How step change can abolish single-use plastics in the travel sector

Shannon Guihan
A new era of responsible travel HERO

For many years, the travel industry has been focused on criteria such as group size and the nature of the travel experience as key elements of responsible travel. While these aspects are important, they are just two of a great number of factors a travel provider must consider when integrating the principles of sustainability into an organization.

The way in which a travel provider operates is often overlooked, but this has been the focus of The Travel Corporation (TTC) and its family of 42 brands for the past 11 years. TTC recognizes that measuring the impact of an organization’s offices and operations, and taking steps to lessen that impact, are crucial to creating a sustainable future. A decade ago, the TTC team challenged itself to do better and created The TreadRight Foundation. This now sits at the heart of our commitment to leave a positive impact, and the Foundation’s three key pillars ­– people, wildlife, and the planet – help bring TTC’s vision of sustainability to life.

We can only realize this vision through positive action and, in 2018, we adopted an additional and critical target to our existing Corporate Social Responsibility goals: a commitment to remove all unnecessary single-use plastics from our 35+ offices and operations. Since then, we’ve eliminated more than 60 types of single-use plastics including straws, coffee stirrers, water bottles and cutlery. We’ve also stopped purchasing unnecessary single-use plastics with company funds, including for hosted meals and drinks.

As we continue to eliminate some remaining single-use plastics at our offices, we’ve also turned our attention to how we can make the most impact with this initiative across our operations. We’ve been working alongside our award-winning brands – including Trafalgar, Contiki, Insight Vacations, and Uniworld – to stop the sale of water bottles on our coaches and river cruises. Instead, we encourage guests to bring their own reusable bottles and we’re liaising with hotel and restaurant partners to implement water refill points – a critical component to the success of this scheme. On select Contiki trips, we’re trialing a new silicon one-liter water bottle with a 300-use charcoal filter that’s available for guests to purchase. These foldable, attractive water bottles will ensure our travelers have clean water at all times. Learning from this trial, we’ll determine whether these bottles can be rolled out to other brands. We’ve also eliminated several hundred thousand pieces of single-use plastics by replacing plastic luggage tags for our guests with reusable, durable alternatives.

Simply by asking, we’ve found that many of our partners that we visit on our trips, particularly accommodations and restaurants, are on the same journey to eliminate single-use plastics. We’ve committed to sharing their stories and best practices, so we can all learn from each other, regardless of size. Going forward, we’ll continue to ask for, encourage and inspire all our partners to eliminate single-use plastics from their operations.

One of our most ardent supporters in our sustainability efforts has been Red Carnation Hotels (RCH), our boutique, luxury collection of 19 exceptional properties spanning Europe, Africa and the United States. Our RCH team members have initiated Project 2022, which aims to remove all unnecessary single-use plastics from the group’s operations by 2022. Each hotel has a Green Team to take charge of this mission, with members working to remove coffee-cup lids, plastic water bottles, stir sticks, toothpicks and coffee capsules – or, where appropriate, replace them with a plant-based or other sustainable alternative.

To replace plastic water bottles, RCH has teamed up with Belu Water, a company that makes their glass bottles out of 45% recycled material and donates 100% of its profits to WaterAid. RCH also seeks out collaborations with local initiatives to reduce waste – for example, our London properties have partnered with Clean Conscience, a charitable organization that recycles and repurposes partially used toiletries in order to provide hygiene products to those in need.

Collectively, the small steps we take across all brands and properties help to create a step change in reducing our environmental impact. And, by encouraging guests to make informed choices that are sustainable for our planet and directly asking our partners to eliminate single-use plastics, we hope to make a greater impact than we would otherwise achieve alone.