Nikki White, Abta’s director of destinations and sustainability, sets out how to make the most of growing public awareness on plastic issues

The issue of plastics has been dominating the news agenda for the best part of 2018. Today an estimated 300 million tons are produced each year – just 10% of which is recycled. And 50% of all plastics, from miniature hotel toiletries to disposable coffee cups, are used once by consumers and then thrown away.

Despite the increased media attention on the issue of plastics, this is by no means an area that the travel industry has only just started to address. Indeed, Abta Members and destinations have been looking at plastics as part of their wider sustainability strategy for some time now – working on issues such as waste management and recycling in destination, as well as the use of plastics.

What has changed is the public’s awareness – in the past year, the plastic issue has gone mainstream. The seismic shift in public attitudes means customers now have higher expectations about the use of plastics, and businesses can use this to push forward change with suppliers and destinations.

Not only is consumer awareness for plastics at an all-time high, broader understanding of sustainability is growing too – with Abta research reporting an increase of 11% in the past three years. There are many ways that your company can respond to this awareness, and here are just some of the steps you can take to be a part of this important conversation:

Lead by example

Get involved with inspiring activities which can help the environment and give back to destinations. No matter how small your actions are, they can make a difference – from holding a plastic free day in your office, taking part in a clean-up activity to encouraging your connected hoteliers or suppliers to consider alternatives where they can. Make Holidays Greener (MHG), run in partnership with Travelife for Hotels & Accommodations, aims to do just this. It encourages the industry and holidaymakers to take positive social and environmental actions, with almost 1,000 greener holiday pledges and an estimated 2,500 people taking part in 79 clean-up activities last year. The theme for this year is ‘say no to plastic’ and any organisation can get involved. This might be particularly helpful if you haven’t developed your strategy yet, you’ll receive a support pack with guidance and advice and our sustainability team are on hand to offer support throughout.

Make it work for your business

As is often the case in travel – there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution to plastics and other sustainability issues. How destinations manage their waste varies significantly, so what can be recycled in one resort can’t in another. Similarly, issues like the quality of drinking water versus bottled water for tourists are factors which need to be considered. Adopting an approach that works for your company is essential to build on and grow success in the long-term. For example, tour operator Buffalo Tours uses reusable water bottles which can be refilled from coolers, instead of providing several plastic bottles. Since 2017, this has resulted in a reduction of plastic waste by over 200,000 single-use water bottles. The Travelife Gold certified hotel Dessole Malia Beach in Greece has also reduced the amount of plastic straws it uses by 95%, and introduced water coolers which saw the use of single use plastic water bottles drop by 75%. And Exodus, which has already reduced plastic waste on all its adventures, have set themselves the challenge to be single-use plastic bottle free on all of their trips by the end of 2018.

Get your customers involved

Use growing consumer awareness to have a conversation with customers and see how they might want to be involved with sustainability initiatives, such as taking part in a beach clean on holiday, taking a reusable bag on their next trip or taking a greener holiday pledge on the Make Holidays Greener website. Last year, travel agent Midcounties Cooperative supported the MHG campaign with a number of activities, which included providing double membership points to customers on all Travelife certified hotels, and this year they are providing MHG branded reusable cotton bags to anyone who books a Travelife certified hotel in-store too. The Royal Blue Resort in Crete encouraged customers to participate in activities including tree planning, a photo competition to showcase the best of the natural environment around them and to switch off their room lights for 1 minute.

Share your achievements

Whether your company is reducing plastic use, running beach cleans or taking part in plastic free initiatives – make sure consumers know about what you’re doing by sharing your sustainability achievements. Both companies and destinations are being increasingly vocal about taking action, for example Costa Rica and The Balearic Islands have announced this year they are moving to ban the sale of all single-use consumer plastics in the next 2-3 years. Sharing activity and achievements helps to encourage both the wider industry and consumers to take action.

Take action this summer and support the Make Holidays Greener campaign by making a pledge on and share your achievements on social media with #MHG18. Travel companies can also contact to sign up to Make Holidays Greener and request a support pack.

MoreAbta puts plastic at forefront of Make Holidays Greener campaign