When the GBTA released The Current State of Business Travel: Business Traveler and Travel Manager Priorities last year, it focused on the complex relationship between what business travelers see as priorities, and what travel managers were searching for to create the perfect post-pandemic program.

The report, developed in partnership with Uber, found 61 percent of business travelers said that limiting or reducing carbon emissions is a priority. However, the research also showed a lack of alignment between traveler expectations and the travel manager’s priorities. For example, North American travel managers said sustainability was a small priority (27 percent), or not a priority at all (22 percent).

Rich Thompson, global head of ESG and employee experience CWT, says his company has seen discussions go beyond carbon reduction to how travel policies can support an organizations’ diversity, equity and inclusion objectives too. “Alongside this, companies are now placing more than just traveler safety and risk management at the heart of travel policy development,” Thompson says. “Inclusion, accessibility and wellbeing are also beginning to take center stage alongside sustainability needs. We’re seeing this reflected in our customer expectations.”

This new expectation is known as intentional travel.

Intentional travel is traveling with a purpose in mind, and making conscious choices at every step of the trip, to align with core values – both the company’s and the individual’s.

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It might mean looking at how long the trip needs to be, how the time is used, what the local community gains and if the traveler gets any down time during the trip.

Travel trend forecasting agency Globtrender recently published a survey commissioned by Amadeus looking at how business travel is changing. "As the 'cost' of business travel mounts – be it on the planet, an individual's health or a company's bottom line – work trips are going to become far more intentional,” says Jenny Southan, founder CEO of Globetrender.

“Gone will be the days of trips with a single intention such as an overseas lunch with a client; instead, time away from the desk will need to be offset with gains from time in the field,” Southan adds.

And with new sustainability regulations unfolding – the EU’s CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) came into effect this year – the hunger for more intentional travel will grow for both the traveler and the managed travel program. “The impetus for intentional travel appears to stem from both corporate policies emphasizing sustainability and the growing awareness and preferences of individual travelers,” says Christopher Truss, global sustainability director, Reed & Mackay.

Chris Weedon, vice president, global sales and services, GlobalStar Travel Management agrees. “We strongly believe that it is essential that sustainable solutions are set out as a recommendation in the travel policy, with clear and unambiguous guidelines for travel,” Weedon emphasizes. “It is equally important that the guidelines are effectively communicated to ensure that travelers understand the reason.”

It’s tempting to assume this more conscious and self-aware approach to travel is born out of the younger generations, but that’s not the case according to Philip Halanen, head of sourcing and sustainability EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. “While it may seem that it is the younger generations – specifically Millennials and Gen Z – that have a greater sense of environmental awareness, we have seen that the shift towards more eco-conscious travel is something all generations are taking seriously.”

In response to these changes the industry has seen a range of tools being developed, from verified offsets, carbon calculators, renewable energy, direct carbon removal, data transparency and reporting tools, to Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). There are also key organizations stepping in to help achieve more intentional travel, including the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, GSTC, SBTi, ecovadis, GRI standards, the UN’s SDGs, and the UN Global Compact.

Crosswinds Aloft
The airline sector contributes around 2 to 3 percent of global carbon emissions and the International Air Transport Association's Net-Zero Resolution has been a welcome addition to the industry.

The Oneworld airline alliance recently agreed to contribute data to the IATA’s CO2 Connect carbon emissions calculator, which launched in 2022, to provide per-flight passenger CO2 emission calculations. Oneworld’s member airlines will share their emissions data which is then available through an API, as well as through airline sales channels and TMCs.

There has also been a major groundswell toward the use of SAF. Southwest Airlines, for example, has the SAF Beta Program, for corporate customers to support the scaling of SAF by purchasing Customer Scope 3 SAF Claims using the Southwest Business Assist, a self-service travel portal for corporate travel account managers. It has also partnered with CHOOOSE so passengers can offset their emissions.

United was the first US airline to publish the estimated carbon footprint of each flight when booking, on a per economy seat passenger basis. Last year the airline launched the Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment fund designed to support start-ups by accelerating the research, production, and technologies associated with SAF.
United’s customers can contribute $1 to $7 to supplement the airline’s investment in the Fund when booking travel on the website and app. “This initiative bolsters the demand signal for SAF, while allowing our customers to have a direct role in helping us achieve our sustainability goals,” says Frannie Levar, director, sustainability and ESG at United.

JetBlue offers a Sustainable Travel Partner Program, which shows partners’ flight and emissions data, and the airline has been flying on SAF out of San Francisco and Los Angeles since 2020/21. It plans to expand its SAF fuel supply.
Lufthansa offers a SAF-based “green fare” solution at the point of booking, which allows travelers to fully offset individual, flight-related CO2 emissions through the use of sustainable aviation fuel combined with a contribution to high-quality climate protection projects.

