‘The iceberg hit the Titanic even if you were partying’: the travel industry needs to act now on climate change

Carolyn Childs, CEO of, has warned the travel industry that it’s no longer innocent when it comes to climate change.

“We have 10 years to save the planet,” Childs told Mumbrella’s Travel Marketing Summit.

Carolyn Childs

Dubbing climate change as an “ultimate disruptor” for the industry, Childs said that travel marketers are responsible for taking action.

“That can make people feel powerless, but I want you to feel empowered. People are less confident in governments to solve the problem, they are looking to all of you.”

To illuminate the industry’s impact on the environment, she turned to visiting the polar bears in Churchill as an example of good-intentioned eco tourism, pointing out that the taking the trip means you use nearly 80% of the carbon the average UK resident uses in a year.

So while the rich are engaging in what Childs called “last chance tourism” – seeing animals and environments before they die out – because they understand the impact we’re having on the planet, they’re having an enormous impact in the process.

It turns out that seeing the polar bears is hindering, rather than helping, their environment

Childs said that travel marketers must look to roll out sustainable options to customers across the board, and not assume those that are price conscious don’t also want sustainable options, even though eco tourism started in the luxury sector.

“[Luxury travel] has been the canary in the coalmine,” she said, explaining that trends that gain popularity among the rich trickle down to the middle-class, the group that Childs explained supercharged the travel industry’s growth.

She said that, although we’re living in a “world of greater inequality” (“hidden by overall rising levels of wealth”) the wealthiest travellers aren’t slowing down in wanting (and paying for) the most luxurious experiences.

“So that’s a company that will build you your own private island. They will actually build you an island so you’re not seen by other people. Travel is something we use to signal to other people who we are as humans … owning a private island is a great way of doing that,” she said.

Surfing trips aimed at ‘learning and enrichment’ for the top 1%, and family trips acting as luxury gap years, were also discussed.

“In the old days, people used to go and play on a golf course. Now, these tech billionaires will go off with the world’s top surfers and they’ll surf in the morning and talk big picture in the afternoon,” Childs told the crowd.

“There’s a travel agent in the UK who actually organised a million pound trip around the world for a family.”

But she was sure to bluntly emphasise that ignoring the impact of travel on the environment won’t serve the industry well.

“The iceberg hit the Titanic even if you were partying.”


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