In recent years, following the open skies reform, low-cost airlines have become the norm and prices have plummeted worldwide, along with a surge in the number of flights. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently announced that more than 1.4 billion people flew worldwide in the past year, so it is not surprising that airlines' fleets are growing to meeting the expected increase in flights in the years ahead.
But the good news has a less positive aspect as well. We are flying and traveling more, but we're also polluting more. There is a reason why people blame the airline industry for contributing to global warming, given that it consumes five million barrels of oil a day, accounting for 2.5% of all global carbon dioxide and soot pollution, in addition to hotels that waste water and pollute the environment with huge quantities of garbage.
In recent years, alongside the price, which has become a key factor in the aviation and tourism industry, there are tourists, especially the younger generation and in particular from Western Europe, who care about the world in which we live. When they reserve a flight or hotel, says Ivri Verbin, the CEO of Good Vision Consulting, the corporate responsibility department at the CPA and consulting firm Fahn Kanne Grant Thornton Israel, they take into account the environmental friendliness of the company or chain, or, conversely, the amount of pollution that it causes.
But which came first? Tourists' rising awareness and preference for travel companies that use green energy, separate waste, and apply recycling, and the UN declaration of 2017 as the year of sustainable tourism as part of the industry's responsibility for the environment - or the wish to cut costs in a competitive market that requires constant streamlining?
"The market will be more sophisticated"
Sustainable tourism has been picking up in recent years, and it is already far more than a slogan. Large companies in the industry understand that alongside enjoyment that they provide the public, they also pollute and damage the environment, which is why they are seeking ways to compensate. Airlines emit toxic gases? They will plant trees. Hotel chains pollute? They will support the local community.
"We fly more, eat more, and pollute more. As the global tourism industry reaches 10% of global GDP and employment, and is growing, so too does its impact on the environment. This cannot be ignored," Verbin told "Globes."
Globes: Do you think that a tourist is really interested that the hotel he chooses has a policy of separating waste and that it supplies fair trade soap?
Verbin: "Developed western markets have greater awareness of environmental and sustainability issues. The market will be more sophisticated. There is external awareness of consumer and internal awareness of enterprises that want to pollute less."
Do they want to pollute less or do governments require them to do so?
"Regulations adapt and change more slowly than the independent initiatives of companies. Sending leftover food to the needy, for example. In terms of health regulations, there is a problem about who assumes responsibility for cooked food that is transported from place to place. There was an attempt to pass legislation to regulate the subject, and the current solution is that NGOs assume responsibility. In the matter of recycling too, hotels separate waste, but, in Israel, only 3% is recycled.
"There is also regulatory demand, of course, but it is clear to enterprises that the extent of the impact is derived from responsibility. The moment that you realize that you are big and strong and that you have a lot of influence, you also have more responsibility, because it is expected of you. Regulations set the boundaries. In the European Union, for example, airlines are required to measure carbon dioxide emissions and are prohibited from exceeding the permitted cap. There is a clearly defined table of gasses that planes and airports emit, and polluters are fined.
"But it's not just fear of penalties. Those who pollute less prevent the emissions of toxic gases into the environment and also save fuel. It's a win-win. Jet fuel is an expensive resource, so that saving one percent of consumption is significant, equaling millions of dollars. In effect, all current plane manufacturing is based on low fuel consumption. To save fuel, Boeing, for example, has added to some of its models of planes winglets that reduce air friction, which burns fuel. The plane's altitude is also a factor, and airlines change flight paths accordingly.
"As for hotels, most of the savings is in energy; i.e. electricity, and the principle is the same - every percent of energy savings equals a lot of money. At the same time, the issue of younger plane fleets is important among airlines and the calculation is not just the convenience of the passenger. Companies' wish to be perceived as environmentally friendly is not just to be liked by green organizations, but also by employees and customers, who are an equally important factor."
