What we learned in 2021

A look back at the key developments in sustainable travel from the biggest year in sustainability to date

Despite new virus variants and the ongoing impact of the pandemic on all aspects of our daily lives, the outlook for the travel industry was beginning to brighten in 2021. And, perhaps for the first time, a more sustainable future for the industry was at the forefront of everyone's minds. But much work still lies ahead. Here's what we learned about travel in 2021.



Almost everyone wants travel to be more sustainable

At the start of 2021, we surveyed 29,000 travellers and 61% told us that the pandemic had made them want to travel more sustainably in future. In fact, over 80% said they intended to stay in a sustainable accommodation within the next year, with 73% saying they were more likely to book a stay if the property had implemented some form of sustainability initiative.



It wasn't just customers telling us they wanted more sustainability when they travel, our partners were too. In our first-ever major partner sustainability survey, we discovered that 82% of accommodation providers believe sustainability to be an important topic – with 74% already having implemented one or more sustainable practises at their property.


We were excited to share these findings with our wider industry, so it was clear that sustainable travel was no longer the ambition of the few but of the many.


Bans, plans and automobiles

In July 2021, the Italian government announced that cruise liners would be banned from Venice's main harbour after UNESCO recommended the city be added to its World Heritage in Danger list.


The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) set out its plan to achieve net zero aviation by 2050. Industry-wide adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) was a primary focus of the plan, a transition which will require as much as $1.45 trillion of investment. Meanwhile, Etihad Airlines and Quantas both announced sustainability focused passenger rewards with their Conscious Choices and Green Membership programmes, respectively.


Back on the ground, leading car rental company Hertz announced it had ordered 100,000 Tesla vehicles as it set out its ambition to electrify its fleet. This trend towards electric vehicles (EV) was seen in other areas of the transport industry as ride hailing app Free Now made EVs its default option.


Code red for humanity

Human influence is unequivocally connected to our increasingly warming planet, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August. The report stated that warming beyond 1.5 degrees was now likely – unless significant steps were taken – which could cause catastrophic impacts to life on Earth. The shockwaves from the IPCC's report were still being felt in Glasgow as world leaders met for COP26, where it was agreed that only by working together can we halt further warming and achieve the 1.5 degree warming scenario set out in 2015's Paris Agreement.



Many hands make light work

The Scottish city also saw 300 travel companies, tourism organisations and nations come together (not literally) to sign the Glasgow Declaration – a shared ambition for cutting the industry's carbon emissions and reaching net zero by 2050. The World Travel and Tourism Council also set out its roadmap for net zero in 2021, which proposed a 'decarbonisation target corridor framework'.


In 2019, Booking.com joined a coalition of leading travel companies to co-found Travalyst, a non-profit organisation led by the Duke of Sussex with the aim of catalysing travel as a force for good and creating a unified approach to making a more sustainable industry. Two years on and Travalyst welcomed Google to its coalition to further this ambition, with the tech giant working closely with our own team here at Booking.com to align our approaches to showcasing the sustainable efforts of tourism accommodations.


Staying carbon conscious

A study by EY Parthenon, OC&C Strategy Consultants and Booking.com found that travel accommodation accounts for 264 million metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent direct and controllable emissions – roughly 10% of the total annual emissions of the tourism sector. To achieve net zero by 2050, the sector will need to invest €768 billion. However, there are a large number of potential emission reduction options that are cost-positive or profitable for accommodation owners.


As the world's leading digital travel platform, at Booking.com we recognise we're well positioned to help the accommodations industry reduce its negative impact on the planet and accentuate its positive influence. At the start of 2021, we began collecting sustainability information from partners and showcasing these efforts on our platforms. This was just the start of our Travel Sustainable programme. In November, we took the programme to the next level, with the release of a first-of-its-kind badge for properties that take significant steps to make their guests' stay more sustainable.



We also carried out a small, but significant, carbon offsetting experiment on our product in 2021. That experiment gave a small cross section of customers the opportunity to offset the carbon of their accommodation booking. The results beat expectations, with tens of thousands of customers opting to offset their stay in the two week experiment.


More to come in 2022

2021 was a big year for sustainability but we believe 2022 will be even bigger. At Booking.com, we will be expanding our Travel Sustainable programme, carrying out further offsetting experiments and supporting more efforts to decarbonise the travel industry.