Most of you will know or have heard of Jane Ashton, Director of Sustainable Development at TUI Group, in charge of sustainability management and strategy of the world’s largest integrated travel company. During ITB Berlin earlier this year we had the chance to meet Jane and to learn first-hand about TUI Group’s new sustainability strategy.
In this interview, Jane tells us where the sustainable development journey is going in tourism, where she sees the main challenges and why – despite sustainability challenges of a growing tourism sector – there is reason to be optimistic.
- How Jane Ashton got in touch with sustainable tourism, and how her view on the topic has changed over the years;
- Where she sees the priorities for sustainability at TUI;
- How TUI approaches sustainability;
- TUI’s main sustainability challenges;
- Why we need to focus on destinations;
- How we should communicate sustainability to reach guests and visitors;
- How TUI measures its sustainability performance and the success of specific initiatives;
- Which books aspiring sustainable tourism leaders should not miss.
Jane, do you remember the first time you heard – or thought – about sustainability linked to tourism?
My interest in environmental issues dates back to my student years, particularly the time I spent at uni in Germany in the 1980’s, where the damage of acid rain on the surrounding forests was all too evident.
In the late 1980’s and 1990’s, there was a lot of focus on niche ecotourism, yet as a tour operator product manager, traveling frequently, it was clear to me that the real sustainability challenge (and opportunity) was for the mainstream travel industry, which has more to lose than most sectors when destination communities and environments cease to thrive.
I was involved in 2000 in the Sustainable Tourism Initiative, led by the UK Government, and also around that same time learned a lot from my German, Dutch and Nordic industry peers at the UN-backed Tour Operators Initiative for Sustainable Tourism: they had been seeking to tackle the sustainability impacts of their respective businesses long before this was seen as a business issue by most UK travel companies.
Indeed, TUI established its environmental department 25 years ago this year!
(How) has your view on sustainable tourism changed since?
Something increasingly evident is the complexity of driving significant sustainability change, particularly in destinations. There are so many players involved, sometimes with conflicting priorities, no one government department responsible for managing the sustainability of a destination, no one owner of the tourism ‘product’, a lack of accessible sustainability data, etc.