Building a more sustainable travel industry
The story of how we developed our Travel Sustainable programme and where it goes next
Why a more sustainable travel industry matters
Getting out and experiencing the world has a profound impact on us. Experiencing another person's culture, sharing their cuisine, hearing about their story – both the epic and the everyday – builds a shared understanding that is hard to create any other way. It's why our mission is to make it easier for everyone to experience the world.
Experiencing the world also has a profound impact on the planet. According to a report in Nature, the travel industry accounts for roughly 8% of the world's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By now we all know the consequences of unchecked, unabated emissions. It's the climate crisis we are all facing, right now. We must act now to preserve a world worth experiencing for everyone.
A third of the emissions related to travel come from the accommodations that are an essential part of every trip. At Booking.com, we work with millions of accommodation partners around the world. We may not own the properties themselves, but we help fill them, making it easier for travellers to find that perfect place to stay. We believe we share in the responsibility to help the industry tackle its emissions.
In March 2022, we published our Climate Action Plan, setting out science-based emission reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement, with the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2040. This plan is made up of three main commitments:
Operating our business sustainably and building a culture of sustainability
Making it easier for travellers to book more sustainable trips
Collaborating to decarbonise the travel industry
Vital to the success of that second commitment is our Travel Sustainable programme, which we began developing in 2019. Working with sustainability consultancy Sustainalize, we designed a list of sustainability initiatives any type of accommodation could implement that are both impactful and practical. They span five separate categories: water, waste, GHG emissions, environmental protection and community support. This was benchmarked against the attributes already considered by 3rd-party sustainability certifications, like those of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), Green Key and EU Ecolabel, which we consider the gold standard in our industry.
The resulting methodology was assessed by the Independent Advisory Group of Travalyst for its credibility. It was then built into an algorithm in the back-end of our product to make the process quick and easy for partners. They simply fill in a digital questionnaire and their impact is calculated by the algorithm. If a partner offers single-use plastic products but also utilises renewable energy, it is all weighed and assessed and matched against a threshold. Our partners that meet a certain threshold would then be recognised by our Travel Sustainable badge, which can be chosen as a filter whenever a customer is searching for a place to stay.
However, we understand that sustainability is not binary. It has phases. It's a journey many of our accommodation partners are on and at very different stages. So we wanted to recognise the various levels of sustainability efforts across our participating partner properties globally, to give partners a clear path forward in their own sustainability journey.
In November 2022, we launched new levels for our Travel Sustainable badge. Each builds on the next, starting at a basic level of sustainability implementation all the way up to 3rd-party certified, which we see as crucial in both encouraging partners to continue on their pathways and recognising the outstanding commitment and investment of those partners who have achieved one of more than 40 certifications or ecolabels.
When we launched Travel Sustainable in 2021, there were less than a hundred thousand recognised properties. But a lot can happen in a year. More than 1.25 million accommodations globally have now shared at least some information about their sustainability practices. And of that 1.25 million, over 400,000 are being recognised for their efforts to operate more sustainably – making it clearer for travellers where individual accommodations are on their sustainability journeys.
Travel Sustainable will continue to expand and evolve. Our partner sustainability handbook is regularly updated with new insights and information from experts. In 2023, we'll also be exploring how the programme can work across other verticals, such as flights.
Try the Travel Sustainable filter next time you're searching for a place to stay.