Travel companies offer offsetting carbon emission for sustainable tourism

 Tuesday, October 15, 2019 


An increasing number of tour operators are offering to offset carbon emissions on behalf of tourists. Trekking and adventure company World Expeditions says all of its trips will be carbon neutral as of November 1, 2019 – at no extra cost to its clients. The Australian company, established in 1975, sells 500 itineraries globally. For every holiday sold it said it would invest in forest protection projects in Zimbabwe and Tasmania, and renewable energy projects in China and Vietnam.


Another firm, Bamboo Travel, has also announced plans to offset 1.5 tonnes of carbon for each client it sends on its holidays in Asia through a partnership with Gold Standard, a major player in the offsetting market.


According to new research by adventure travel company Intrepid, younger travellers are keener to book through a company that offers offsetting than older ones. The study, based on its own figures and research by YouGov, found that 58% of travellers believe sustainability is an important factor when making travel choices, but when asked what steps they would like companies to take, only 20% of travellers aged 55+ said they would like the chance to offset, compared with 44% of those born in the late 1990s.


Intrepid has been carbon-neutral since 2010 and offsets all of the 2,000 trips that it sells, buying carbon credits in renewable energy schemes. As of 2020 it will extend its offsetting to flights that clients book, as well as the trips they take.


Other tour operators that have recently introduced offsetting schemes include: glamping specialist Canopy & Stars, which plans to plant a million trees by 2025 through its partnership with Treesisters; and Undiscovered Mountains which introduced a voluntary tree planting scheme in December 2018 but from this autumn it will make it automatic for every booking, and has increased the prices of its activity holidays in the southern French Alps slightly as a result. Through a joint initiative with Mossy Earth it has established its own forest in Portugal, and is planting more trees in the Southern Carpathian region.


The increase in travel companies offering to offset emissions generated by their own holidays comes despite criticism of off-setting. Last week British Airways was accused by Greenpeace of wanting to “have their cake and eat it” after it announced plans to offset its domestic flights as part of its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. But for World Expeditions offsetting is an important message to its customers and part of a wider commitment to sustainable travel.


Responsible Travel, an online directory of over 400 holiday companies, says offsetting is fundamentally flawed and will not promote tour operators’ offsetting schemes on its website. The company, which introduced an offsetting scheme in 2002 then dropped it in 2009, says it is opposed to the idea because offsetting doesn’t work and distracts from the need to reduce emissions.


Instead Responsible Travel, which promotes holidays that involve flying, advocates a global tax on aviation that is weighted so that business- and first-class travellers and those taking domestic flights pay more than those in economy seats.


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