United and JetBlue see value in a customer demand for environmentally sustainable holiday destinations
Fri 23 Jan 2015 – United Airlines has launched a new travel programme for customers looking to incorporate sustainability and environmental responsibility into their holiday requirements. The airline is partnering with The Mark Travel Corporation, its exclusive tour operator for United Vacations, and global non-profit Sustainable Travel International (STI) on the programme. United Eco-Skies Vacations will be piloted in Costa Rica, a country known for its eco-diversity and environmental stewardship, and if successful will be expanded to other eco-friendly destinations. Meanwhile, another US carrier, JetBlue, has carried out a study into the relationship between a tourist destination’s ecosystems and the value that has to the airline in a purely business sense. Leisure travel to the Caribbean’s pristine beaches and clear seas is key to JetBlue’s business model but that could be impacted by large-scale environmental degradation, says the airline.
United’s customers are now able to select ‘Sustainable travel’ under ‘Specialty vacations’ when visiting the United Vacations website. They are then invited to choose from four resort properties in Costa Rica that have been evaluated by STI as maintaining environmentally sustainable practices in accordance with recognised standards. Customers also have the option to purchase CarbonChoice carbon offsets associated with their travel.
Two of the hotels have been certified by the Certification for Sustainable Tourism Program, another holds the Luxury Eco Certification Standard and the fourth is ISO 14001 certified in Environmental Management.
“United understands the importance of protecting the cultural, economic and environmental integrity of the destinations we serve,” said Angela Foster-Rice, Managing Director of global environmental affairs and sustainability for United. “We’re committed to long-term environmental stewardship, and this programme encourages and promotes responsible travel to ensure these destinations remain attractive places to live, work and visit for generations.”
Eco-tourism has also become an important market for fellow US carrier JetBlue, which has a wider definition of the term and includes those who travel to the Caribbean – a prime market for the airline which flies around 1.8 million tourists annually to the region – in search of the classic tropical shoreline.
“We can think of almost every leisure customer who flies JetBlue to the Caribbean and enjoys a pristine beach as an eco-tourist in some capacity,” said Sophia Mendelsohn, the airline’s Head of Sustainability. “Think about it in terms of Orlando’s theme parks – these popular attractions are inherent to flight demand and ticket pricing into Orlando. We believe clean, unspoiled beaches should be recognised as the main driver for Caribbean leisure travel. These valuable assets undoubtedly drive airline ticket and destination demand.”
The existence of the Caribbean’s ecosystems and shorelines has a direct impact on the demand for flights and therefore, says JetBlue, their appearance and cleanliness should also be a major focus. No community or industry benefits when beaches and oceans are polluted, said JetBlue Executive Vice President James Hnat. “However, these problems persist because we are not adept at quantifying both the risk to communities and our business associated with them.”
So to identify the dollar value of conservation to JetBlue’s revenue from flights to the Caribbean, it has undertaken a study with management consulting firm A.T. Kearney and conservationists The Ocean Foundation.
“It is critical to include a thorough analysis of the major environmental factors that we have always believed influence a tourist’s decision to travel to a Caribbean destination – trash on the beach, water quality, healthy coral reefs and intact mangroves,” said The Ocean Foundation’s President, Mark Spalding. “Our hope is to statistically tie together what, at a glance, appears to be obviously related factors – beautiful beaches and tourism demand – and develop analytical evidence specific enough to matter to industry’s bottom line.”
The study set out to prove a theory that there is a direct causal relationship between low airline revenue per available seat mile (RASM), an industry measure of revenue performance, and polluted beaches and water and, conversely, high RASM and cleaner, more desirable beaches. This would make a case that JetBlue could command a higher RASM to destinations with clean beaches supported by healthy ecosystems. The higher revenue and demand would in turn feed into the income stream for small islands reliant on tourism.
“Our hope is that this work would promote the understanding that without financial investments in the preservation and conservation of the natural resources upon which tourism depends, degradation will increase, tourism will decline and tax revenues will diminish,” say the partners in their report, ‘EcoEarnings: A Shore Thing’.
However, despite access to a wealth of data that exists about the health of Caribbean ecosystems, the study could not establish a definitive causal link due to the data not being consistent and comparable.
“Although our analysis showed there is a correlation between the ‘eco factors’ and RASM, we believe that in the future causation will be proved with more robust data,” said A.T. Kearney partner and a contributor to the report, James Rushing.
The report recommends businesses, governments and NGOs work together both to quantify the value of environmental protection of the Caribbean’s beaches and to ensure they are preserved.