The return of business travel has been more a case of resuscitation than renaissance following the pandemic. The deeply uncertain economic outlook, full-throttle hybrid work patterns and growth in climate-conscious companies reducing their corporate travel have all led to a slow restart to the industry. Yet, meeting in person undeniably offers competitive advantage for businesses and helps to build lasting commercial relationships.
So what’s next for the future of corporate travel – how can the industry balance the often conflicting needs of human connection and the climate?
The route forward starts at the individual level and with those tasked with traveling around the world, round the clock to close deals. Amongst this cohort, there is greater awareness of climate impact and a desire to mitigate damage. As Jo Berrington, Head of Brand Strategy at Yotel, mentioned to us, “Guests we talk to are increasingly mindful of their footprint, how they try to get to places and how many flights they decide to take.”
Similarly, of the 300 people we interviewed as part of a survey analyzing sustainable travel trends, 94% told us they would maintain (27%) or increase (67%) their interest in sustainable travel over the next three years.
But this is multi-layered from offsetting to tree planting, carbon-capture to emissions. The term ‘sustainable’ is used by the media and brands without caution, generating uncertainty, confusion and understandable cynicism. A natural solution would be for travel companies to provide options for customers that align with their sustainability definitions.
So we asked people how they would define sustainable travel. 41% felt it should be a combination of low-impact travel that cares for the planet, reducing carbon footprint. Seems simple. Yet as many as 10% across all markets had no clear definition. The remaining 49% voiced an even spread of 16 varied definitions, from recycling facilities to shorter travel.
Employers and their teams are keen to ensure sustainability is at the heart of their travel model going forward, but they aren’t set on a clear definition.
Brands in the space, therefore, have an opportunity to occupy a pivotal role in the fight against climate collapse with business customers by working together to crystallize the future of sustainable travel. Transparently defining what it means to be sustainable and evolving their actions as necessary. Shifting behaviors. Setting expectations. Moving faster than regulation and playing a leadership role in the fight for the climate.
Focus on intuitive impact
To encourage corporate customers to resume traveling, communicating the positive climate impact that travel brands are making following ESG frameworks is a critical first step.
The team at Eurostar faces the challenge of communicating their climate-positive actions, including a wind power purchasing strategy, which have a net positive climate impact, but with limited emotional appeal for travelers.
Mario Rauter, Brand Director at Eurostar, gets to the heart of the issue, explaining, “The challenge is not that we’re not doing enough [at Eurostar]. The challenge is to show the power of what we’re doing, which is also sometimes quite technical.”
CIÉ, a major public transport service provider as well as a tour operator considers the powerful benefits of communicating climate positivity in travel in an emotionally intuitive way. CEO Lorcan O’Connor highlights that “if you’re on a packed train on your way to work, it’s not necessarily the most comfortable experience but, if you see a statement that says, ‘You’re saving X amount of CO2 compared to driving into work today’, you can feel pride in the choice you have made.”
In winning over customers and bringing them on the journey with you as a brand, finding the emotional way to communicate the technical benefit of your actions is critical to building trust.
Consider the entire journey
The team at Marriott International is keenly aware of the growing desire to make greener choices at every step of the booking journey.
Denise Naguib, Global VP for Sustainability and Supplier Diversity at the hospitality giant, has seen a shift in expectation in recent years, noting that travelers feel empowered “knowing that they can make different decisions using their buying power. And that either helps companies continue to do more good, or it signals to those who aren’t doing the right things that it matters to a major constituency”.
To harness this power effectively, business travelers and travel managers need to be able to filter for sustainable practices from the outset of their booking journey, ensuring decision-making is informed at every step of the process.
Marriott International’s new proprietary web feature, therefore, makes the sustainability attributes of every one of their hotels visible, guiding bookings for the benefit of the planet rather than purely the pocket.
The journey towards a sustainable business travel market is about communicating tangible change in an emotionally intuitive way. It’s about making it easier for people to travel the right way for the planet by evolving the brand experience to become something more seamless and informative. Business travelers need sustainable travel solutions and are looking to you to help them reach their desired destination.
Emma Lewis is a Senior Strategist; Ben Osborne is Head of Insights, EMEA, and Natasha Bowyer is an Insights Strategist.