June 15, 2024

Branching out

As sustainable business travel moves to the top of the corporate agenda, TMCs are expanding their services to help clients meet their reduction goals. Gill Upton reports

Last summer Trees4Travel was a start-up carbon offset company with three staff. By the end of January numbers had swelled to 40 plus, with 34 live clients and 50 other corporates queuing to sign contracts. By the year-end owner Nico Nicholas predicts they will have 500 global clients. If this particular sustainability partner‘s expansion trajectory is anything to go by, the message is getting through that sustainability is no longer a box-ticking exercise.

But in the post-Covid world – and with the 2030 50% reduction in carbon target looming – offsetting cannot be the only activity. Paying to plant a few trees or an entire forest will not help reach the 2030 target, let alone the 2050 net zero target. Travel reduction has to happen in tandem and TMCs are helping clients to justify every trip. For them it’s a crucial new revenue stream that will help in their recovery as consultancy divisions provide more of the advice rather than account managers providing it for free.

Many TMCs are appointing a sustainability lead to drive this new dedicated service. ATPI, for example, has launched a sustainability division called Halo to help clients reach their sustainability goals and is working directly with providers rather than through brokers for offsetting. “We give clients the ideas and solutions,” says the company’s Adam Knights.

“Travel reduction has to happen in tandem and TMCs are helping clients to justify every trip”

Agiito’s consultancy has switched focus from cost savings to sustainability, while TravelPerk has acquired UK travel sustainability consultancy Susterra. It has integrated the company’s data analytics technology into TravelPerk’s platform so its clients can gain insights into their travel spend and behaviour.

American Express GBT has joined the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a standard-setting and accreditation alliance created jointly by the United Nations and conservation organisations which aims to promote green suppliers.

CWT has unveiled investment plans for new capabilities. “This year we plan to introduce built-in sustainability and traveller wellbeing initiatives to help our customers make even better-informed decisions,” says Erik Magnuson, CWT Vice President Product Management, Mobility & Payment.

“This is in response to clear customer demand for sustainability information at point-of-booking, to help reinforce responsible travel choices. Our 2021 global survey found 87% of our customers requested this, while 85% have company goals in relation to sustainability reduction.”

A sustainability-focussed TMC called COCO+ has entered the market this year. It provides a carbon-offsetting platform aligned with ClimateCare, which finances, develops and manages carbon reduction projects around the world.

Guiding hand

Whichever way corporates jump, TMCs are key to navigating the critical path to sustainability. TMCs can analyse data to measure current carbon footprint, set science-based targets and evaluate the supply chain. They can also advise on low-carbon emitting suppliers, provide access to partnerships and programmes such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) options, develop ESG-compliant travel programmes, report on progress against targets and ultimately help change the behaviour of business travellers. 

“The booking process needs to encourage and promote these changes,” says Ewan Kassir, Head of Global Sales at Clarity.

Booking technology must display CO2 data at point of sale, that data must be captured to drive change, any carbon footprint must be policed and budgets set by department or individual and be reported monthly. The CO2 impact of meetings and events must be measured.

Agiito customers, for example, have the ability to book trips based on CO2 statistics and not cost. “That way we empower the booker,” says CCO Steve Banks.

“Trip data by CO2 has long been available and now we’re being asked for it by departments and by individuals. We can make that available in real-time and aggregate that into their profile.”

A change in sustainability strategy must start from the top, says Barry Fleming, former Head of Marketing for Blue Cube Travel. “That might mean reducing travel, enforcing less impactful forms of travel on certain journeys, building a preferred supplier programme which considers sustainability credentials and maybe even setting departments a CO2 budget that they need to keep within, alongside a spend budget.”

“Suppliers are under pressure to clean up their act but gathering data is challenging. Best estimates are still the norm in some sectors”

Justification of travel is the new norm and a White paper by the BTA, published in February, sets out what a sustainable journey looks like and benchmarks where each sector of the industry is at.

“The most impact you can make in a company is before they book and get into an OBT,” says Chris Truss of Reed and Mackay. “This sector is incredibly new so there is no right or wrong way forward.”

Leading by example

Nicola Cox, Director at Midas Travel Management, suggests clients increase general awareness by making it part of their company ethos and core values. “Look at internal behaviours, knowledge and address the buy-in gap,” she advises.

The success of any sustainability strategy will hinge on the greening of the supply chain, as this impacts the modal shift fundamental to travel reduction.

Suppliers are under pressure to clean up their act but gathering data is challenging. Best estimates are still the norm in some sectors. For example, OBTs show carbon emissions by aircraft type but cannot yet figure in load factors and tail winds.

Air is usually the biggest chunk of any travel spend and purchasing SAF is one way to support sustainability targets. TripActions has partnered with Neste to offer its clients (including Reed and Mackay) the option to purchase this lower-emission alternative fuel. While SAF doesn’t take the problem away it does help reduce carbon impact until electric aircraft become the norm.

The groundswell of demand is enormous and TMCs are proving they are the crucial link in the chain to achieve carbon goals.