When we discuss the impacts of travel, we tend to hyper-focus on leisure travel. But what about business travel? What impacts do business travel and travel buyers have on the tourism industry and the destinations they frequent? Kelsey Frenkiel, Senior Sustainability Manager at the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) joined CREST for its first Bridging the Gap round table + networking session to delve deeper into the topic with experts from our Academic Affiliates network & broader community. Here are some highlights of the rich discussion.

Business Travel Q&A with Kelsey Frenkiel of GBTA

CREST: So, what is GBTA and who are its members?
Kelsey Frenkiel: GBTA is a global travel trade association based on membership, and what’s really special and different about GBTA is that our members are actually individuals – not companies. This allows us to zoom in on their day-to-day jobs and figure out how to best support them in their roles. As a travel trade association, we also provide educational resources to our members, and create a sense of community by bringing our members together through events, professional development, mentoring, and advocacy efforts.

Our members fall into two categories: Direct and Allied. Our Direct Members are corporate travel managers (or buyers) who are typically those at larger corporations or companies that manage travel for all of their employees. They manage their travel policies and partnerships with their online booking tool, if they have one. They also typically work alongside procurement, procuring suppliers for the organization like airlines and other partnerships. Our Allied Members are the suppliers, so those airlines, hotels, ground transport, or anyone else that provides business travel services.

What is the impact of travel buyers?
Globally, so not just our membership, but globally, before the pandemic, business travel buyers spent $1.4 trillion on business travel services. It’s a huge market with a huge amount of purchasing power. And the reason that’s exciting for me as a sustainability professional is that these folks hold the keys to a corporation’s actions on business travel emissions (Scope 3, Category 6). So if we can leverage that $1.4 trillion for good through travel buyers, we can really make an impact. [More information on scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.]

What are GBTA’s sustainability initiatives?
Last year, when we got started with our sustainability initiatives, we really just wanted to better understand the landscape, where buyers were starting from, how they were feeling, and what topics to tackle first. We heard resoundingly from our buyers that environmental sustainability, and in particular climate, was a huge priority for them. More specifically, achieving emissions reduction was was a top priority. Not only is there pressure on companies around the world to do this, but these individuals want to do what’s best for the planet as well. So they’re all thinking about this.

However, only 38% of buyers said they’re currently incorporating sustainability practices in their travel management policies. The expressed reason for this gap between thinking and practice is cost, either a real cost or a perceived cost. There’s also a lack of data and access to transparent information around some of the barriers and pain points companies are seeing, which we hope to address through our sustainability initiatives. So, to get started, we wanted to start with their main pain points, those main challenges. And last year, we relaunched our GBTA Foundation to tackle some of this.

What is the GBTA Foundation?
The mission of the GBTA Foundation is to catalyze and leverage the global business travel industry to create a positive impact for people and planet, the ‘people’ component being a newer venture for us this year. Some of the priorities under ‘people’ include ensuring a sustainable workforce, mentoring and apprenticeship, and DEI. Our priorities under ‘planet,’ include climate action, emissions reduction, regeneration, and how to create a greener future for business travel.

What has GBTA done to support climate action for its members?
Last year, under the GBTA Foundation, we signed the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action In Tourism, which has five main pillars: measure, decarbonize, regenerate, collaborate, and finance. We’re working to address these five pillars, and we’ve done so through advocacy, partnerships, and education over the last year. Specifically, we developed a sustainability toolkit focused on climate action in travel management programs. Through the toolkit, we provide an overview of sustainability, what the buzzwords mean, what carbon neutral and Net Zero mean, and more. We also dive into reporting – so how to track emissions related to business travel, how to report on it, how to work with a sustainability or ESG team to develop those reports, how to choose the right offsetting partner (if their company is offsetting emissions), and how to choose greener suppliers etc.

We also released our report on the state of sustainability in the global business travel sector, and re-launched many of our events last year, all of which had some kind of educational component around sustainability. We are also working to make our own events as green as possible by putting emissions and waste reductions in place, measuring our impact, and offsetting as much as we can.

Through our association, we do lobby for policy change, for example, for policies that support the uptake of sustainable aviation fuel, and that improve the effective reporting of business travel emissions. For example, with SEC reporting changes, we’ll make sure our members are prepared for that.

We also are building partnerships in our network. One of the major things that we’re working on with some of our partnerships right now is a harmonization of industry standards on calculating emissions, or types of questions that should be asked to suppliers. The problem that we have in the business travel industry right now is that everyone is using different methodologies.

Lastly, we’ve started organizing a Sustainability Summit every year. Last year was very much focused on climate action. This year, our event is going to be in DC on June 13, and we’re going to push the needle a little bit and start to explore environmental topics that go beyond climate and even perhaps touch a bit on the impacts of business travel on destination and community.

How do business travelers impact destinations?
First, we really want to better understand how business travelers impact destinations and their communities. Today, it’s pretty much standard for large meetings and conventions to have some kind of community component, for example a give back or volunteering opportunity; but, I’d really like to take it to the next level and get people to start thinking about both the positive and negative impacts business travel can and does perpetuate. For example, how can business travelers better support the community, spend their dollars for good, and support local environmental and social initiatives? In fact, we’re looking for case studies that demonstrate how destinations and DMOs are leveraging business travelers to positively impact their communities. [Have a case study to share? Please email Kelsey Frenkiel.]

Discussion Takeaways

After learning about GBTA, several folks from CREST’s Academic Affiliates network, Board of Directors, and Platinum Sponsors discussed the business travel sector, gaps in existing research, barriers to changing unwanted practices and behaviors, and lingering questions. These are our key takeaways.

  • While the academic community is largely focused on leisure travel, there is research on business travel out there; perhaps we need to connect more to bridge the gap between the two [See Walsh et. al. “The Corporate Responsibility Paradox: A Multi-National Investigation of Business Traveller Attitudes and Their Sustainable Travel Behaviour”]
  • Advice for climate action is often focused on leisure travelers, not business travelers, who, on average, have a higher carbon footprint
  • Frequent flier and loyalty programs, often used heavily by business travelers, don’t incentivize making sustainable travel choices (e.g. a program may reward number of legs flown in a year rather than rewarding fliers for taking more direct flights) [See BBC article “Should we get rid of air miles for climate change?” for another perspective]
  • Incentives for marketing dollars may also disincentivize sustainable travel choices (e.g. a company requiring another company to spend X nights in their hotels around the world in exchange for marketing/advertising dollars)
  • People who’ve moved away from company headquarters during the pandemic may be traveling more to get back to company HQ for business meetings
  • It can be difficult to find the data breakdown between leisure and business travelers

About CREST’s round table series: In March 2023, CREST launched a monthly round table series for our Academic Affiliates network, Platinum Sponsors, and some of our close collaborators titled “Bridging the Gap.” The purpose of these round tables is to bring together researchers and practitioners to delve into challenging topics, led by experts, and discuss existing research, approaches, and gaps surrounding a particular theme in tourism. These targeted and focused round table discussions are meant to give CREST and our university partners a springboard for innovative research, project ideas, and opportunities for collaboration. [Past session recordings and resources.]

Interested in getting involved or sponsoring a round table discussion? Send us a message. We’d love to hear from you.