Verbin says that young people are actually those who take the environment with full seriousness. "Young employees are now driving measures. They don’t want to work for a polluter who only cares about increasing share profits. The young generation in Europe totally emphasizes this and when they go on vacation, they prefer a green hotel. I don’t mean that this is the only consideration, but the goal is always to be more social. On the margins, there are radicals who will only buy a product or service from a green company. They're still marginal, but there is no question that this is a consumer segment that will grow."
Inviting passengers to plant trees
Protecting the environment in the aviation and tourism worlds can begin small scale, with the use of environmentally friendly glue for carpets in hotels, the separation of trash, use of disposable cups or donating remaining bottles of beverages on flights to organizations that distribute them to the needy. There is a lot to do for the Earth, and if passengers who are also responsible for the pollution, participate in some way, so much the better.
For example, many airlines, including United Airlines, ANA, and Delta Air Lines offer passengers a calculation of the damage they cause the environment according to the flight distance, and invite them to make a donation to plant trees or to environmental projects in developing countries, or to renewable energy projects. "Airlines are offering compensation mechanisms to customers who care about the environment. The plane resembles the human environment, just like a hotel, which is run like a small town that consumes energy and generates mountains of garbage. A lot of vacationers don’t want their enjoyment of the vacation to create injustices and a polluted world. Just like a person who buys a diamond takes care that it is not a blood diamond, or consumers take care not to buy clothes made in sweat shops, tourists also take care not to purchase accommodations in hotels that pollute," says Verbin.
There is no question that, from the perspective of the tourist, this is also a good topic of conversation in the living room or uploading pictures on social media.
"True, and that's fine. A hotel that decides to place signs in the dining room stating that it has switched to using only reusable bottles for beverages is a good topic of conversation. The same goes for a hotel in Vancouver, which put a beehive on its roof. There are tourists for whom this means something and there is also an understanding that it's possible to profit from these customers who are more 'sophisticated'."
"To be on the side of the good guys"
There are also those who take the environment several steps forward. For example, the Dutch chain Conscious Hotel can be classified as the avant-garde of environmental consciousness. All the energy at the chain's hotels comes from wind turbines, all the furniture is made from recycled materials, the food is organic, payment is only by cash, and anyone who arrives at the hotel by electric car will receive two parking places for the price of one. The price, by the way, is not very cheap: an overnight for a couple at the Conscious Hotel in downtown Amsterdam is about €200 in October.
"Conscious Hotel is not classified as an economy hotel, and its target audience may be similar to those who prefer a boutique hotel of a large chain, and is therefore prepared to pay more," agrees Verbin, confirming that there is a premium that any consumer is willing to pay to benefit the world around him. "This chain sets an extreme threshold, but it motivates other chains to act. Savings from laundering towels has practically become the global standard. Many hotels have a smart mechanism that turns off the power when the guest is not in the room, remaining food is sent to NGOs, as is old furniture and appliances. Every step is welcome."
Another issue of Conscious Hotel's corporate responsibility for the social aspect is access to the disabled. "At new hotels, we see a lot more accessibility in every aspect.
There is sales potential here with the option of expanding the circle of consumers to the disabled, and there is also the angle of employing disabled people and keeping a clean work environment, and also with respect to sexual harassment. Ultimately, everything drains to the hotel's reputation in its own eyes and in the eyes of the world. At airlines, the social issue is also expressed by the envelopes placed on the seats, asking passengers to leave their small change from their vacation for donations to the community."
Isn't this a matter of passengers liking that this is a company that cares?
"And if so, so what? In the test of results, this small change totals millions of dollars that is really transferred to the community."
Another growing sector in the tourism industry comes from the sharing economy, such as Uber and AirBnB. Verbin believes that sharing tourism also includes positive environmental aspects, such as reducing pollution from energy and waste, and not just savings for the tourist. As far as he is concerned, whale watching or a safari in Africa also "bring a person closer to the environment by awaking an environmental consciousness in him and encouraging green behavior, even if it is only expressed in exchanging cleaning supplies at home to more environmentally friendly products. The objective is to create an understanding that every human action affects the environment and for those engaged in tourism. The message to the consumer is that he has the ability to increase or decrease the scale of the effect of pollution on the environment and to be on the side of the good guys."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 3, 2018
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