Global Travel and Emissions Cutting. Threat or Opportunity?


Global travel: the case for cutting emissions and the possible impact on meetings and events - threat or opportunity? By Chris Elmitt

At the recent GBTA European Conference in Munich, I facilitated a workshop for 500 travel professionals who were exploring how to make business travel more sustainable. We discovered how stakeholders - including suppliers (such as hotels and airlines), travel buyers/ managers and agencies - have an individual and collective responsibility to reduce the impact of business travel on our planet. We discussed the importance of data in driving effective decision-making, but above all, we learned that we need to travel less. 

So what might this mean for the events industry? At first inspection, the implications are grim. Companies such as PWC report that 80% of their total emissions are from business travel. Here’s a list of the biggest travellers in the world.

Corporate targets to reduce emissions by 20% over the next three years (such as published by Capgemini) equates to a 25% reduction in business travel. Does that sound significant?

 For the events industry, it depends on the elements of business travel companies choose to reduce. For professional services, as an example, companies will often prioritise client meetings, pushing the reduction targets to internal and supplier meetings. Therefore, a 25% reduction in business travel could lead to a 50% reduction in travel for internal and supplier meetings. 

For example, an employee took ten overseas trips a year in 2014, which comprised of seven business-critical team meetings plus three conferences. They now have a budget of 5 overseas trips for 2020; they may prioritise five team meetings and forego all of the conferences. While this is an extreme example, it leads to reflection on our portfolio of 500 events in 2019 and wondering how many of these will be discontinued over the next five years?

However, as an industry, we can evolve and stay relevant. I recently attended a panel session where CMOs were talking about how they used events as part of their marketing plan. The excellent Julie Woods-Moss, ex-CMO of Tata Consulting, said “Events are no longer about conveying information - there are many cheaper digital ways of achieving that… Live events are now only about moving hearts and minds.” 

With that in mind, here are seven predictions of how sustainable business travel will shape events in the near future;

  1. Information-only events will become the preserve of companies where all staff are within local/ public transport distance of the event venue. For everyone else, these events will go virtual.
  2. Events will focus on winning hearts and minds. The challenge for event professionals will be how to design and implement such a meeting, especially with a generation of leaders raised in the information-only model of conferencing. Technology use for events will shift as a result.
  3. Events will become shorter, smaller and more co-located so a staff member can attend the three conferences all in one week, all in one place, enabled by a strategic approach to event programmes.
  4. Events will become more collaboration and decision-making focused than information sharing as it will be the only way to justify an event.
  5. Flat-packing events will become the norm. Regional or local editions of a global event may be delivered with a consistent format.
  6. We will develop new, more sophisticated models for evaluating the impact of events to demonstrate the Return on Carbon Investment.
  7. Venues and destinations that work in a holistic way to develop a low carbon offer (including low-carbon airlines, ground transfer and sustainable venue stock/ food, etc.) will win big. 

Which unfortunately may be the end of red meat at lunchtime.

Image Credit: Photo by Nils Nedel on Unsplash


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