Panel: Vanessa Butani – Scandic Hotels, Brendan Burns – European Economic Social Committee, Sarah Wilkin – Jet Fuel from Waste. Moderated by Roland Moore – BCW.

Yes it can, but firstly can we define tourism as a sector? This was the point of Brendan Burns, member of the European Economic Social Committee. It’s hard to put figures and targets to and make policies on a sector that covers so many different services and is hard to define. So how do we start to discuss such a topic?

We started by presenting how we all interpreted being circular in our own projects and roles, and our moderator, Roland Moore, set the scene by letting us know that tourism is one of the fastest growing industries and contributes 10% to GDP and tied our discussion together well with some excellent points and posing some thought provoking questions.

Jet Fuel from Waste’s way of being circular is by looking into how businesses are handling waste within tourism and seeing if this can be recycled into biofuel to decarbonise air travel.  Vanessa discussed how Scandic Hotels are handling food, as one example, and how Scandic led the ‘hang up your towel‘ campaign . Brendan brought up how the experience should be one that inspires behaviours and Roland mentioned that on holiday we are generally feeling more open and so this is a time we are receptive to new ideas so encouraging new behaviours on vacation could be a good way to embed more sustainable thinking in our daily lives. Brendan encouraged this idea and thought including the customer was key and that being more transparent about operations and sustainable practices and perhaps some of the nitty gritty is not a bad thing.

Also if we are thinking about defining tourism then what is the difference between being a local and being a tourist? We all consume, waste, do, experience things…. so this then brings the point up of whether tourism can be circular, yes it can, if we can be circular in our daily lives then we can be while being a tourist also. So the task seems to be how do we apply the circular economy (CE) principles to an all encompassing sector?

UNWTO let us know that they have set up a working group which is looking into how to define the role of CE in tourism and have started a series of webinars which can be found online. They have started to discuss the topic choosing to look into buildings and construction, food waste and mobility (transport) as a start and they want to involve a wider group to make some agreements on how to move forward with a circular approach in tourism. This is ongoing work which we are happy to be part of going forward.

Going back to thinking about being a tourist, as we holiday, we often want luxury which can lead to over indulgence but as Vanessa from Scandic said they give their guests smaller plates so they don’t overload, and design their buffets to nudge guests to make healthier choices to avoid piling up unneeded food , they have also removed the small disposable shampoo bottles in their hotels and replaced them with large dispensers which means they can improve the quality of the product they offer their customers. There are ways to maintain quality while reducing waste, plastic use and excess. Digitalisation, timers and sharing culture – all ways to think more efficiently too.

In the Netherlands the plan to decarbonise aviation is called Smart and Sustainable. This title does seem to sum things up quite well and as a few have mentioned recently, the term sustainability didn’t use to exist, it was called cost savings so as businesses look to be sustainable for environmental reasons they will by default sustain the business by saving money and future proofing themselves also. It has a double benefit, although the initial layout costs of the initiatives could be the offputting-factor. One of the challenges.

Cafe de Ceuvel in Amsterdam is a circular hub and office space which is energy self-sufficient and educates and inspire it’s customers with their practices to make them think about their behaviours at home too, so a good example of involving the customer in operations in a transparent way.

So, can the circular practices increase, can the impact be measured and costs savings added up? If they can then tourism can be circular and it will start happening more often. Market research already shows that if a business has a good sustainability rating then this pleases their customers and encourages loyalty but it has to be credible. Programmes such as Innovation Lighthouse are looking into different experiences they can give a customer in the hotel which encourages conscious behaviour changes which they can take away with them. There is a lot of new thinking in how we can travel sustainably in order to preserve communities, avoid over tourism and too much waste because we don’t want to stop travelling, we don’t want to shame but we do want to work toward the sustainability challenge.

In the same week we also attended Green Week and heard about the EU funded project TACKLE which has been initiated by the Institute of Management at Scuola Superiore Saint Anna and supported by UEFA. This looks into how circular principles can be applied to mega events, sport tourism and in football. The discussion was about green procurement and the team, Real Betis, who are promoting climate action on their kits to demonstrate that football as a business with a large audience is also contributing to SDG 13 on Climate Action. Patrick Gasser, Head of Social Responsibility, at UEFA also seconding this, saying all sustainable initiatives they work on should be working towards climate action firstly.

We look forward to being part of the discussion and to seeing how we can contribute to decarbonising the aviation sector, managing waste more efficiently, reducing emissions and becoming more circular, sustainable travellers.