"There are people in the world,"
Steve Porter told me, "who think that travel is bad."
We were talking
during a break at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global
Summit in Lisbon last week. Porter, president of InterContinental
Hotels in the Americas, was expressing concern about the impact
anti-travel forces might have on climate change
If anyone doubted
that there are people who think travel is bad, that doubt was
erased after a short video was shown to delegates. Shot in
documentary style, the video provided voice-overs of people
discussing travel's effect on the environment while images were
shown of glaciers calving, post-Katrina flooding and unusually high
tides. In no uncertain terms, the travel industry was accorded
One woman, a
representative from Greenpeace, criticized what she called "binge
flying," the implication being that some frequently fly for reasons
she considered trivial relative to the
damage that aviation causes.
"If travel is a sin,
who is going to decide which trip is important?" EasyGroup Chairman
Stelios Haji-Ioannou asked, not necessarily
Stelios emerged at
the summit as one of the more thoughtful speakers. Brought up in a
Greek shipping family, he has been steeped in transportation issues
his whole life.
He has also observed
environmental devastation -- and government reaction to it --
firsthand. About 15 years ago, one of his family's ships was
involved in an oil spill that resulted in both human death and
environmental damage. As a result, certain types of ships were
banned from European waters.
Stelios said he felt
that the Greenpeace representative's comments were "misguided" and
that "extreme solutions are not sustainable." But he predicted that
governments would become more directly involved in regulating air
travel over concerns about climate change, and that the actions
would not necessarily be subtle.
"Europe could ban all
airplanes over 20 years old," Stelios said. "Similar things have
happened. Cars have been banned from Athens at times."
His tone was not
alarmist. He spoke knowledgeably about alternative fuels (as did
Enterprise Rent-A-Car CEO Andrew Taylor) and challenged the
offerings of some who peddle carbon offsets. Sitting on a panel
next to Tom Arnold, chief environmental officer of TerraPass, a
company that sells offsets, Stelios asked whether his products took
into account emissions levels from different aircraft or if the
offsets were calculated on the average of all flight emissions.
Arnold said it was an average.
The answer seemed to
anger Stelios. "The problem with carbon offsets is that it's still
the wild, wild West," he said. "The reality is that it's greener to
fly in a cramped middle seat on EasyJet than in business class in
one of British Airways' 20-year-old planes. Somebody needs to come
out with a clear definition of individual responsibility and
He went on to say
that he would sell offsets on his Web site. "It's a voluntary
scheme. We're going to do it for two or three years, until the E.U.
gets its act together and offers a proper offset
Stelios said that 40%
of all carbon emissions come from the "built" environment,
including hotels, and suggested that the pricing structures for his
companies, which charge additionally for anything beyond basic
services, was environmentally friendly. "By coincidence, being
low-cost means a smaller carbon footprint. At EasyHotel, we charge
for new towels, for television. If it costs the environment, it
also costs [a guest's] budget."
Warming to the topic,
Stelios, with tongue only slightly in cheek, added, "Start thinking
about spending money as a proxy for how much carbon is consumed as
a result of what you're doing. If you have a private jet, sell it.
If you fly business class, fly economy. If you fly British Airways,
Given half a chance,
the clowning promoter in Stelios will always surface. But his
comments, buoyed by experience and some serious homework, brought a
sense of clarity to a discussion that sometimes seemed muddled and,
to paraphrase Enterprise's Taylor, paranoid.
Stelios and Taylor,
who as innovative mavericks each had a significant impact on their
respective industry segments, individually identified the
importance of climate change early on and willingly embraced
I hope they assume a
high profile on behalf of the industry in coming debates on climate
change. The best counter to unreasonable people who think travel is
bad is reasonable people who think travel is good.