Sustainability tops the bill at GTMC conference

By Andy Hoskins, published 4/7/19

Sustainable travel initiatives are firmly back on the corporate agenda if sentiment at this week’s GTMC Conference can be presumed to emanate across the industry.

The majority of sessions touched on the subject at the annual event, held in Noordwijk in the Netherlands, which also saw the organisation unveil its new identity as the Business Travel Association (BTA).

“We all need to take responsibility for sustainable growth,” said IATA’s Aleks Popovich.

“We’ve got a good track record [as an industry] but we need to be much, much stronger if we’re going to grow sustainably. We need to deliver more to earn the right to grow.”

Andy Shand, General Manager of Customer Affairs at NATS, added that in a period when the total distance flown in the UK domestic air space has grown 39%, emissions have risen by only 20%.

He said that UK airspace tools and procedures need modernising to cope with traffic growth and, in order to do it sustainably, the airspace must be managed much more efficiently.

“It needs NATS, airports and airlines to work together,” he said. “The government currently understands the need for change.”

Conservative MP James Heappey claimed the aviation industry is “disproportionately blamed for not decarbonising quickly enough” but added that, in the not-too-distant future, “we’re going to have to make a robust case for travelling to do business”.

“We should all be putting the pressure on suppliers to be more sustainable,” he added.

Birmingham Airport’s Aviation Director, Tom Screen, agreed, suggesting that airports should offer incentives to airlines using greener, more fuel-efficient aircraft.

Jo-Anne Lloyd of business travel consultancy Nina & Pinta suggested APD could be replaced with a carbon offset tax, but also indicated a degree of confusion among travel managers as to how to address their environmental responsibilities.

“We need simplification,” said Lloyd. “Emissions are calculated differently around the world and there is little regulation of offsetting.

“Travel managers know they need to do it but they don’t know where to start.”

Elsewhere, keynote speaker Mike Croucher, Travelport’s Chief Architect, discussed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, explaining how the digital era is impacting the travel industry in five key areas: mobile, artificial intelligence, big data, the cloud and the internet of things.

And there’s more to come, he explained, pointing to 5G connectivity, 3D printing, renewable energy, robotics, drones and cognitive systems all having a significant impact on travel in the years ahead.

“This industry is open for disruption, but the technology isn’t the key,” he said.

“The key is the link between technology and social change. The more you become customer-centric the closer you are to the way the world’s going.”

Addressing concerns around the slow progress of New Distribution Capability, IATA’s Popovich conceded the organisation had underestimated the impact of NDC on the business travel industry.

“NDC is bringing retailing to a commoditised industry,” he said.

“Airlines invest billions of dollars [in their products] and want to show their differentiations. Now they have found a way to delight customers through all channels.”

Popovich said the ‘leaderboard’ airlines should have critical mass by the end of next year and the focus will move on to One Order in 2021-22.

Meanwhile, political commentator Steve Richards told delegates “it’s going to be the most seismic autumns of our lives” as we head towards a Brexit date of October 31.

“October won’t be the end of this – it’s just the beginning.”

He said that “lots of people at Westminster think a general election is inevitable and unavoidable” and declared that a no-deal Brexit would “probably be blocked”.

Conservative MP James Heappey added: “Theresa May could have the last laugh sitting on the back benches watching something very similar to her deal go through.”

• For its overseas conference in Noordwijk, Netherlands, the GTMC/BTA offset 170 flights from London to Amsterdam with ClimateCare, offsetting 20.47 tonnes of CO2.