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Driving sustainable tourism with Booking Cares

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Marianne Gybels, Global Manager Corporate Social Responsibility, Booking Cares explores the definition of sustainable tourism and what this means for

Earlier this month, Booking Cares -'s CSR programme - published its 2018 Annual Update; a review of what we’ve learnt in the last five years and the contributions made towards leading sustainable change through innovation and collaboration. Looking back not only gave us an opportunity to celebrate this progress, but also helped us focus on what lies ahead.

Understanding the challenges

Tourism is built on our desire to experience new cultures and historic landmarks, breathtaking destinations and environmental feats. But ignoring sustainable practises puts these very things at risk.

It’s happening already. Last year, Maya Beach, on the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi Le, was closed in a bid to halt the damage caused by years of overtourism. America’s national parks are facing a popularity crisis with picturesque landmarks overrun with selfie sticks and Instagram opportunists. Amsterdam’s famous canals are overwhelmed, with the city accommodating 42 million visitors in 2017.

Over 1.4 billion international tourists travelled in 2018 alone, with the UNWTO predicting a 3.3% annual increase until 2030 - and so growth will be monumental. As tourism booms, so too will the impact we have on the world around us. That’s why it’s so important that we collaborate across the industry - working at local and global scales with government, nonprofits and startups - to encourage systemic change and ultimately make sustainable travel the norm.

Defining sustainable travel

For, sustainable travel is built on four pillars: tourism dispersal, inclusive travel, cultural preservation and promotion, and environmental conservation and protection.

Last year, ‘overtourism’ was named one of The Oxford Dictionary’s words of the year - an ‘accolade’ based on its worrying prevalence. How we protect overburdened areas and support developing destinations to alleviate some of that pressure is a critical priority. Consumer interest is there: recent research* showed that most tourists are open to adjusting where and how they travel in order to lighten their footprint, with more than half of global travellers (51%) willing to stay outside of the city centre or travel outside peak season (68%).

This goes hand-in-hand with the first interpretation of inclusive growth - empowering local communities to fully benefit from the potential of the travel industry. The gap between what is spent by tourists and what actually benefits the destination is staggering. There is real opportunity for travel companies to impart more equality and develop a more inclusive growth model that supports the local communities that are so often overlooked.

Research showed that most tourists are open to adjusting where and how they travel in order to lighten their footprint

Inclusivity also impacts the tourist themselves, with a real need for accommodations and experiences that cater to the needs of those affected by disabilities, through accessible travel - including advice, amenities and services. Again, this a multi-stakeholder process that requires collaboration between governments, destination marketing organisations, online travel agents, accommodations and beyond.

Immersion in other cultures is an incredibly enriching part of travel, but there is great risk that we lose this gift and are left with homogenised experiences - and worse still that the cultural heritage of a destination is irreparably damaged. Respecting the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserving cultural heritage, and instilling intercultural understanding and tolerance is vital for the preservation and protection of these destinations.

Last but not least, environmental conservation is of critical importance. Tourism and travel accounts for 8% of global greenhouse emissions. That figure is roughly equivalent to that of Japan - the world’s 5th largest polluter. It’s is vital that we prioritise attentive use of natural resources, maintaining ecological processes and protecting natural heritage and biodiversity. As an industry we need to tackle this head on, with scalable initiatives that will protect the world’s oceans, its flora and fauna, and the entire ecosystem.

Action and acceleration

The ways in which we further sustainable tourism are broad. In conjunction with industry-wide collaboration, we also support a number of led programmes.

On a local scale, we empower our employees to make a difference through the Booking Cares volunteer programme, while collaboration through the Booking Cares Lab sees us work with local governments to address the big issues they are facing at grass roots level, connecting them with changemakers and companies that have bold ideas that could help.

Globally, we focus on driving innovation through the Booking Cares Fund that’s dedicated to supporting the growth of non-profit projects, and Booking Booster, an accelerator programme that sees our mentors and experts support sustainable travel scale-ups to develop their businesses and the impact they can make, amplified by grants of up to €500,000. Backing these amazing ideas, that are disruptive and - importantly - scalable, is our way of ensuring we really tackle sustainability effectively.

There is a massive opportunity for accommodation providers to engage in sustainable travel. Big groups and hotel chains can explore innovations around operations, taking steps to reduce food waste and water use or engaging with responsible local vendors. Smaller property owners can help educate guests on their surroundings, directing them to amazing local experiences off the beaten track or guiding them to respect their natural surrounds. Small changes can make a difference. Tourism can be a driver for change, a force for good. Every traveller has good intent, so let’s give them the chance to do so.

*Research commissioned by and independently conducted among a sample of adults who have taken a trip in the last 12 months/plan to take a trip in the next 12 months. In total 21,500 respondents were polled (including 1,000 each from Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, China, Brazil, India, US, UK, Russia, Indonesia, Colombia and South Korea; and 500 each from Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, Croatia, Taiwan, Mexico, Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore and Israel). Respondents completed an online survey between 10th August to 30th August 2018.


Learn more about sustainability at

Read the full 2018 Annual Update.

Booking Cares

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Hero image: credit to Floris Heuer
  • Over 1.4 billion international tourists travelled in 2018, with the UNWTO predicting a 3.3% annual increase until 2030 - bringing heightened impact on global destinations
  • defines sustainable travel across four pillars: tourism dispersal, inclusive travel, cultural preservation and promotion, and environmental conservation and protection
  • drives sustainable travel innovation through the Booking Cares Fund, supporting non-profit projects; Booking Booster, an accelerator programme for sustainable travel scale-ups; and Booking Cares Labs, in partnership with local governments