Tourists have always come to experience nature when they visit Twillingate, Nfld., says tour leader Crystal Anstey, but now they want to make sure their experience is environmentally friendly as well.
“They care about global warming and sustainability. They talk about this when they come here now and we talk about it with them, and they get what we’re doing environmentally,” says Ms. Anstey, who guides and cooks for visitors at Experience Twillingate, a locally owned tourism and culinary operation.
Experience Twillingate is one of many small and medium-sized tourism operations across Canada that are making environmentally friendly values a selling point and upping their eco-game. There’s an industry-wide response to climate change, COVID-19, and an increasing consciousness and concern among consumers about where they are going and whether they’re travelling in a sustainable way.
“We find that people want to slow down and stay a few days longer in one place, as opposed to jumping around. They’re less concerned about ticking off a box from a list,” says Belinda Bard, a consultant and trip planner for Askari Travel, a Toronto-based agency.
“Embracing and employing responsible and sustainable practices is vital for the tourism sector’s growth and recovery,” says Beth Potter, president and chief executive officer of the Tourism Association of Canada, an advocacy group representing the $105-billion nationwide industry.
In June, the association and GreenStep, an environmental consulting firm, launched a tourism pledge program for the industry, to encourage tourism businesses and destinations to commit to measuring and improving their sustainability performance each year between now and 2030.
The pledge involves travel operators and companies measuring their performance against criteria such as the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015. Then, based on how they score, companies outline how they will improve by 2030.
Participants agree to review and update their performance every year and they can certify to customers that they have recognized environment-friendly credentials through their participation in the program.
The program suggests areas where travel-related companies can boost their eco-standing such as purchasing from local suppliers, partnering with local and Indigenous cultural and nature organizations, measuring and improving energy efficiency, and developing a climate action plan.
It’s important for the Canadian travel industry to keep up because the global environmental situation is changing fast, says Angela Nagy, GreenStep’s chief executive officer.
“Before the pandemic, the key drivers were marketing and the idea that travel companies should simply do something,” she says. “The industry was growing really fast before COVID and there wasn’t as much time to look at what direction it was going in. The pandemic gave everybody time to reflect and plan.”
In addition to being more sensitive to the planet, the travel industry needs to be ready for changes in the economy and the work force, Ms. Nagy adds.
“For example, carbon taxes are coming and [according to the federal government’s timeline] the tax is going to be $170 per tonne. Travel companies need to understand what this means if people are paying more and what we all get in terms of environmental change,” she says.
“The labour market has also changed. People in the travel industry, especially millennials, want to work for organizations that are [focused on] sustainability,” she adds.
Sustainable travel is more important than ever to consumers, according to industry-wide surveys. Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Survey, released in June, describes current times as a “watershed moment” for both the industry and travellers.
“The pandemic has been the tipping point for travellers to finally commit to their own sustainable journey,” states the survey of 29,000 travellers from 30 countries. It found that 83 per cent of those surveyed think sustainability is vital to travel, while 49 per cent believe that there are still not enough sustainable travel options available.
More than half of those surveyed say they get annoyed if their accommodations aren’t environmentally friendly enough, for example, if they don’t have recycling facilities.
Travel industry giants like Booking.com have responded by providing more information to users about sustainability. The site now includes third-party sustainability certifications on its listings and makes available details about significant positive environmental practices at individual properties.
Google Flight also now includes carbon emission information on the flights it shows for booking, measuring the potential carbon impact of individual seats.
Communicating the effort is still a challenge for the travel sector, the Booking.com survey says. While three out of four accommodations say they are doing at least one thing to be more sustainable, only a third actively let their guests know about their efforts.
The trend toward more sustainable travel also has a lot to do with the reasons why people travel in the first place — curiosity, says Ms. Bard of Askari Travel.
“They want to know about the place they’re visiting, what the people there are like, who they are, and what they do,” she adds.