COP26 is taking place at a crucial time and the tourism industry is in an unprecedented recovery process, meaning change in the way it operates could be easier to implement.

With respect to materiality, 45% of respondents in a recent GlobalData poll* stated that the environment was the most important factor out of the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) factors. This growing concern from the public is reflected by the United Nations, which this time expects parties to commit to new environmental targets at COP26, with tourism being an established part of the agenda.

Commitments may carry more weight

New environmental commitments may carry more weight due to the position the tourism industry is currently in. A recovery process such as this has never been seen in tourism and the industry is still in the thick of it. International tourism arrivals are not expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels until 2024, according to GlobalData forecasts.

Not having to deal with high levels of tourism demand means that it is an ideal time for public and private sectors to reset operations to make them more environmentally sustainable and to also enhance communication and relationships between one another. These sectors working in harmony increases the chances of sustainability commitments being met in tourism.

These important public-private partnerships that will decide on the success of environmental sustainability in tourism need to be perceived as business relationships. To encourage the private sector, it needs to be made clear that both sides share the risks, rewards and responsibility for the sustainability initiatives that are agreed upon.

The Glasgow Declaration

The UNWTO has gathered hundreds of private sector operators from across the world to commit to the Glasgow Declaration as part of COP26. This Declaration is aimed at grouping the highly fragmented tourism sector behind a single, enveloping goal of halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2050 at the latest.

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Each signatory will then commit to the delivery of an all-encompassing climate action plan or updated plan within 12 months of putting pen to paper. The chances of more well thought out and pragmatic plans will increase as private sector companies have had and will have the time to reassess how they can operate in a more sustainable manner due to the downtime created by the pandemic.

COP26 could be a huge turning point for the role of sustainability in tourism. With many private sector companies now committing to more transparent actions around reducing emissions, more tangible results could be seen during the next decade.

*Poll Question – According to you, rank the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) factors with respect to materiality? (Poll ended 11 April 2021, with 241 responses).