Sustainability has become one of the hottest topics in the travel industry in the past few years — and particularly since the start of the pandemic, as the halt of travel put a spotlight on what “could be” and created an opportunity to spur transformational change from this moment forward.
Consumers are indicating a heightened interest in sustainability in all forms — environmental, economic and social. Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report 2021, based on surveys of 30,000 people in 30 countries, finds 46% say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.
And many consumer-focused travel companies clearly recognize this interest and the opportunity they have to differentiate their brands by taking action on sustainability.
In recent weeks brands such as CWT, Accor, Singapore Airlines, Intrepid Travel and TourRadar have announced new initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, support nature conservation, benefit local communities and more. Last week, Brazil’s Azul announced a $1 billion partnership with Lilium to begin operating electric air taxis.
But what about sustainability action at B2B companies — those that do not deal directly with travelers but provide the systems and services that keep the industry running? A new report from consulting firm Belvera Partners finds: “Sustainability overall has had a poor take-up in the B2B travel space.”
For its report, Belvera assessed websites of 350 B2B travel companies from around the world looking for sustainability policies, reports, examples or any other meaningful mention and also whether the information was easy to find.
The findings indicate a lack of prioritization of sustainability topics among B2B travel companies analyzed — or at the least, a lack of public communication about their positions on this topic.
The report finds only 43% of the companies analyzed mention sustainability — or similar terms such as environment or CSR — on their websites. Many fewer (24%) have sustainability policies on their sites and still fewer (17%) have any sort of “sustainability report.”
“If a company can’t demonstrate its sustainability credentials, then stakeholders will quite reasonably assume the worst. Our data shows then that the worst is what people must be assuming for the 83% of organizations in our sector that still don’t produce something that can be vaguely called a sustainability ‘report,'” says Roman Townsend, Belvera Partners’ managing director.
“While the moral obligation is hopefully clear, the failure to act is also hurting these businesses economically: banks are less likely to lend, B2B partners are screening out such suppliers and employees are beginning to vote with their feet, too.”
Looking at 12 sub-sectors within the B2B the travel ecosystem, aviation has the highest percentage of companies with a sustainability report (42%) or at least a mention of sustainability on the company website (89%) — although it scored below average on ease of finding sustainability information.
The B2B car rental service sector scored the lowest, with only 16% of companies mentioning sustainability and none having a report or published policies. Travel technology companies come out slightly better than the average for mentions of sustainability — 53% versus the 43% average across all sectors — and for having published policies: 29% versus 24% average.
Looking at it geographically, the majority of companies studied are headquartered in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom and Spain. But the U.S. has the lowest percentage of companies with sustainability reports — 13% — compared to the U.K. (23%) and Spain (19%).
“When you consider that we’ve set the bar pretty low here — you just need a basic CSR report, some half-thought-through policies and a picture of a beach clean-up, all easily available on your website, to get top marks — then yes, it is a surprise that so many companies still can’t do even that,” Townsend says.
“More shocking is that we contacted 100 or so companies who have literally zero information, offering them a chance to update us, and only seven even responded.”
The report also includes interviews with topic specialists such as Laura Garrido, founder of Etico, a sustainability strategy consultancy focused on the tourism sector.
“So far in the B2B travel world, it has not been a high priority, mainly due to the lack of awareness on how to respond. Sustainability has to be integrated into the DNA of an organization and continually be on the executive committee agenda: considering not just the environmental, but the social and economic elements too. Right now that is not happening nearly enough,” she says.
The report also includes summaries of sustainability strategies being implemented by Amadeus, ABTA and Hotelbeds and a list of 10 recommendations for B2B travel companies on how to begin a sustainability initiative.