Last week at ABTA’s annual Travel Convention, director of marketing at Responsible Travel Tim Williamson took his place on stage to tell 500 travel industry bigwigs what he thinks of aviation in light of the current climate change crisis: “There’s no way around this and I can’t sugarcoat this – we all need to fly less now and we need to encourage our customers to fly less.”
Considering he was addressing many managing directors, CEOs and sales directors from Britain’s top tour operators, cruise lines, hotels and airlines, it should come as little surprise that the atmosphere in the room immediately sunk. Add in the fact that most had flown more than 11 hours to be at this conference in Tokyo for just a few nights, and the “flight shame” feelings were skyrocketing.
But this is not just an uncomfortable truth for those in the industry, it’s one that many of us back home don’t want to hear either – myself being one of them.
Let me say first that I believe that the privilege of travel has enormous cultural, mental and physical benefits for those who can afford it, as well as huge economic advantages for communities that thrive off, and depend on, tourism. Were people to start travelling less, the world would be far worse off and that’s not an exaggeration. But yes, if I’m really honest with myself, my prime reason for continuing to travel is that I’m a selfish millennial who’s become used to this way of life and I don’t want to see the back of it.
With a father in California and a mother in England (and now a sister in Australia), I’ve grown up crossing the globe multiple times a year and I can’t see a future where I don’t do that. Some of my best memories are holidays with friends, and I’m also a travel writer for this very paper and have been on several short trips to long-haul destinations. The high I get from going somewhere new means I hardly ever return from some far-flung place without something else in the pipeline: but is four nights in South Africa really worth the carbon footprint of 24 hours in the air round-trip? It’s something I’m increasingly finding harder to defend.
The good news from Tim Williamson was that he doesn’t think we need to completely cut out flying. He advised that one out of every four flights should go, as well as introducing a Green Flying Duty that would raise fares by 10 per cent, putting the extra money into R&D for developing sustainable aviation faster. My most important takeaway from what he said though, and the easiest for anyone worried about their green credentials to implement, was that we need to stop the short flings abroad and bring back the traditional two-week holiday.
With the ever-expanding rise of low-cost airlines over the past 30 years, the quickie weekend city break has become a regular fixture for many, meaning many more flights per person per year. Instead of hopping to a new city for a couple of nights each time the weather becomes too grim to bear in Blighty, we need to revert to longer, more thoughtful holidays. In short, it’s time to really think about making our flights count.
The maths is simple, turn three long weekends in Barcelona, Vienna and Rome into one two-week holiday to Catalonia and you’ve already cut your emissions by a third. What makes it easier to do this is that a two-week holiday isn’t just green, it actually makes for a better holiday. You’ll have more time to properly switch off from your day-to-day and more time to travel further away from the overtouristed airport hubs to off-the-radar spots.
Some of my other colleagues have pledged to cut out flying entirely, but I’m not ready to take that extreme step and I don’t think you need to either – partly because I think the benefits of travel outweigh the negatives of the carbon emissions for the time being. I admit we can’t continue on the trajectory as it is and there needs to be a change, but I’ll try anything that means I can keep my habit going. Combining a few of the shorter breaks I would usually take for one long one seems like an easy first step.
What do you think? Do we need to swap multiple shorter trips for longer, more thoughtful holidays? Comment below to join the conversation.