It takes an all-encompassing approach to build a successful sustainability strategy. Danielle D’Silva, head of sustainability for Booking.com, shared insights into the work that’s going on behind the scenes, from tech, to delivering sustainable options, to consumer research and achieving net zero by 2040
Big Interview: Booking.com’s key takeaways from its Sustainable Travel Report and wider sustainability approach
As sustainability continues to burn as one of the most feverish talking points of business in 2023, people often start looking to leading travel companies for the answers.
Global travel platform Booking.com is among those looking to make an impact with its approach.
Danielle D’Silva, head of sustainability for Booking.com, shared insights into the work that’s going on behind the scenes, from tech, to delivering sustainable options, to consumer research and achieving net zero by 2040.
Its Sustainable Travel Report, which has been going for a few years now, is just one way it plans to tackle sustainability head on.
Findings this year indicate an ongoing battle of cost versus conscience. The research found that 76% of travellers say they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months, while the same amount say the global energy crisis and rising cost of living is impacting their spending plans.
D’Silva said: “What’s interesting is the perception, that they can’t do both, they can’t travel sustainably and affordably and really see the two as being mutually exclusive. But there are actually affordable ways to travel more sustainably.”
49% of travellers believe sustainable options are too expensive, which is juxtaposed against 43% who are willing to pay extra for travel options with a sustainable certification.
D’Silva added: “It’s a perception that I think we’re going to have to find a way to address if we want to ensure that travellers can actually make the more sustainable travel choices that they want to make.”
D’Silva, who has headed up the sustainability team for the last 18 months, was surprised by some of the results around barriers for consumers.
“I was struck by the solutions travellers were looking for when it comes to making those sustainable travel choices easier for them.
“80% said that sustainable travel is important to them but the barriers they’re facing remain quite large.
“Generally, it’s around limited information or they feel there aren’t enough options for them.
“They’re looking for more options to become available, they’re looking for economic incentives, and they’re looking for findability.
“That’s pretty reflective of what we expect to see in the industry and that’s why we launched our Travel Sustainable Programme in 2021.”
As part of the company’s Travel Sustainable Programme, Booking.com and parent company Booking Holdings set the target to be net zero by 2040 and to reduce scope one and two emissions by 95%, and scope three emissions 50%, by 2030.
The targets which bring them in line with the Paris agreement, have seen the group already reduce scope one and two emissions by 80% since 2019.
The “big progress” made on this target is partly down to the large focus on company offices and the purchase of renewable energy.
Since the pandemic, Booking.com has opened two new campuses, one in Amsterdam and one in Manchester.
The Amsterdam office has over 800 solar panels which generate 8% of the overall electricity and the rest from wind farms.
D’Silva said: “Earlier this year we launched an education programme for all our employees to help them better understand the fundamentals of the climate and climate change, as well as the relationship between the climate and the travel industry, where they interconnect - and most importantly what we as Booking.com intend do and how they can play a part in that.
“This is one of the key ways we try and engage our employees and leadership in the topic and ensure this is something that goes across the organisation.”
“As a leader in travel we also strive to be a leader in driving forward the sustainability efforts in the industry.
“We see it as our responsibility to make sustainable travel choices easier for travel partners and customers and view our role as doing that in a way that benefits the industry to move it towards a sustainable future.”
“There is a growing need and urgency for individuals to take action, whether it’s travellers or businesses or a variety of different players.
“We need to recognise the role that we all play in collaborating to make real, positive change in the industry.
“Businesses should already be aware of the importance of investing in sustainability.
“In the travel industry especially it’s critical for us to consider investing in sustainability for the longevity of our industry. It relies on building and preserving a world worth experiencing.
“Overall, the travel industry is bit further behind in sustainability progress than those in other industries, take food or agriculture and fashion as examples, where this topic has really been front and centre for a number of years.
“There are a few reasons for that. Historically the travel industry has been fragmented and complex as it is not just a single vertical.
“You have different modalities and then the geographies, different types of travellers – corporates vs leisure. It can be daunting to find an approach that works for all.
“While the complexity is there and perhaps there might be a bit more ground for us to make up, there’s also a huge opportunity for us to build something that is truly collaborative and forward looking.”
D’Silva’s team rely on the whole business to partner with them to deliver their work, but leverage technology as a large part of the workflow.
“Tech obviously contributes immensely to the proliferation of sustainable practices, whether it’s around facilitating global collection and the knowledge sharing, interacting with our accommodations, creating tools and solutions that they can monitor or report impact.
“APIs are a really great way for us to create consistency and ultimately build trust and confidence with travellers, which is one of their barriers at times to making more sustainable choices.
“Additionally, there have been some really nice tech solutions around certifications in the accommodation sector which previously has been a completely analogue process leading to old, outdated or sometimes incorrect information.
“But finding technical solutions to gathering and then disseminating that information has also been a great way to create consistency so that we can actually make it easier for travellers to make those choices.”
As Booking.com sets to continue its strides in initiatives and practices which implement sustainable innovation, we expect to see many others rise to the challenge over 2024.