Responsible tourism can help increase profitability at travel firms and is not just a box-ticking exercise, a WTM panel has concluded.

Tui’s Helen Caron said the travel giant’s research found that 53% of customers said they have a better image of a tour operator if it was sustainable and that more than half said they were more likely to book with a sustainable tour operator.

The group purchasing director, who is a board member of the Tui Care Foundation, added: “We’ve seen a shift in consumer sentiment. In particular, this comes from millennials and females.”

Dr Susanne Becken, a director at the Griffith Institute for Tourism, said: “These [sustainable] businesses have better customer satisfaction, and ultimately that makes them more profitable. The customer is a helping hand to businesses, not someone you have to save.”

She added: “It comes down to shared values and for the customer to understand that the business has values more than just making profit.

“If there are ways to share that with customers and give them the opportunity to be part of the process then that’s important.”

Inge Huijbrechts, Radisson Hotel Group’s global senior vice president for responsible business, said a lot of sustainability work goes on behind the scenes, but that Radisson’s decision to remove plastic straws from all its hotels, which began by only giving them is customers asked, was a “conversation starter” on the issue of single-use plastic, if not a fix to the wider problem.

She also said that explaining to customers the knock on effect of efforts such as re-using towels helps convince them to be more environmentally conscious – and that attitudes towards sustainability are changing.

“[Reduction in the use of plastic] is something we are seeing from our customers. Consumer can create pressure and can vote with their wallets.”

Huijbrechts said Radisson has also reduced its carbon footprint by 20% ans water consumption by 30% with eco-initiatives brought on by customer demand. It is also trialling hybrid solar panels that produce electricity and heat at its Cape Town property.

Caron said Tui agents had been getting in on the sustainability act, adding: “We are incentivising our teams to reduce their impact on the environment, and that starts with the frontline. We have over 600 shops and we’re asking them to reduce electricity use and their carbon footprint and raise money for the Tui Care Foundation so they can see the impact in the destinations we sell.

“If our staff are trained on the subject, they can be the best way of communicating our message.”

The Travel Weekly team is reporting extensively from this year’s World Travel Market, stay up to date on our live blog and event microsite