Sustainable Travel: Our Journey So Far (Part 2)



As we continue our interview with Booking.com Director of Sustainability Marianne Gybels, we delve deeper into our strategic approach, why the climate isn't our only focus and how we're working closely with our accommodation partners to facilitate sustainable travel. If you missed part 1, take a look after this article to find out how everything began.


Why do we take such a holistic approach to sustainability – focusing on environmental, social, cultural? Why not focus on one area and simply own that?


It would be very strange if we focused on only one thing and pretend the others don't exist. They're all important to the future of travel. If we tried to make travel more sustainable and were to only focus on carbon or only on water, we would be missing the larger picture. To not take a more holistic approach wouldn't be ambitious enough. We know that we have a responsibility to the millions of travellers that use Booking.com to experience the world every year. And by taking a more holistic approach, you don't get blindsided when you're only looking for one solution, because everything is very much interconnected. It's about raising awareness and helping to evolve the perceptions, and the behaviours, of both our partners and our customers. And if we approach this like we approach all other aspects of our business when it comes to scaling, we can address all of them. By focusing on multiple topics, on finding ways to scale, then we are more likely to find a systemic solution.


We've been using this ecosystem analogy and it works very well here. In an ecosystem, if only one area thrives, the rest falls apart.


Exactly! It all supports each other. And there is a risk that if you say to travellers, you only have to care about this one thing when you take a trip, it's like we're saying we eliminate you from all other responsibility. What is the side-effect from that? It's not about taking a complex view of sustainability, it's about being able to look at products in a holistic way and see how they impact destinations, with local context. This local context is important. It's important that we recognise different types of sustainability and don't just prioritise modern resorts with the latest energy-saving technology, but that a homestay run by women in Nepal that uses local produce and supports the community is just as sustainable and just as valuable.


How did the approach change to bring us to where we are today?


As we discussed before, what we learned from the accelerator programme was that we couldn't fully scale these startups to the level we wanted because we couldn't integrate them into our platform. So, why not focus on our platform as being a way to drive scale? We had always been reluctant to make changes to our product if consumer demand wasn't there. But in this case, we actually knew the demand and appetite was there. Our research showed us that over half of all travellers care about making travel more sustainable. But they're not showing it in their purchasing behaviour yet. But we see a solid economic model for the future. So, instead of focusing on consumer demand as a driver, let's drive consumer demand. Let's take the responsibility off the customer and put it on ourselves. This enabled us to experiment more freely. And at the same time, we could also start building the amount of sustainable supply available on our platform – which is exactly what we are doing, by gathering information from our partners and supporting them to increase their sustainable practices. In this way, we can facilitate consumer demand but giving them more sustainable travel options to choose from. Which inversely would support local partners who were making the effort to improve their environmental, social and cultural performance.


Do you think that because Booking.com doesn't own any physical elements in the travel supply chain – hotels or airplanes for example – it has driven us to find more collaborative solutions to making the industry sustainable?


Fortunately, we don't have to try and build a sustainable product and sell it on our platform. A lot of our partners out there are already doing amazing things. They just don't have a way to show it at scale yet on a platform like ours. And there's friction, because these partners are not being rewarded for their sustainability efforts yet. No one has really found a good way to solve that problem, yet, of partners wanting to do the right thing but don't see any economic benefits. So if we can prove that the flywheel works, that if you increase your sustainability you increase customer demand, then we don't have to artificially incentivise partners – the return on investment will be the resulting bookings they receive. So that's where we're currently focussing our efforts.



Check our blog for the first and final parts of this interview.