When there's still so much to do, look backwards

Whilst it may sound counter-intuitive and fly in the face of inspirational quotes that tell us not to look backwards because we're not going that way, sometimes I think it really helps us to take stock, to see how far we've come and draw a new lease of life to keep going.

Celebrating plastic reduction at World Travel Market in 2011

Way back in 2011 when I was still at The Thomas Cook Group and before single-use plastic was the word on everyone's lips, we undertook an ambitious plastic reduction programme in Cyprus, together with The Travel Foundation, CSTI (Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative) and our overseas teams.

27 hotels were invited to be part of the project with around 20 providing enough data for us to make sufficient YOY comparisons in plastic consumption and costs.

The target was to reach a 10% reduction but the average far exceeded that at 19%. Those hotels with a really engaged management team saw reduction of an incredible 68%.

  • 800,000 plastic water bottles eliminated

  • €111,000 total savings across project hotels

  • 1250 staff trained in plastic reduction

  • 31% less plastic consumed per guest (by weight) than before the project

We were very much ahead of the curve and this project would eventually be the inspiration for Travel Without Plastic's Toolkit and associated services.

Let's fast forward to 2017. Eight years have gone by without a huge interest in eliminating single-use plastic to be perfectly honest, but suddenly I start to receive calls and emails from people in the industry who knew about the success of the Cyprus project. My experience in health, safety and sustainability was in demand to help hotels address single-use plastics without compromising on other important operational areas.

Together with industry colleagues Rachel McCaffery, Nancy Brock, Anna Waddilove and Rosie Tudor we developed an updated approach and created the Let's Reduce Single-Use Toolkit in English and Spanish. Designed specifically for hotels with consideration given to a range of customer demographics, cultures and infrastructures, making the recommendations affordable and practical.

We launched the toolkit on World Environment Day last year and have seen phenomenal interest since, superbly summarised in this blog for World Travel Market by Jeremy Smith.

Filming at World Travel Market with BBC1 Rip Off Britain (Holidays) for a feature on single-use plastic

When the issues we face seem almost insurmountable, we often think about all of the objectives we're struggling to achieve. There is a huge task ahead of us if we are to truly take unnecessary single-use plastics out of the tourism supply chain. I often hear people say that we must go so much further than straws, yet there are thousands of businesses that have not even made this connection yet.

In the face of budget restraints, concerns over customer expectations, the integrity of some alternatives, the lack of waste infrastructure, the 'business as usual' approach and so many other objections to change, we will carry on and we will be there to support those businesses that are ready to take a serious look at their plastic consumption and to lead the way in making a difference.

I almost can't wait for 2020, so that I can look back on 2019 for inspiration as it's promising to look like the year implementation might actually start to happen!