Wednesday, May 14

Experts say demand for green business travel is growing

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Demand for green services in business travel is growing, an expert panel told 225 travel managers and suppliers at a recent National Business Travel Association (NBTA) Canada conference.

As part of their travel agreement selection process, organizations ask hotel chains what they are doing to mitigate their carbon footprint, according to Michelle White, Director of Environmental Affairs for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. Meeting planners are also going "green", she added. "They are all looking at how to minimize the impacts of those meetings, and the expectation is that you will have these strategies in place because it is a key component of any venue selection."

Helen Brough, Director of Advisory Services for American Express, said the majority of American Express business travel clients ask similar questions. The problem, she said, is that the answers are vague. "They say 'we are very committed to this. We are putting procedures in place," she said, "But, there's no hard-core detail."

Not good enough, says White. Clients want concrete, measurable programs. Fairmont recently signed a contract to have the World Wildlife Fund assess the company's carbon footprint and recommend a strategy for change.

The new program will add to what Fairmount already does to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the line. "We largely focus on minimizing the environmental impacts of our hotels, looking at, for example, waste management strategies, energy and water conservation." White explained.

These fact-based assessements are vital, says panelist Charles Johnson, Director of Sales for Agresso Travel Industry Solutions. Once, he said, CEOs might have announced their intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% with little or no idea of what that meant. The new trend is to be more rigorous, creating carbon statements that would be similar to financial statements.

Although green demand is growing, the higher costs for environmentally friendly products or services can still be a barrier for travel buyers, says Brough. "If a hybrid-car rental is more expensive, that is still an issue." On a more positive note, she also said some companies are turning green action into new business. She cited a survey in which 20% of American Express business travel clients said they had won business because of their environmental programs.

White, Brough, and Johnson were part of NBTA Canada's 4th Annual Conference & Exhibitor Showcase, held in Toronto.
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