3 global sustainability trends and how they may impact your tourism business

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3 global sustainability trends and how they may impact your tourism business

Practically every set of published trends that you can find relating to travel and tourism from the last 3 years includes ‘sustainability’ as a key trend. When you think about it, it’s a mis-appropriation of the word.  Sustainability is about the long-term feasibility of our lives on this planet.  ‘Sustainability’ is the very opposite of a trend (think ‘Bleisure’, ‘Workation’ or ‘3G Travel’) with all its connotations of short-term, current, for now and fashionable.  

Trends are about decisions or behaviours for the short-term in response to current stimuli.  Sustainability, by contrast, is a long-term, collective outcome that will derive (or not) from current decisions and behaviours.

The Search for Sustainability may be termed a megatrend i.e. a long-term shift in behaviour and attitude with global impact across multiple industries. The Search for Sustainability reflects a fundamental change in outlook, values and worldview that is leading to the disruption of entire industries, not least of which is tourism.

Check out this article from my 2018 Tourism & Megatrends series: (4) Megatrends & Tourism 1: Search for Sustainability | LinkedIn

The Search for Sustainability is evolving and this article considers trends in just three of those.


1. Climate Crisis: understanding and sense of urgency are growing

Once the domain of scientists, the climate crisis is now part of our everyday reality. David Attenborough made it understandable. Greta Thunberg made it personal. Intense destructive weather events made it visible. The recent IPCC Climate Change Report made it more starkly real than ever.

We are now aware that our personal carbon footprint really matters. We are becoming highly aware the carbon footprint of who we choose to buy from matters.  


What does this mean for your business?

Take the climate crisis seriously right now. Commit to climate action at the level of your business.  Firstly, this means establishing the carbon footprint of your business. Secondly, it means setting targets for reduction that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Thirdly, it means developing and implementing a Climate Action Plan that will lead to a reduction or elimination of your carbon footprint. Taking meaningful climate action requires you to measure and monitor progress.

If you haven’t already written a sustainability policy for your business, get cracking on that. People (customers, staff, community) want to know what your policy is, what you stand for, what actions you are  taking. Have it ready and to hand. Create it together with your team and make it authentic, reflective of who you are and what you do. 

Your Climate Action Plan may include a wide range of actions. Chief amongst those will be actions relating to energy (eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, switching to renewables, managing transport), followed by actions relating to waste management and water conservation.


2. Greenwashing : awareness is increasing while tolerance is diminishing

“Greenwashing is used to describe the practice of companies launching adverts, campaigns, products etc. under the pretence that they are environmentally beneficial, often in contradiction to their environmental and sustainability record in general”

What is greenwashing? | Ethical Consumer

“A firm is deemed to be greenwashing if they spend large amounts of time and money in advertising and marketing their ‘green’ goods or services rather than using that time and money in actually implementing environmentally friendly practices.”

Greenwashing - Definition, Seven Sins, and Example (corporatefinanceinstitute.com)

(Check out my article here of my own experience of being greenwashed in the hospitality sector) Responsible Tourism & Hospitality - The 'All Policy No Practice' Risk (thetourismspace.com)

Greenwashing grows in direct proportion to the growth in awareness of the climate crises. What is also growing however is the consumer’s ability to spot it. Tolerance for greenwashing is plummeting. Consumers are more discerning than ever and there is a growing sense of personal responsibility to research the companies we choose to spend our money with.  Many official or self-appointed watchdogs are making it easier to do this. We can expect more rigorous standards to achieve greater transparency and a much greater clampdown on misleading green claims. Expect less and less tolerance from an increasingly informed public.


What does this mean for your business?

Don’t even consider greenwashing. It is not ok, was never ok and will never be ok. It will almost inevitably backfire.  Design your communications as if customers had access to the minutes of your meetings. Make sure you are transparent, honest and forthright in sharing what you do, why you are doing it and the impact it is having. Only promote impacts you have actually had rather than ones you are planning to have. Avoid making a fuss about an initiative in one area (e.g. planting trees) if there are blatant inconsistencies in other parts of your business (e.g. excessive food waste).


3. Waste: moving towards zero tolerance, especially for food waste

Have you ever heard of waste being described as a ‘design flaw’ or even ‘a failure of design’? It’s a provocative idea and an interesting way of framing our waste problem. It implies that waste is neither necessary nor inevitable. There is no waste in nature – it’s most definitely a human phenomenon.

According to the Center for Zero Waste Design “Ecosystems recycle materials indefinitely in circular loops, but the human-designed system trashes over 90% of the materials extracted from the earth within six months Center for Zero Waste Design – Center for Zero Waste Design.

Social norms around this area are changing. Unnecessary or frivolous waste is no longer acceptable. Younger generations in particular are moving towards zero tolerance, very aware that waste arises from decisions that relate to planning and design just as much as it arises from consumption decisions. Food waste accounts for 6% of global emissions! (The cost of food waste includes the processes to produce the food, the transport, the storage and refrigeration, the cooking and the disposal.)  


What does this mean for your business?

As part of your climate action plan, take waste very seriously. Actions that result in waste are usually highly visible to your customer. Customers want you to make it easy for them to do the right thing. They don’t want to feel forced into wasteful behaviour while with you. Take a day to walk around your business and look objectively at the way things are done. Call it a Waste Audit and ask yourself at each point : is your tourism business designing waste in or designing waste out?


Our desire to contribute to a better world is high right now and the desire appears to be growing. As citizens and as consumers, we need reassurance that our spending and behaviour is making that contribution. Understanding this is essential if your business is to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world and a massively-disrupted industry.



Travel Trends Report 2022 - 6 Key Trends in Tourism (regiondo.com)

Sustainable Travel Trends 2022 - Regenerative Travel — Earth Changers (earth-changers.com)

Sustainable Tourism: 10 Most Important Trends (ehl.edu)

“Waste Is a Design Flaw”—Stella McCartney and Gabriela Hearst Preach Sustainability at Vogue Global Conversations | Vogue

Megatrend Analysis: Putting the Consumer at the Heart of Business | Euromonitor

What is greenwashing? | Ethical Consumer

Center for Zero Waste Design – Center for Zero Waste Design.

IPCC Sixth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2022 | UNEP - UN Environment Programme


Tina O'Dwyer

Tina is a facilitator, mentor and coach specialising in tourism. She has extensive experience in sustainable tourism, regenerative tourism, food tourism, networks, clusters and collaborations. To avail of any of our training or coaching services you can contact us at [email protected] or sign up to our newsletter below for weekly industry insights. For those interested in connecting with other like-minded tourism and hospitality professionals, you may consider joining us in the Huddle where we have group training sessions and guest speakers every month.

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