Dear Mr. Bayer, First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview.
You have a long professional history as a global travel manager, have been chair of the Working Group Business Travel at the Global Sustainable Tourism Council for over three years and founded the TravelHorst consultancy with a focus on sustainable business travel in 2016.
What was the trigger for you in 2016/17 to deal so intensively with sustainability in business travel?
During my professional journey as a Travel Manager at multinational conglomerates, my family and I learned to value different cultures and the diversity of people. When my kids grew older and learned about “climate change and global warming” they asked me if I knew about it and what had I done against this crisis so far. At that moment, I felt guilty because YES, I had heard about it, and NO, I hadn’t done anything against it, on the other hand, I had contributed a lot to it. As a consequence, I started to research more about it. The more I read about Climate Change, the more I felt the urge and need to do something against it. Therefore I founded TravelHorst and since then I am on my “path of redress”.
What does your work as a business consultant in the context of TravelHorst look like? What services do you provide to companies? What sets you apart from other consultants in the field of mobility?
Together with network partners, TravelHorst advises and supports companies in the development of sustainable travel management practices. We also support our customers in the negotiations with selected internal and external partners and organizations to implement the actions.
We define the scope and line of action together with the travel management team. We analyze their business travel program in terms of sustainability and create alternative proposals, and set priorities, targets, and success criteria.
The focus is on a sustainability business travel report based on the 17 sustainable development goals SDGs of the United Nations and then transparently reviewing our customers’ travel activities. Based on this report, the potential for change is identified and options for action are developed for the entire company, from leadership, employees, and shareholders, up to suppliers. This will enable our customers to have future travel activities that are economically, ecologically and socially compatible and sensible.
In addition, to facilitate the implementation of the goals and to promote awareness, we offer online training and workshops for employees together with our network partners and conduct surveys on request.
The topic of sustainability is very broad and complex – which areas are very important to you personally?
Sustainability is the concept of a permanently sustainable development of the economic, ecological, and social dimensions of human existence. These three areas of sustainability are also called the three Ps – People (social), Planet (ecology), and Profit (economy). They interact with each other and require balanced coordination in the long term. Sustainability in a Travel Programme means understanding that increased savings are not the only requirement, it only functions with the well-being of the travelers and the mitigation of a negative impact on the environment.
My biggest concern is that we are running out of time by doing too little for the ecological dimension. As longer we wait with needed actions against the climate crisis, the harsher we must act. This will lead to more social dissatisfaction among the people and make acting more difficult. We need to focus more on the social-ecological factor in our decision-making process. When we decide to travel, we need to better understand and communicate the negative impact it has on the environment.
Meetings and business trips have barely been possible worldwide for almost a year – how do companies prepare to be able to meet again in person? Do you see trends/opportunities to make sensible use of the compulsory break in travel management or can one only wait and see how the situation develops?
The pandemic is a “show stopper” and forces us to rethink how we travel and meet. The coronavirus doesn’t stop at state borders or at airports, airplanes, trains, etc. The virus is transmitted from human to human. We can mitigate the risk, but until we have herd immunity through vaccination, maintaining social distancing is the only way to keep infection under control. We will win the fight against this pandemic in the end, but it will take time.
Several experts say that there will be a small recovery in 2021, but most agree that it will take at least until 2025 for a full recovery of the Business Travel Industry. Just like the discussion about home office, some will enjoy traveling again, while others would prefer to join a meeting remotely via video conferences. Therefore, I would not be surprised to see a continued increase in hybrid meetings, first on a domestic level than international and intercontinental levels.
What do you see as the biggest hurdles for companies on the way to achieving global and individual climate goals?
Hesitation to act now is probably the biggest hurdle for companies to overcome. Courage is required, within companies and with each individual. Act today, question your behavior, and put tried and tested to the test. If necessary, continue or adapt. Dare to do something new. Particularly now, during the pandemic.
Covid-19 forces us to rethink. What can we take from the experience and positive-creative implementation of the lockdown into the post-virus era? What can a healthy and sustainable future look like in a broad sense and what consequences does this have for our present?
What importance do you attach to technology/digitalization when pursuing sustainability goals? Do we need better / new tools or is it more about a change of mind?
In the future, unavoidable business trips will have to be assessed according to new, not cost-driven aspects, but in a balance between economic, ecological, and social-societal interests. Technical solutions, such as video, web, and telephone conferences are already omnipresent, however, the creative use of Virtual Reality technologies, augmented or blended, offers further alternatives to business trips. Technologies enable us to implement a faster transition to more sustainable business travel.
Another example is aviation’s contribution to the climate crisis is a problem that needs a solution. Carbon emissions are a global problem – it does not matter where a ton of carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere. In the coming decades, one substantial way of achieving the necessary carbon dioxide reduction in aviation is through the use of sustainable aviation fuel SAF. It is made from hydrogen generated by using green electricity and water and from carbon dioxide captured directly from the air. The technology for doing this is already available, but it needs to be produced on a big scale so it will become economically viable. VR technology and SAF are just two examples that show the importance of technologies for pursuing sustainability goals in the Travel Industry.
What incentives can companies still be given from a political perspective to act more climate-friendly?
Companies can invest more in employees’ education for more sustainability. Starting this spring, the independent and neutral non-profit Global Sustainable Travel & Tourism Council is to introduce a series of e-learning programs aimed at addressing the challenges of a post-pandemic world of sustainable business travel programs. During these four weeks of online training, Business Travelers and Travel Managers can learn how to make informed decisions and implement best-in-class sustainability practices for their companies. After successfully completing an exam, course participants will receive a certification. GSTC’s Sustainable Tourism Training Program is relevant for a wide range of tourism industry professionals and has a proven track record of successful education and training. It would be desirable for companies to receive further state support in this respect.
Bill Gates says more than 50% of business travel will disappear in the post-coronavirus world – do you think he is right?
Companies should avoid all “unnecessary” trips for an ecological, economic, and social causes. Most of them can be replaced with innovative technologies. So yes, I think Bill Gates is right and if more companies would join Microsoft’s strive to become a carbon-negative company, fewer business travels are necessary for the future.