Airline, Hotel Leaders Tell Travel Advisors Sustainability Will Be a Collaborative Effort

Airline, Hotel Leaders Tell Travel Advisors Sustainability Will Be a Collaborative Effort

by Harvey Chipkin
on April 21, 2023
Last updated: 11:30 AM ET, Fri April 21, 2023

Leaders in sustainability and ESG (environment, social, governance) from several airlines and a hotel company addressed an Earth Day event conducted by Internova, the travel advisor network, at the company’s New York headquarters about how the industry as a whole needs to work together to achieve sustainability goals. 
The audience was mainly luxury advisors from the network’s Global Travel Collection.

J.D. O’Hara, CEO of Internova, said the company’s business “revolves around the Earth” and “there is no better place to start on the road to sustainability than with ourselves.” Last year, he said, Internova committed to being carbon neutral for its own business travel by the end of this year.

Ka-Wai Siu, vice president, compliance and ESG for Internova, said the organization relies a great deal on what suppliers do and those suppliers must help advisors in being comfortable when talking to clients about sustainability.  

Internova, said Siu, has been increasingly focused on the environmental aspects of ESG and has partnered with multiple organizations to achieve its goals. It is also working alongside suppliers to bring more useful information to advisors.  

Sustainability is not just about the environment, said Siu. It is also about supporting communities and cultures that will eventually help generate long-term jobs for travel and tourism.  

Environmentally-friendly travel

Internova has programs for customers that help them measure their carbon footprints. (Photo Credit: pcess609/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Aside from its carbon neutral goal, said Siu, Internova has programs for customers that help them measure their carbon footprints. The network is also providing support for advisors to help them understand and implement simple steps toward sustainability. Coming soon, she said, is a sustainable itinerary workshop series.  

“There is power in numbers,” she concluded, “and we need to work together with suppliers to have the most impact.”

Gail Grimmett, senior vice president of sustainability for Delta Air Lines, said that in the past carbon neutrality was the only available tool but newer technologies are now enabling a move toward decarbonization. The bottom line, she said, is that “everybody the airline cares about cares about this” – including investors, advisors and customers.

There are two main pillars for Delta’s sustainability plan, said Grimmett:

  • Embed sustainability into everything the airline does
  • Eliminate the climate impact of flying

While the airline waits for technologies like sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to advance, said Grimmett, it is taking all the measures it can. That includes removing as much plastic as possible from in-flight service, electrifying ground vehicles and much more.

In addition, the airline is adopting flight policies that save fuel – like the methods of taking off and landing, flying more slowly if a flight is early and buying more new aircraft that are more fuel efficient.

“We want to make sure,” said Grimmett, “that advisors are with us on this Net Zero journey.”

Stacy James, CSR Sustainability Lead, USA for Air France/KLM, said the carrier has two main pillars for the mission: sustainability; and community and culture. “Every measure counts toward reducing emissions,” said James; “to arrive at net zero by 2050 means working on all fronts to reduce impacts.”

Airbus A220-300, Air France

Airbus A220-300, Air France (Photo Credit: Air France)

Air France, said James, is growing a modern fleet with planes that produce 20-25 percent fewer emissions than current equipment. By 2030, she said, 70 percent of aircraft will be new generation.  

SAF will become the main lever for decarbonizing in the next few years. By committing to purchasing the fuel now, she said, the airlines are stimulating production.

Another tactic is “eco-piloting,” immediately reducing consumption without the impact of safety or punctuality simply by changing the way aircraft are operated.  

Air France is also continuing a program of Train + Air, which involves being able to book air and train travel together when appropriate to promote a less carbon-producing method of transportation. Every year, more than 160,000 customers use the combined modes of travel.

On board, said James, meal strategies include: responsible catering and reducing food waste; reducing plastic; and recycling packaging. The carrier has a program under which only meals that will be consumed are placed onboard and unused food is donated.  

At Virgin Atlantic, said Zaida McLoughlin, commercial director, eastern USA, the focus is on sharing and commitment because “it will take more than a village to become sustainable.” She said Virgin was the first carrier to use SAF – on a test flight in 2008. It was also the first to fly a full commercial flight using 10 percent SAF in 2018.  

Among the approaches Virgin has used are removing plastic bottles, changing to canned drinks, refreshing amenity kits to eliminate plastic, using bamboo stirrers and eliminating plastic straws.  

Energy used at the airline’s headquarters in the U.K. is 100 percent renewable, said McLoughlin. And most of the company’s car fleet is hybrid, with the goal of 100 percent electric or hybrid by the end of this year. Much of the food used in-flight is from sustainable farms.  

Virgin sees partnerships as a key to success and has three goals: to be a voice for decarbonization, to reduce emissions and to remove carbon altogether.

Nancy Prowda, senior director of ESG for Hilton, said the company’s ESG strategy is called Travel With Purpose. Hilton, she said, views advisors as “caretakers of travel for their customers.” She said those clients work for companies that are making sustainability a goal and when they travel they will be looking for more sustainable suppliers. “Our role at Hilton is to arm advisors so they can be a good consultant for their travelers and give them confidence that they are traveling sustainably.”

Conrad New York Midtown penthouse

Conrad New York Midtown penthouse. (Courtesy Conrad New York Midtown)

Hilton, said Prowda, has a LightStay program that tracks energy, waste and water use at each hotel and reports on the results. Those numbers can also be provided to clients to show how much of a footprint they are having. “It’s an opportunity for advisors to show their expertise,” she said.  

On the meetings front, there are three goals:

  • Making meetings more sustainable
  • Making sure food choices are energy-boosting sustainable items
  • Leaving communities better than before attendees arrived

Other Hilton initiatives, said Prowda, include a soap recycling program, which donates recycled soaps; digital keys which eliminates plastic room keys; and electric vehicle charging stations, now at over 3,000 hotels.

Giving one hotel as an example, Prowda said that Conrad New York has a water filtration system in each room and that 97 percent of rainwater is collected and reused by the hotel.

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