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  • Writer's pictureEmily Bailey

'Net Zero' - What Will It Look Like? We Take A Deep Dive Into This Long And Complex Journey!

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

By Emily Bailey

The journey to Net Zero is long and complex and often feels like an ambition rather than a goal.

Today we revisit the ‘Net Zero - what will it look like?’ panel session from the Adventure Travel Networking (ATN) conference in February 2023, with panellists Paul Easto, founder at The Wilderness Group, Hannah Methven, Sustainability specialist at Explore Worldwide and Alex Narracott, founder and CEO at Much Better Adventures and discuss how the Travel Foundation’s Envision 2030 Net Zero Framework can steer tour operators towards Net Zero.

Left to Right: Paul Easto, Wilderness Scotland; Hannah Methven, Explore; Alex Narracott, Much Better Adventures

During the ATN23 Conference, we discussed how tour operators measure their carbon emissions and create Climate Action Plans to achieve their Glasgow Declaration commitments. Armed with this information, itineraries can be tweaked to reduce carbon, with the view that year-on-year carbon reduction leads to Net Zero. International flights are often excluded from these calculations as this is outside tour operators' control, yet stopping flying is not the answer to a sustainable tourism industry.

⬇️ CLICK BELOW to listen to the podcast from the ATN23 conference in February

Step in the Travel Foundation report ‘Envisioning Tourism in 2030 and Beyond’,

this report introduces the Tourism Decarbonation Scenario (TDS) that has found the route to decarbonising travel whilst still allowing for growth.

During the panel discussion Net Zero - what will it look like?, Alex Narracot, co-founder of Much Better Adventures gave us an overview of the report that requires changes to tour operator planning, consumer behaviour and government policy. The crucial point of the report is that the amount of global air-miles flown – and jet fuel used - must be kept close to 2019 levels to allow us to achieve 2050 Net Zero targets. By flattening the curve, the aviation industry has time to invest in the technology to decarbonise, leading to tour operator decarbonisation and achieving Glasgow Declaration commitments.

Stagnating the longest-haul flights at 2019 levels does not mean degrowth or slashing long-haul itineraries from tour operator programmes.

If a tour operator’s future growth strategy is based on increasing long-haul customers, that should be raising alarm bells. Instead, you should look for the areas of growth in the Tourism Decarbonisation Scenario – of which there are many – and lean-in to these opportunities, investing in new products and packages, new destinations and new markets.
You should also look at your itineraries and supply chains, focusing initially on transport and accommodation energy use, to help prioritise your decarbonisation plans. And find out the climate action priorities for each destination, to consider how your tour operations can align with, and help deliver, these.”

Says Ben Lynam, Head of Communications from The Travel Foundation.

IMAGES: Adventure Travel Networking (ATN23) Conference, central London

So what what actions can tour operator take to support The Travel Foundation’s TDS?

Reconsider KPIs

  • Are your annual targets still based on passenger numbers? A paradigm shift across the industry is required to change this and look at the value of each passenger and the impact of each passenger. Understanding the positive economic impact of each trip requires new measures and a mindset shift.

Nudge towards greener travel choices

  • Is train or ferry travel possible? Give the option as part of the adventure as standard and make it easy with stopovers and connections. The report says any journey under 900km should be replaced by a train, boat or car/van.

Encourage longer stays

  • Is a long-haul itinerary 10 days and could it be enhanced by making it 12-14 days, switching an internal flight for an overnight train or ferry? For maximum social impact, add in a community-led tourism experience.

Encourage direct flights with airlines that are investing in sustainable technologies

  • The carbon burn at take-off and landing is the most carbon-heavy section of the flight, so encourage this only to happen once.

Encourage low-carbon activities

  • Most adventure activities are low in carbon, but small changes can add up. Maybe change a hotel so a bus isn’t required to start a walk or bike ride.

Change accommodation

  • Is there an option for accommodation that has a better environmental and social impact? Green energy, reduced food waste and supporting local people in employment and entrepreneurship are all things to consider when looking at accommodation.

Tour operators focusing solely on long-haul destinations will likely find this shift the biggest challenge. Most long-haul trips are longer than short-haul ones already, so encouraging longer stays to keep the economic growth curve going up whilst flattening the carbon curve will take more effort. Creative marketing and storytelling will be required to ensure clients see the benefits of longer stays.

IMAGE CREDITS: Visit Scotland

Looking at broader source markets could help the shift towards proximity tourism. Many tour operators launched domestic itineraries in response to COVID, but are these still selling? Could these now be sold to a European consumer base who arrive by train? An increasing number of UK tour operators have overseas offices, so selling Latin America to the US, Europe and North Africa to the UK market and Asia to the Aus/NZ market could be possible for the larger operators and should be considered by marketing teams.

Panelist Paul Easto from Wilderness Scotland spoke on this subject at CO26, he says:

“We all have to fly less and accept that multiple short-haul flights for short holidays are hard to justify. Domestic and nearby markets (which can be accessed by land transport) should, where possible, be part of the source market strategy. The key to travelling well is to ensure that when you do fly, you transact with those destinations and companies which are maximising these positive benefits.”

IMAGES: Adventure Travel Networking (ATN23) Conference, central London

The Travel Foundation's vision of tourism beyond 2030 needs buy-in from tour operators, destinations, airlines and all tourism stakeholders. The adventure sector has long been advocates for responsible tourism, so now is the time to lead the way in helping achieve their vision.

To download the whole Travel Foundation report click here



The next Adventure Travel Networking Conference & Marketplace will

take place on 27 & 29 February 2024 as a hybrid event.

Register your interest HERE

About the Author

Emily Bailey is the face behind Just Tourism, a consultancy creating bespoke sustainable tourism plans with achievable goals for adventure and niche tour operators.

Emily is passionate about adventure travel and ensuring tourism experiences have a positive impact on the planet and its people.

She supports ATN and ensures everything on the technical side of the virtual supplier/buyer marketplace is in place, prior to the event. She also adds insight into the panel sessions, particularly related to sustainable tourism.


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