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Building a more sustainable travel industry

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We explore some of the ways the industry is collaborating to become more sustainable, including a look back on the first year of our Travel Sustainable programme

Sustainability remains an important talking point across the industry, including at our Elevate 2022 event in Singapore. During the event, one session in particular – “Together for Tomorrow – All About Sustainability” – brought three experts together to share their insights.

The panel consisted of Booking.com’s Head of Sustainability Danielle D’Silva and Senior VP of Trips Matthias Schmid, as well as Choe Peng Sum, CEO of Pan Pacific Hotels Group. During the session, they shared their thoughts on the importance of sustainability and how we can work together as an industry to make travel more sustainable. 

The first talking point was a seemingly simple one with a wide-reaching answer.

What is ‘sustainability’?

D’Silva noted that while many people are quick to associate more sustainable travel with “flying and hanging up towels”, the reality is that it’s a complex, holistic topic.

For instance, sustainability encompasses more than just climate and the environment. Other important aspects include economic, cultural and social factors, such as protecting local communities and ensuring locations aren’t overcrowded.

Assessing sustainability within tourism requires looking at the positive impacts of travel to amplify them, while also being honest about the negative impacts and trying to mitigate those. To be effective, a sustainability plan needs to be holistic – bringing all aspects together.

Getting started in sustainability

One of the reassuring takeaways from the session was that there are more sustainable options available to accommodation providers of all sizes. The key is to take the right steps for you at your current stage.

Choe Peng Sum shared insights into some of the investments that the Pan Pacific Hotels Group has made in recent years with impressive results, such as investing in more efficient windows to reduce the need for air conditioning. While this was a large investment, his main advice to others was far simpler – start small, see the return, then follow the results. 

All speakers agreed that one of the key considerations is measurability. It might be energy reductions, water saved, plastic bottles eliminated, number of local artists supported or any number of other metrics, but there should be a tangible number attached to each investment, so you can see what delivers the best results.

Transport’s role in the journey towards sustainability 

Of course, transport plays a big part in a trip’s total emissions. D’Silva made the point that we need to be cautious of getting too siloed by thinking that different aspects of a trip are completely separate. Doing so can lead to the efforts of one vertical being undermined by the lack of progress in another.

While not in the control of accommodation providers, emissions associated with other parts of their trip can have an impact on guests and the travel decisions they make, with around 30% of customers having ‘flight-shaming feelings’.

One of the ways Booking.com will be addressing the carbon impact of transport is by displaying flight emissions information, with the aim to help travellers better understand the impact of their travel choices. To do this, we will use technology developed by Chooose alongside the methodology developed by Google as part of the Travalyst coalition's aviation framework

Highlighting more sustainable accommodation on our platform

One of the issues with sustainability is the intent-action gap – customers say they want more sustainable options, but when they struggle to find them, they can’t follow through. 

Even as a Head of Sustainability herself, D’Silva shared it’s sometimes difficult for her to find the most sustainable options when shopping in other industries. As she noted, if even she struggles with all of her expertise, how can we expect customers to know the best options without helping them?

This is one of the reasons we set up our Travel Sustainable programme, which recently celebrated its one year anniversary. The programme is designed to help make more sustainable travel choices easier for everyone while recognising and supporting our partners on the shared journey to a more sustainable travel industry.

Since the programme’s launch, more than 400,000 accommodations have received a Travel Sustainable badge and have been globally recognised for their efforts to operate more sustainably. By continuing to work together, we can build a more sustainable travel industry while making it easier for everyone to travel more sustainably.


Discover more

Want to discover how you can operate more sustainably? Visit the Travel Sustainable Handbook for expert advice. 

Travel Sustainable Handbook

What do you think of this page?

  • Sustainability is a complex topic that goes beyond climate and the environment to include other important aspects such as economic, cultural and social factors
  • There are suitable steps accommodation providers of all sizes can take to operate more sustainably, and not every effort requires large financial investment 
  • Choe Peng Sum, CEO of Pan Pacific Hotels Group, advises partners just embarking on their sustainability journey to start small, see what works, then follow the results
  • Our Travel Sustainable programme recently celebrated its one year anniversary, with more than 400,000 accommodations already receiving global recognition for their efforts to operate more sustainably