21 Apr 2021

The cusp of a carbon neutral travel revolution

Carbon Neutral Travel

The travel industry is swinging back into gear. And we in the industry have the chance to bring it back different. To bring it back cleaner. It requires a carbon neutral revolution of travel with solutions that are already in market. More than ever, our customers are demanding it today. And their children will demand it of us for the sake of tomorrow.

The first time I sunk my head below the warm turquoise water off Dunk Island as a 12 year old will live inside me forever.

The underwater festival of fish. Bright colours zipping and darting shyly between the coral. The clicks of the parrotfish grooming the ocean floor. The awesome slickness of the white-tip reef sharks capturing both your wonder and your fear.

Those moments live in all of us. Whether it be the blues of Reef, the cherry blossoms of Kyoto, or perhaps the egg-yolk sunset behind the Taj. Whatever it is for you, it’s the same feeling that our children will expect to enjoy when they get the chance to book their first flight and spread their travel wings.

Yet the truth is that many of these wonders are under increasing threat.

We’ve lost, for example 75% of the world’s reefs in the last 50 years as a result of warming oceans causing these ecosystems to bleach.

I remember being interviewed by SBS TV at the start of the major bleaching event of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016. It was January and the predictions of a major heat wave were starting to play out on the Reef. We had many scientists from our organisation sending back reports on how small garden-plot patches of the Reef were turning into white paddocks overnight as a result of the Reef literally vomiting its tiny polyps that give them their radiant colours.

The media was reporting this as evidence of the Reef under severe threat. An important icon damaged in front of our eyes. A place of wonder for visitors from all over the world sending us a signal that things must change.

This was devastating from an ecological perspective, but also weighed a heavy toll on the millions of jobs attached to giving people the chance to explore these wonders.

In 2016, when the Great Barrier Reef experienced its largest bleaching event, 60,000 jobs suddenly were thrown into jeopardy and an estimated $1 billion was lost in one season.

This put a temporary break on tourism, much like other weather events have done in other corners of the world.

However, to a large extent, the industry returned on a business as usual course. Until COVID came. And the breaks were slammed on.

A chance to reimagine travel?

But to dwell on the problem would be to miss the opportunity to do things differently as the travel industry revs up again in a post-vaccine world.

Tourism must be part of the solution. And it must start with addressing the single biggest contributor to a traveller’s footprint: carbon emissions.

The average person’s carbon footprint is blown out each year from a single overseas trip, or a few domestic ones. Added together, travel accounts for about 7 per cent of the world’s emissions.

But what if this could be zero? What if we all had the option to fly, stay and motor carbon neutral?

This mandate has driven Tasman Environmental Markets to develop sophisticated software to empower customers to accurately calculate their emissions and offset it on the spot through projects that have met strict criteria from organisations like the World Wildlife Fund.

We call our software BlueHalo, inspired by the atmospheric ring of blue shone by the Earth when viewed from space.

By embedding this solution into our client’s booking engines, we’ve offset millions of carbon emissions and poured millions of dollars into projects which improve the lives of millions of people across the globe through clean power, safer drinking water and employment on their traditional homelands.

Now is the time to scale these solutions. As the industry comes back, why don’t we support it’s sustainable growth by making these options as easy as extra luggage? As effortless as a room upgrade? As simple as all the ancillary services our industry sells each and every day?

But, will anyone actually care?

So, we have the solution. But we know that it has to stack up against a million competing interests on our busy agendas.

Plus, the problem with climate change is that well, the problem is so big! Will an individual traveller really be inclined to ‘tick the box’ to go carbon neutral? Does it really make a difference?

All signs are pointing to an emphatic “Yes”.

Early predictions in May of 2020 off the back of the way people responded to COVID showed a heightened sense of awareness of the role individual actions can play in solving big nasty global problems. We saw this with 88% of US and UK residents saying they would do as much for climate change as they have for COVID.

This trend has continued, especially across Australasia.

Our clients at Qantas have more customers choosing to tick the box to invest in Indigenous carbon enterprises and forest protection efforts than ever before. It was already an industry leader, but now over 10% of customers booking through the company’s website fly carbon neutral.

Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce earlier this month said that sustainability “Was really the number one question we had” from customers around it’s record breaking ‘Project Sunrise’ flight.

Online travel agents are also seeing the demand.

Our work with Webjet shows a huge jump in the number of people choosing to offset their flights in the region in the last month.

Research published earlier this month by a consortium of marketing experts also showed that carbon emissions was the number one concern for customers, outranking COVID at number two.

Now’s the time.

As Barrack Obama put it, “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.”

This opportunity rings no truer than for an industry brought to its knees in one year, and which has the opportunity to be revamped in a brand new way the next.

For those that choose to delay, we know a moral opportunity will be missed. But a branding one will too. A chance to tap new markets. Deliver what customers are asking for. A chance to stand out above the rest in an industry known for being difficult to find a point of difference.

But perhaps most importantly, right now is the chance for you to make your mark on the industry to keep ‘that moment’ alive for you. That moment on the Reef. Standing among the cherry blossoms. That moment sipping chai at the entrance of the Taj.

And if we get it right this time, future generations of travellers that will follow in your (green) footstep will thank you for it.

So, let’s get going. Let’s come back different, stronger, more sustainable. For the sake of our individual industry and our collective future.

Want to find out more about BlueHalo? Contact Adrian Enright for a demo at Adrian@tem.com.au.

Adrian Enright is TEM’s Partnerships Director; passionate about surfing, family and the unrelenting quest for a healthier future planet.