With sustainability still high on lists of worldwide travel trends, Booking.com and the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) have come together to guide accommodation providers on the right, green path.
An online education course has been launched and is freely available to everyone, but is aimed at those in hospitality. Topics covered by the “experts” on the programme include “community engagement, energy usage & greenhouse gases, food management, and water management” with a focus on sharing best practice and actionable advice on how to operate in a more sustainable way. A version of the programme has been in place since 2021 and has been accessed by 1.4 million property providers globally, according to Booking.com.
“Increasing supply of sustainable options”
“Supporting partners, and the wider industry, to integrate more sustainability practices into their operations is a core component of our mission to make it easier for everyone to experience the world. By increasing the supply of more sustainable accommodation options, we are also enabling travellers to make more mindful travel choices. This ultimately benefits the places we visit, the people who live there and the planet,” Danielle D’Silva, Head of Sustainability at Booking.com, said in a statement.
It’s a nice story and the sustainability aims of Booking.com and UNWTO may well coincide with the goals of many destinations around the world. Take community engagement for example. In Hawaii, where wildfire tragedy struck this summer, decimating the local community and its idyllic travel reputation in one swoop, the conversation quickly turned from “how quickly can we rebuild and re-open” to the more existential “how do we want to re-open”, with a strong emphasis on better inclusion of islanders in the conception of their offer.
20 years in the making
It’s interesting to note that twenty years ago, the whole notion of “sustainable travel” hinged on nature tourism. Things have changed in that time – and by design, not accident. Today’s understanding of sustainability – including the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s criteria around protecting culture as well as nature; and providing social and economic benefits to local people – that idea only really began gaining traction in around 2005, with the world’s first United Nations Ecotourism Summit in Québec City.
So the UN has been building its definition of sustainable travel for some time. Now accommodation providers and the platforms they sell through have been effectively on-boarded to the extent that Booking.com is training its hosts how to make themselves fit that definition to match consumer expectations.
Whose version of sustainability?
But with the air industry facing what some say is an unsolvable emissions crisis amid a frenzied quest for green fuel sources, some might argue that “sustainability” in travel is unattainable. What’s more, a number of destinations have their own angle on the question of sustainability, where the answer does not involve an “increasing supply” of Airbnb style rental properties that market themselves as “sustainable” just because they have triage bins for their waste.
Indeed, a raft of destinations from Japan to Spain, from the Netherlands to Greece, are looking how to reduce the impact of overtourism, ensure accommodation quantity and designation suits the needs of residents not just tourists, and, in some cases, actively discourage certain types of visitor, as well as certain types of provider, sustainable or not.