Is geography Australia’s unsolvable problem for modern eco-conscious travellers?

Australia’s next challenge to promote itself to long-haul visitors could be its most difficult to solve, MATTHEW LENNON reports.

REGARDLESS of where they get their information, travellers today are more switched-on and clued-in to the machinations of the world, whatever their belief or persuasion may be. 

One such aspect of society people are paying more attention to is their personal carbon footprint, which can now be calculated down to minute degrees of specificity, should a consumer wish to know. 

This extends to travel, with many booking platforms letting travellers know about how much carbon their flight will emit. For the hyper eco-conscious, it can be a sobering start to the otherwise pleasant experience of planning and booking a holiday. 

But one thing is for sure. People are aware of their impact on the environment, and they want to know about how they can minimise it, if not eliminate it entirely through offsets, now plentifully offered with almost any transaction these days. 

Australia has long been an aspirational star on the travel radars of the United Kingdom, the United States and many other countries, but the undeniable reality of its long-haul nature is creating a barrier for environmentally conscious consumers. 

Speaking at Tourism Australia’s annual ‘Destination Australia’ conference in Sydney last week, Managing Director Phillipa Harrison said there were several social themes of which the organisation needs to remain acutely aware. 

“Consumer preferences are changing, led by the younger cohort who want to travel more sustainably – 71% of people are saying they will travel more sustainably next year, that’s up 10% from 2021,” Harrison said. 

Another concept that could potentially rear an ugly head is the concept of “flight shaming” – a social media adaptation whereby people are worried about being criticised among family, friends or potentially even their community for taking a long-haul, high-polluting flight. 

“Tourism Australia constantly monitors trends around the world to help inform our work, and to support the continued growth of Australian tourism,” Harrison told travelBulletin. 

“At this stage we are not seeing sustainability concerns in relation to aviation impact consumer demand for an Australian holiday. 

“That said, as a long-haul destination, collectively as an industry we have a responsibility to consider factor likes these as we look towards the future.” 

And while planes may be the problem, they may also be the solution. 

Airbus, Boeing, other secondary aircraft manufacturers and a litany of global parts suppliers are well underway with all development of all kinds of fuel-efficient technologies that will reduce a plane’s carbon emissions. Many technologies already exist and are in service today, but they can always be better – and that’s what Tourism Australia is counting on. 

Qantas has taken delivery of its first two Airbus A220 aircraft, which reduces the noise footprint by 50% compared to its predecessor – the Boeing 717 – along with a 25% drop in overall carbon emissions. 

The airline is also investing heavily in the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel and like much of the aviation industry, is making progress by working to improve fuel blends to the point where it can safely and reliably be produced to commercial quantities. 

Australia need not be worried, thinking generations of travellers are going to abandon their dreams of exploring our amazing landscapes, enjoying our world-class produce and taking home a treasure trove of souvenirs and memories.  

But Tourism Australia may benefit from incorporating some of these messages into its marketing. Tell the people their impact isn’t as bad as some may lead them to believe. Maybe speak their language and throw a bit of YOLO into the conversation too. That should be enough to get them into their seats for take-off. 

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