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Embracing sustainability in travel: How the travel industry can support the UN SDGs

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a universal blueprint to address the most important global challenges by 2030. Travel and tourism is a diverse, interconnected industry and it touches on the majority of the 17 SDGs. This week marks the halfway point to the deadline of achieving the SDGs by 2030. Heres how travel can play an influential role in catalysing positive global change:

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth 

One in ten jobs worldwide are in the tourism sector (WTTC) and many of these are in developing countries, with a significant contribution to GDP. To support SDG 8, the industry must prioritise decent work conditions and fair wages, uplifting marginalised communities and promoting inclusive growth. We can also shine a light on more sustainable travel options, so that travel agencies and travellers can make better choices.

Goal 13: Climate Action

Aviation is a high-emitting sector, responsible for 2.5 per cent of global carbon emissions and as an industry, travel must move towards net zero carbon emissions. In the longer term, advancements in biofuels, hybrid-electric propulsion systems, and more efficient aircraft designs show potential for a more sustainable aviation future. In the short to medium term investments in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production and technology that helps airlines set the fastest routes, reduce unnecessary weight, and empowers travellers to make more sustainable flight choices are all possible solutions. 

Society and business are being asked to close every loophole that enables delay and glorifies inaction on work to create a sustainable future.  Environmentally and socially and through collaboration, innovation and a whole system approach, this is an area where the travel sector can have a major impact.

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Tourism accounts for approximately eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (source The Guardian), with the average hotel guest generating about 1.5kg of waste per night (Green Hotelier). To align with SDG 12, the industry needs to adopt sustainable technologies, reduce plastic usage, and promote responsible sourcing, water and waste management strategies.

Goal 14: Life Below Water & Goal 15: Life on Land 

Tourism-related activities contribute to approximately 80 per cent of marine pollution from land-based sources* (United Nations) and the annual cost of biodiversity loss due to tourism is estimated to be around $490 billion (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity). Its vital that the industry takes a nature-based approach to sustainability, minimising disturbances to wildlife and supporting conservation efforts in order to support SDGs 14 and 15. 

Goal 5: Gender Equality, Goal 1: No Poverty and Goal 10: Reduced Inequality 

Women make up around 54 per cent of the global tourism workforce (UN Women). However, they earn 10-15 per cent less than men on average in the tourism industry (World Tourism Organization). The travel industry can support SDGs 5, 1 and 10 by promoting gender diversity and equal opportunities, thus empowering women and girls to reach their potential. We can also work hard to ensure that a larger slice of the tourism pie directly benefits local communities.  

Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions 

Travel is often described as a bridge between cultures and according to the World Tourism Organisation, 80 per cent of people believe that travel promotes cross-cultural understanding and peace. Some of the best travel experiences are those where we experience meaningful connections with people and destinations, and through responsible travel we can contribute to a more peaceful and interconnected world.    

In short, the travel industrys potential to support the UNs Sustainable Development Goals is vast. We can make data-driven decisions to prioritise decent work and economic growth, adopt responsible consumption and production practices and take climate action. In collaboration, the industry can lead the way in embracing sustainability, becoming a force for positive change that supports the wellbeing of our planet and all its inhabitants. At Sabre, our work in sustainability is underpinned by the SDGs and by collaborating with our partners, customers and peers across the industry, together, we can make more sustainable travel happen. 

About the Author

Tess Longfield, Head of Sustainability Communications at Sabre, has been working at the intersection of travel and sustainability for more than a decade.