Responsible Travel customer director Tim Williamson calls for fewer flights and a focus on tourism which benefits local communities

We don’t need a new runway at Heathrow just a more responsible attitude to flying

Do we really need another runway at Heathrow? At Responsible Travel we don’t think so. This may sound a bit strange for a travel company to say given that we sell lots of holidays from the UK that depart by air.

At some point we have to face the fact that the IATA predictions for the growth of air travel are not sustainable and will be very detrimental to the planet. The ability to jump on a plane at a very affordable price for most of the developed world and get to nearly all places on earth in less than a day is a wonderful privilege but it’s not a right and each flight has a consequence and that’s the increasing damage to our environment from aviation. Whilst we are excited about the alternatives to kerosene fuelled flying that are just starting to be developed we are bound, in the short to medium term, to just making flying more efficient.

What we can start doing now is thinking about each flight we take and ask is it really necessary? We should all be thinking now about that short city break by air and looking at alternatives, especially if our choice is also fuelling the new concept of over-tourism where tourists and locals suffer as result of too many tourists. If we are travelling to a conference – is it really necessary that we are there in person? The web now makes it so easy to join and interact in group meetings and conferences. In the UK travel industry it is certainly true that there is no reason for the annual conferences to be abroad apart from the fact that tourist destinations pay a high price to sponsor the events to bring the industry to their country.

If we are travelling for work do we need to be there in person? I’m sure most meetings that include air travel would be far less attractive if the company that paid for the ticket collected the air miles and points rather than the individual. For me this change alone would reduce the demand for business travel. Less business flights does not mean that less international business is being done – it’s just being done in a far smarter, more modern and more efficient way – driving productivity which the UK desperately needs.

So with less business travel, less short breaks and less international conferences to attend do we really need extra airport capacity? I doubt it but this needs to be modelled and any decision on extra airport capacity in the UK should be delayed until this work is properly done.

The truth is we love flying for business and accumulating air miles for use on our own personal flights, we love attending conferences in exotic destinations even though all the delegates and speakers are from the same country as us and we love short city breaks because the cost of these flights are far too cheap driven by a massive over-supply in the market, particularly in Europe, and the fact that airplane fuel is not taxed.

I can imagine a world where we fly less, do better business, learn more but also continue to benefit local communities around the world through tourism as we use our long-haul flights carefully and make them count by staying longer, getting off the beaten tourist track and making sure the money we spend goes into the local economy.

The economics of this for the aviation industry are stark – less airlines and potentially higher fares which are either driven by less supply or taxation as forward thinking governments use an increase in vehicles like APD to help develop electric planes and make sure that aviation bears the full cost of its environmental impact burning an untaxed fuel.

Maybe in the longer term we do need a third runway at Heathrow to cope with the volume of new electric long-haul planes taking people around the planet whilst not destroying it – this we would support.