are selling, and it starts with us.”
Along with initiatives to help the planet, the travel industry is also committed to DEI, including such organizations as the Black Travel Alliance, which was founded by 18 content creators who wanted to ensure the playing field was leveled for Black travel Professionals. Martinique Lewis, a Diversity in Travel consultant and co-founder and president of the Black Travel Alliance, and creator of the ABC Travel Greenbook and app, and host of National Geographic’s “Black Travel Across America,” says “it's important for companies to have Black Travel Advisory Boards because when your company is significantly represented by people who aren't Black, but you want to reach the Black community, where are your insights and experiences coming from? You can't understand my journey because you aren't me. I can only tell you what I experience and what my preferences are.”
The first Equity through Economics, Education and Equality Leadership Conclave (E3 Leadership Conclave) from the Future of Black Tourism (FOBT), a coalition of leaders working to build a sustainable global ecosystem for Blacks in travel, tourism, and hospitality to thrive, will take place in August 2023. Other annual signature initiatives slated to launch in 2024 are Black Travel & Tourism Week and the Caucus on Black Tourism.
“It is important and necessary for underrepresented groups such as Blacks in travel and tourism to work together to ensure broader representation for equitable industry opportunities, public policy, and federal funding for Black businesses and organizations,” says Stephanie M. Jones, founder and CEO of Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance/Blacks in Travel & Tourism. Jones serves on the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board and Northstar Travel Group's Black Travel Advisory Board as well.
Lewis is a board member and Jones is the chair of Hurtigruten's Black Travel Advisory Board, which was created last year to encourage more visibility and inclusivity of the Black traveler in expedition cruising. The main goal is not only to encourage Black travelers but also Black travel professionals within the cruise industry, says Anders Lindström, Hurtigruten Group’s head of public relations and communications in the Americas, and the person who spearheaded the creation of the board.
“We have to ensure that all people feel welcomed and included wherever they want to go in the world,” says Lindström. “We know that Black travelers or travelers of color want to travel all over the world, however they are not presented those destinations and experiences in the same way. So, for us, it is crucial to better understand the Black traveler and their needs and also realize how to reach them best. It is up to us to earn a customer’s trust so that they will feel comfortable traveling with us.”
Photo Credit: Leslie Hsu
Hurtigruten Expeditions’ Sustainability Standouts
Travel advisors with clients seeking authentic and unique experiences in remote destinations should know about Hurtigruten Expeditions and its industry-leading sustainability initiatives. These clients seek atypical adventures and travel with purpose, meaning, and care for the environment. They want opportunities to give back. Citizen Science initiatives, beach cleanups, and other community-based learning projects appeal to their sense of environmental stewardship.
Hurtigruten’s sustainability initiatives focuses on protecting the nature, reducing emissions and supporting local communities. Guests learn about environmental issues unique to the places they visit to become ambassadors for both the destination and the planet.
Hurtigruten Expeditions sets itself apart through its Science Program, overseen by Dr. Verena Meraldi, the cruise industry’s first and only Chief Scientist. In her role, Dr. Meraldi finds opportunities for Hurtigrutens’ ships to serve as platforms for research in remote areas. To date, Hurtigruten has built longstanding relationships with over a dozen of the world’s leading institutions, creating meaningful opportunities for guests to support scientific research. Onboard, guests attend lectures, participate in hands-on activities in state-of-the-art Science Centers, and contribute to Citizen Science projects like HappyWhale and eBird.
Partnerships with local communities offer guests authentic experiences to learn about environmental and social issues, as well as a particular focus on local and plant-based foods. Hurtigruten also provides foundational support for sustainability projects, including 41 projects in 11 countries ranging from helping endangered orcas in the Pacific Northwest to securing safe spaces for vulnerable Greenlandic children.
In 2018, Hurtigruten became the first cruise company to ban non-essential single-use plastics. And a decade after it was the first cruise line to ban heavy fuel oil, Hurtigruten unveiled the world’s first battery hybrid-powered cruise ship, MS Roald Amundsen, in 2019. Now it has three in its fleet, significantly reducing carbon emissions.
To learn more, sign up for Hurtigruten’s agent portal, https://agentportal.hurtigruten.com, and explore Hurtigruten.com.