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While the overarching goal of “sustainability” can
seem like an insurmountable challenge dependent on technological advances years
or even decades away, some travel buyers still are relishing the smaller
victories on the path to that goal.

Carrie Bowman, global travel manager at medical device
manufacturer Cordis, sees herself as an “evangelist” within her
company on sustainability but acknowledged that while she has made a
“personal commitment to take the time to do the research,” it can be
a challenge amid the myriad other duties she faces in her work, she said last
month during an education session at the Global Business Travel Association
Convention in Orlando.

Still, she said she has successfully tweaked policy to meet
an objective of “empowering travelers to travel in the most
environmentally way possible,” she said. Some of those modifications include
a recommendation for rail instead of air for travel distances under 300 miles
and a car policy that requires midsize rentals but allows full-size rentals if
more than one person is traveling together.

T. Rowe Price travel manager David Thorne in the same
session said he is in the early stages of his sustainability strategy but
started by tackling one specific area: encouraging use of Amtrak rather than
airlines on one of the company’s major routes, between Baltimore and New York,
which stood to be a reasonably easy sell to travelers considering there is
little travel-time difference between the two methods. When it comes to getting
travelers to make greener decisions, such as staying in a hotel that might be a
few blocks further from a destination but that has a smaller environmental
footprint, he sees his role not as an enforcer but an educator.

“My job is to encourage,” Thorne said.
“Travelers will always take convenience over anything else, but If I can
impact one traveler, there will be a trickle-down effect.”


We can bring these buyers together; you can’t do that with the hundreds of millions of customers in leisure. We might be 20 percent of the emissions, but we can be 90 percent of the influence. We can punch significantly above our weight.”

Amex GBT CEO Paul Abbott


To build upon these successes, travel buyers also are
seeking to better understand their impact, which they can communicate to
leadership to gain support for more initiatives. That particularly has been the
case as corporate travel has begun picking up amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our employees have new expectations,” Emily
Weiss, managing director of Accenture’s global travel industry practice, said
during a GBTA main stage session. “We could say we want to reduce costs,
we want to reduce our carbon emissions and we want to make smart decisions, but
it’s not just about that. It’s about being a responsible player in the value
chain. It’s about listening to our shareholders, stakeholders and employees and
making new decisions around traveling responsibly.”

CWT chief product officer Erica Antony said she’s seeing
clients focusing not only on reducing business travel to the extent possible
but also enabling travelers to make better decisions when travel is essential.
The travel management company’s focus now is in helping “arm each
individual in order to make that best decision,” she said.

“It might be in reporting capabilities: How do you
present that information that’s really accessible for travel managers and
travelers?” Antony told BTN. “When I’m booking a ticket, I want to
know information about costs and availability, but we also want to know what
impact it has on the earth. It’s harder than it has to be, so we want to help
solve for making that a really integrated part of the process.”

American Express Global Business Travel has been developing
a new “Green Compass” tool, a dashboard to help travel managers
better understand the potential effect of travel policy changes. Travel buyers
facing lofty sustainability goals—a certain level of carbon emission reductions
by a certain date—can try different “levers” to see the potential
effect on progress toward those goals of smaller decisions, such as shifting to
more fuel-efficient aircraft, switching to hotel brands that have lower
emissions or using rail instead of air. From there, users can fill in gaps with
longer-term solutions, like investing in sustainable aviation fuel or carbon
offsets.

“You’re helping the client to focus where they need to
act,” Amex GBT VP and general manager of global business consulting Julie
Folliot-Avenel told BTN. “The main goal is to work for clients and help
them make decisions.”

The Green Compass tool is still in its early stages, and
Amex GBT during the next few months will work to integrate additional data
sources, such as OAG—which provides information on airline schedules, aircraft
type and load factors—and the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking Index
for hotels, Folliot-Avenel said.

In the larger picture, breaking down sustainability goals
into accessible tasks also makes them seem more achievable. Much of the tasks,
after all, ultimately will come down to decarbonizing aviation, but that seems
less daunting when one considers that the vast majority of aircraft are made by
two manufacturers, as are the vast majority of aircraft engines, Amex GBT CEO
Paul Abbott said at a GBTA general session. Similarly, the corporate travel
community has a concentration of power that will enable it to effect more
change in the long run.

“We can bring these buyers together; you can’t do that
with the hundreds of millions of customers in leisure,” Abbott said.
“We might be 20 percent of the emissions, but we can be 90 percent of the
influence. We can punch significantly above our weight.”

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