Project overview

Foundation concept

Looking at the entire system of the tourism industry, it becomes evident which barriers must be overcome to improve sustainability throughout the value chain. There is an urgent need to structure sustainability-oriented innovations and transformations, to prioritize them based on rating systems and thus to steer their development.

Currently, 31% of the population claim the ecological compatibility of holidays as important and 38% indicate they want to travel socially acceptably. Slightly more than half (55%) of those, who would like to travel sustainably, see additional costs as an obstacle. Almost as often (49%) consumers note that sustainable offers were not found and thus not bookable.

The foundation concept addresses the problem of a lack of sustainability parameters, which should be made visible in order to identify areas of action to effective penetration of sustainable development processes in the tourism industry. In this context conceptual system developments as well as rebound effects play an essential role. Therefore Fraunhofer UMSICHT developed a first resource usage model based on excel. The resource usage model enables the sustainability measurement of a travel package, while taking into account different customer demands and preferences.

The individual models were discussed within several project workshops. Here it became apparent that rather flexible system boundaries should be taken into account in order to enable a practical application of the models. Therefore the ideal concepts should embrace different system boundaries. The models should include a variety of indicators, which can be adapted for practical use. An adequate selection of these indicators is one of the challenges for the next project phase, especially with regard to the other concepts. A key obstacle is the availability of data. This issue will be further addressed in the upcoming project process.

Implementation concept

For the development of the implementation concept a first review of relevant labels as well as their criteria and challenges took place. The different labels cover a bandwidth of criteria. Hence for the project an appropriate basis of valuation has to be derived from the given data. Thus the project set several principles for its further work. Firstly, the system behind the evaluation must be transparent and resilient. Furthermore, the selection of the labels needs to be clear and comprehensible. In order to develop a practical application and a realistic industry solution, all data must be available. The consistency of data, which is essential for the reservation systems, is very important in this point (e.g. clear definitions, no duplicates). Within the working groups and workshops, particularly the criteria and the recognition of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) emerged as a generally accepted valuation basis for labeling.

During the process, two aspects showed up as discussion points that need to be further elaborated and tested within the project:

Evaluation of a travel package: Travel packages consist of many individual facets. It turns out to be difficult to measure and illustrate the overall sustainability of a travel package. This is due to the complexity and length of the value chain as well as the availability of information and the weighting of indicators. One example can be the role of a flight within a travel package. The CO2 emissions of a flight would negate environmental measures of a hotel in the balance sheet, although an improvement of all service providers during a trip would be desirable. At the same time it is difficult to measure efforts in social sustainability and to make an appropriate weighting. In the travel agency individual travel components are tied together in the sales pitch. At this juncture the sustainability of individual components could be communicated to influence the consumer’s decision. Accordingly, it is the aim to indicate sustainability values of the individual travel components.

Visualization of sustainability: Here is the question whether sustainable products are to be displayed following a "black and white" principle or based on different sustainability scales. A differentiated visualization based on the measured sustainability could e.g. stimulate service provider to implement additional measures to promote sustainability. At the same time a differentiated presentation is more difficult to communicate to the customer and the travel agents, since the subject matter is already highly complex. Thus, it remains to be questioned whether a customer notices a differentiation. A simplified visualization possibly facilitates the communication at the counter. Further investigations at the customer level are envisaged to clarify this issue.

In general, a single statement about the sustainability of a trip is not sufficient. More information needs to be provided for the travel agents and customers. This could be done in form of key/marketing statements. To identify the relevance of individual criteria for the consumer and an appropriate customer language, a market study is being prepared, which takes place in the next few months. The results will be presented and developed in a workshop this fall.

Educational/ training concept

The challenge, which is addressed in the project, can be understood as a transformation. A core element of this transformation within this module is the training. The transformation, including awareness raising and long-term behavior change, is based on two theoretical pillars: the questioning of established, implicit behavior and the fortification of sustainable behavior. Accordingly coaching programs will be developed to foster a transformation of work and consultation routines in travel agencies.

To achieve this goal, different formats are developed in cooperation with the practice (Sustainability-Tourism-Training - STT):

  • STT-Online: Application of e-learning programs
  • STT-Quick Check: half- or quarter day workshops and programs
  • STT-Life and Volunteering: In cooperation with current projects sustainability can be experienced
  • STT-Intensive: Long-term seminar leading to the entitlement of carrying a specific title indicating the expertise

With regard to the online training, a review and evaluation of existing training concepts was carried out. In addition the cooperation with the German Travel Association was intensified as they offer an e-learning system on sustainability, called “Green Counter”. In order to advance the training concept first meetings were held, which focused on the Green Counter project as a basis for the further development of online-training. Currently a joint concept is being developed. The concept is based on three stages: a basic course, an extension course and specialization courses. The accreditation of the courses will be done by the German Travel Association. The objective is that travel agencies, where at least 50% of the employees have completed the extension course, are declared as travel agencies with sustainable travel expertise and can use this for promotional purposes (sustainability label by the German Travel Association).

Concerning the training workshops the integration of sustainability courses into the existing basic travel agent training was identified as an opportunity. This is especially advantageous as trainings solely based on sustainable tourism are likely to attract fewer participants from the travel agencies, due to economic and time management reasons.

System transfer

Sustainable service providers, national as international, are confronted with the problem of an effective access into the tourism market. Investments in sustainability are usually hard to communicate and their meanings and contexts are usually unknown at the downstream value chain. Reasons for this lie within the complexity of the topic as well as in an increasing dilution of core messages that lead to incorrect ideas in the heads of consumers and industry participants.

Tour operators are also faced with the challenge to classify or certify sustainable offers and thus to distinguish sustainable from less sustainable offers and to integrate them into their corporate communication and into their information and booking systems in a way that is sufficiently concrete and meaningful for sales partners and end customers.

A harmonization and definition of a standard following international existing approaches as for instance those of the GSTC increases the acceptance and inevitably the willingness to consume.