Sustainability is becoming a mainstream topic in travel, but do new initiatives go far enough, and does carbon offsetting work?
Over half of Irish consumers say they would pay more for flights to minimise their carbon footprint, a new survey has found.
The survey of 1,600 Irish holidaymakers, by travel insurance provider Multitrip.com, found that 54pc would pay more for air travel if the additional cost went towards eco-friendly projects, such as planting trees.
One in four of those surveyed also said they would decide where and how to travel in the coming years based upon reducing their carbon ‘footprint’ and minimising damage to the planet.
Clearly, sustainability is now a mainstream issue in travel.
This January, Lonely Planet teamed up with adventure operator Intrepid Travel to launch 'Lonely Planet Experiences' - a new suite of 300 carbon-neutral group tours ranging from a two-hour trip through a Tokyo fish market to a seven-day tour of the Galapagos Islands.
The experiences "will support local communities, protect our natural environment and ensure travellers see the world in a responsible and sustainable way," says James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel.
Closer to home, Ireland recently gained its first carbon-neutral hotel (Hotel Doolin in Co Clare, above), and the Falls Hotel & Spa in Ennistymon, also in Co. Clare, has made the big switch to hydro-electricity.
This week, Dublin Airport said sustainability is key in a revamp of its food and drink services under a new deal with British food operator SSP.
A 10-year contract will see a pivot away from generic brands towards Irish businesses like Bretzel Bakery, Handsome Burger and 3fe coffee, it said, along with "a focus on the removal of single-use plastic at its outlets".
Despite these steps towards sustainability, however, a sobering fact remains: air travel is responsible for 2pc of global CO2 emissions, according to the Irish Aviation Authority - and it will only continue to grow.
A recent UNWTO report adds that transport-related CO2 emissions in tourism "will increase by 103pc from 2005 to 2030... challenging the sector’s ambition to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement".
“The effects of climate change are hitting the headlines on a daily basis, from extreme weather events to the disastrous Australian bushfires," says Ciaran Mulligan, MultiTrip.com Managing Director.
"With over a quarter [of its survey respondents] taking the issue into account when making travel plans, and more than half prepared to pay more for flights, it is clearly a matter Irish holidaymakers feel compelled to act upon.”
While many of us grapple with how much we fly, and how to pay for it, however, carbon offsetting is not a clear-cut solution.
Finding trustworthy schemes can be confusing, and critics say it shifts moral responsibility for our actions and distracts from sustainable fixes like reducing flights or incentivising greener travel through tax and regulations.
"There is a whole Flight Shame movement in Sweden that has people shunning flying, and that has driven flight volumes down by between 5pc and 10pc in just the last year," says Rory Kelleher, innovation manager at the Cool Planet Experience in Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow.
Kelleher is a former advisor to Ireland’s Climate Change Advisory Council, and his role with Cool Planet includes advising companies like Vodafone and Brown Thomas on their carbon strategies.
Most air travel emissions are generated by a small proportion of the world's population living in wealthier countries, he says.
His view? Simple: staycations and other forms of transport, such as ferries and trains, are more sustainable ways to holiday.
"The less you fly, the better it is for the planet."