By Chris Elmitt, MD of Crystal Interactive.
In 2019 I attended insightful events which highlighted sustainability and the impact on our future industry. The first was CVent Connect where Fiona Pelham spoke, a trailblazer for sustainability in the events industry for over a decade. Her insights encouraged delegates to consider how to make changes within their companies, no matter how small the difference may seem.
The second, the Global Business Travel Association event in Germany, brought the European business travel community together to discuss and shape trends. I facilitated the Big Idea to pool perspectives from 500 business travel community leaders seeking to understand how travel programmes could be more sustainable.
The Audience split into five segments, each considering the challenges of different stakeholders and exploring what would drive change and what would oppose it before sharing highlights in a closing feedback session.
On reflection, I realised how immense the corporate travel buyer role has become, compounded by several factors.
1) New decade, new directive.
For over a decade, travel managers have focused on making travel as frictionless as possible for business travellers and ensure booking corporate travel is as easy as booking leisure. Rates with carriers and hotels are negotiated on volume leading to the inevitable conclusion that more is better. Now, that programme will need to change fundamentally, and focus on the supplier's environmental credentials over the rate. The individual traveller will also need to be conscious about whether there is a need to travel in the first place.
2) Accelerated change.
We know that attitudes to climate change are rapidly evolving - Greta Thunberg, the Extinction Rebellion and Aviva's warnings on the environment are all less than 18 months old. At the same time, Attenborough's frank assessment on plastic is only two years ago. In this context, corporate attitudes toward the environment are changing too. One of our panellists said that policy was under continual development, making plans over a three-month horizon a challenge. For an industry accustomed to long-term planning and aligning procurement contracts to those plans, this fluidity is a new and difficult dynamic.
3) From enabler, to change maker.
We all know that being environmentally conscious means changing habits in our personal and professional lives. In a corporate environment, the job of encouraging, cajoling or forcing change may well fall to the corporate travel manager. This is an entirely upgraded and more prominent role for those in the post, which may or may not be welcome.
4) Data, standards and expertise.
The immediate issue is collecting, assessing and understanding the travel programme environmental impact data. Should one airline's commitment to biofuels be favoured over another's commitment to off-setting? How does a hotel policy around food waste match up to a new-build property's exacting standards on heat loss? How do travel management companies report on these issues, and quantify good or acceptable? I sense that an industry-wide effort to create easy to measure and understandable benchmarks is probably the most sensible - if not the easiest - place to start.
Image Credit: Photo by Frank Vessia on Unsplash