Reed & Mackay and its parent company Navan have enabled customers to purchase SAF at scale directly from a producer through Neste My SAF, which is compliant with SBTi guidance and can reduce the impact of business air travel by up to 80 percent.

Critics will say unless governments worldwide invest in the infrastructure for SAF production and distribution it won’t be a success story. But United’s Lavar thinks that while the airline is making investments in alternate technologies, SAF is the best option. “SAF is the most promising decarbonization solution we have available for the foreseeable future for long-distance flying,” she says.

If SAF is the best option for long-haul, what about short-haul alternatives?

Rail travel, for example, produces up to 73 percent fewer emissions than flying and 83 percent fewer GHG emissions than driving, according to data from Amtrak. The company has partnered with Carbonfund.org so passengers can offset their carbon emissions for individual rail journeys by making cash donations, or donating Amtrak Guest Rewards points for reforestation projects, renewable energy development, and other initiatives.

Sustainable Stays
“The ‘intentional’ traveler is keen to see such information in order to help them make more informed and (where possible) more sustainable decisions around the travel that they are purchasing,” says Glenn Thorsen, global sustainability lead at FCM Consulting.

And nowhere is “seeing” such information in operation more transparent than in a hotel. Hotels are where travelers relax behind a closed door, talk to family, take off their shoes, read a book and sleep. It’s the place they are spending time away from their families, so choosing the right accommodation is high on both the traveler and the travel manager’s list.

IHG has seen an increase in volume of questions on RFPs about sustainability. “Without question, sustainability has come into a much sharper focus against the dynamic backdrop of all that’s taken place globally in recent years,” notes Townsend Bailey, head of corporate responsibility, Americas, IHG Hotels & Resorts. “We’ve really seen a groundswell of interest in this space over the past couple of years – particularly from our corporate customers.”

Organizations like the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance offer travel managers a wealth of tools to create more sustainable accommodation programs. The alliance’s HCMI Carbon Calculator is a well-used tool across the industry that helps the sector calculate carbon emissions per guest per room per night, and it updated its Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality last year.

To stand out, hotels are increasingly leveraging this sustainability data to showcase their attributes in the procurement process.

In 2021 HRS launched its Green Stay Initiative, which now has more than 600 brands across 170 countries. The technology behind it can display sustainability data alongside information such as price, location and safety. According to HRS, hotels that are part of the Green Stay Initiative have 31 percent higher adoption in hotel programs and on average receive 43 percent more bookings.

“For business travelers considering hotel options via corporate online booking solutions, the insertion of some kind of icon (green leaf, a designated logo from the company) or distinct phrase (i.e. “Green Stay Option”) in the traditional shopping flow/listing of options is the main avenue by which hotels deemed sustainable are conveyed to the traveler,” says Martin Biermann, chief product officer for HRS.

This quarter HRS is launching its Green Stay Knowledge Hub, which will offer free access for all hoteliers and will include videos, documents and updates on regional and governmental proclamations impacting both hospitality and corporate hotel programs.

Being able to “see” a sustainable hotel at the time of booking is imperative, but with more than 200 sustainable certification bodies across the world, knowing which ones to invest in can be tricky for everyone.

For example, Travalyst has just announced it will be reviewing its partners’ sustainability certifications and making them adhere to certain criteria. Meanwhile, BWH has recently partnered with world-recognized Green Key Global – other hotel partners include InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and Accor Hotels in North America.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts created Wyndham Green, the group’s global sustainability program in conjunction with organizations such as The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance – of which it is a founding member. Business travelers and bookers can see climate-related information about the specific hotel they’re staying in, as well as how to make sustainable choices during their stay. The group created its own program, “so that it matches some of the highest industry standards and programs, such as Green Key and LEED,” Halanen explains.

While strategic initiatives and data opportunities exist to help travelers make more intentional and sustainable choices, and travel programs can access a combination of the tools, there is still no agreed playbook for how this is best done. “We are still relatively early in this journey for many, so it is also difficult to find long lists of proven ‘case studies’ to align with,” FCM’s Thorsen cautions. “However, tools such as the OBT or FCM Extension are often used to communicate with travelers and provide more detailed sustainability insights to support more intentional travel choices,” he says.

Gabe Rizzi, president of Altour, part of Internova Travel Group, thinks that incorporating ESG into business travel programs has become a priority, but adoption of sustainable itineraries still lags expectations. “The rise of the intentional traveler, who seeks meaningful, sustainable and impactful travel experiences, has created an opportunity for us to meet them where they’re interested,” he says. “We've moved beyond traditional travel management to become curators of responsible and purposeful travel.”

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