Travel execs say governments must lead the way to carbon neutrality

A panel of travel industry executives said today that carbon neutrality will only be achieved with government regulations and the realignment of investor interests.

During the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) annual meeting to address the environment as part of Climate Week NYC, Elie Maalouf, CEO of the Americas for IHG, said reaching net zero requires collaboration not just from science and private industry, but from government and energy producers.

“I don’t think any of us will get there without decarbonization of the grid,” he said. “We can be as efficient as possible in our properties but the energy that we acquire for those properties has to be heavily decarbonized around the world for us to be able to achieve this target.”

Gilda Perez-Alvarado, global CEO of JLL Hotels & Hospitality, said that hoteliers are not incentivized to make properties climate-friendly because of the “misalignment between the investment horizon and the realization of this benefit in the longer term.”

With most hotel owners looking at an investment horizon of three to five years, she said, “making monetary commitments to address climate change is very expensive and it eats into their returns …. That’s the reality.”

This is especially true in the U.S., Perez-Alvarado said, as opposed to in Europe, where people are generally more conscientious about the environment and where there is consumer demand for climate-friendly products. And, she said, “most of the investment community collectively has come together to think about this …. There is more education around the topic and most importantly, a lot of financing that is very favorable for building and business engaging in sustainable practices.”

Alex Zozaya, chairman of Apple Leisure Group, agreed and said that hotels need to be guided by regulation.

“We should end up doing the right thing not only because it’s the right thing, but because the law tells us to do that,” he said. “It should be illegal to do some things that have higher carbon emission and affect the planet, even if it’s more expensive.”

He said the main impediments are a lack of alignment around how to collectively address these issues, and not just in the travel industry.

“Not even within the G-20,” he said, adding that having the U.S. back in the Paris Accords will help.

Hopefully, he said, with more people caring about climate change, it will also mean more money for those companies.

“If not based on conscience, then based on the law and for the money,” he said. “It will become a better business if it’s more environmentally friendly.”

The “Net Zero Travel & Tourism: From Ambition to Action” panel was moderated by Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann.

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