Interview with Thomas Loughlin, Sustainability Lead at Booking.com on its Global Tourism Plastics Initiative commitment
by Mafalda Borea & UNEP One Planet Network
As part of Sustainable First’s partnership with the UNEP’s & UNWTO’s Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, Mafalda Borea speaks to Thomas Loughlin, Sustainability Lead – Sustainable Supply at Booking.com, about their commitment to the Initiative and how they are working with partners and peers to provide a wider array of sustainable experiences and give customers more sustainable choices when they travel.
Question: You committed to GTPI in 2020 and have been supporting your members to implement concrete solutions to reduce plastics pollution by, for instance, providing recommendations for both accommodations and tourists to reduce plastics during the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is tackling plastic pollution so important for you?
Answer: As a leader in the industry, we have a responsibility to do so. We have the scale to achieve huge impact and a platform that reaches millions of people, so why not use them to drive sustainable travel forward? I think there’s also an expectation, from both employees and customers, to take an active role in driving change.
Q: You have also issued non pandemic-specific recommendations for your partners regarding plastic reduction. Do you have some examples of success stories from your partners that were implementing GTPI guidance?
A: There are a number of different ways we try to support our partners to reduce and remove single-use plastics from their operations. On the one hand, we try to give the partner the information they need to make changes. We provide information in the sustainability handbook, we provided the GTPI handbook to partners while discussing the health and safety of the guest, and we also translated the GTPI handbook into a one-pager infographic, one for guests and one for partners. This infographic can be used freely by all members of the GTPI community. On the other hand, we provide our partners with a scalable solution to display their efforts to the guest in the booking process. We collect 8 different actions a partner can take to remove plastics from their operations and today hundreds of thousands of partners have informed us that they have removed at least one plastic product from their operations.
Q: Did your partners share their difficulties and concerns related to their efforts of reduction of the use of plastics and introduction of reuse models, particularly in the context of COVID-19? How did you address this?
A: This was something we were aware of, specifically in the context of the pandemic. We felt it was our role to make sure our partners had the right information to hand so that they could make an informed decision that worked best for them. It was new for all of us and it was important that we supported them as much as we could.
Q: How do you motivate your partners to reduce the use of single-use plastics and become more sustainable overall?
A: From research we carry out annually with both partners and travellers, we understand the intention as well as the challenges of both sides. We know that the customer and the property both care about sustainability. They want to do more but there are some blockers that get in the way of this happening. We use this research to design our product roadmap so that we make it easier for partners to market their sustainable initiatives and we make it easier for customers to find and book sustainable accommodations.
Q: How do you help travellers to find accommodations that are working towards the reduction and elimination of plastics on your website?
A: Collecting data around the elimination of plastics feeds directly into our sustainability framework. When a partner has made significant efforts to make the experience of their guests more sustainable, they will be eligible to achieve the “Travel Sustainable” badge. The guest can then filter using this badge when looking for accommodation so that they will only see sustainable options. And from research we know that 73% of travellers will book an accommodation if they know they are enabling sustainable initiatives.
Q: What are the benefits of including your commitment to sustainability when communicating with clients?
A: There is a lot more to explore and unpack in this question. Of course, there are benefits to telling guests about the efforts you are making but key to the success is the delivery of the message. Prof. Xavier Font once mentioned a great point in relation to the consumer process: “Each customer/client will be in a very different stage of their sustainability journey.” Some will be very “leaned in” to the topic and others may not. Segmenting the customers’ journey will mean that your communication will land better with them. Another thing that Xavier Font mentioned was regarding how you describe the efforts of the guest, coming at it by describing the benefit to the guest rather than x amount of carbon saved or x liters of water saved.
Booking.com is working towards the following UN Sustainable Development Goals:
This interview was published in partnership with UN Environment Programme’s One Planet Network’s Global Tourism Plastics Initiative and is also available here.