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Open Mindset: Why leadership in sustainability is about actions, not titles

Do you think you have to be a senior leader to foster sustainable initiatives in the travel industry, or should it be everyone's responsibility? That was one of the key points of discussion at Karryon's recent Open Mindset event in Melbourne. The answer was a unanimous one.

Do you think you have to be a senior leader to foster sustainable initiatives in the travel industry, or should it be everyone’s responsibility? That was one of the key points of discussion at Karryon’s recent Open Mindset event in Melbourne. The answer was a unanimous one.

The travel industry’s collective efforts to drive a sustainable and regenerative transformation have never been more crucial for the planet (and the products and experiences we sell and advocate for) to remain and thrive for future generations.

The climate emergency has made it clear that governments and senior business leaders worldwide are no longer solely responsible and cannot be relied upon to find rapid and creative solutions.

So, who will step up and lead the way? Many individuals and businesses in travel have already answered the call, but we need everyone on this journey.

One of the panel topics at the recent Karryon Open Mindset event in Melbourne covered this very topic of leadership and who literally should and needs to lead.

The panel was moderated by Yvette Thompson, General Manager of Sales and Marketing AU/NZ at Intrepid, and covered a wide range of topics, including climate, carbon emissions, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), overtourism, and single-use plastics.

Open Mindset Melbourne

The insightful discussion, which closed out the afternoon, featured Michelle Degenhardt, Global Sustainability Officer at Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG), Neil Rodgers, Managing Director at Adventure World, and yours truly.

Sharing her experience, Michelle Degenhardt said, “You don’t necessarily need the title to lead. You do have to tap into your leadership skills, use your position of influence when you can, speak up, and use your voice. Building relationships is crucial to making change happen. But you don’t need to be a formal leader to do those things—anyone can.”

Adding his advice, Neil Rodgers said, “Be smart about how you approach this because you will face objections. We’re all in commercial industries, and you might hear things like, “People won’t buy this” or “It’s too expensive.”

“Use the data—there’s a lot of data available showing this movement is gaining traction. While our boomers might not be there yet and might never be, the next core travellers are resonating with these values at around 80%.

“When you present a proposal, arm yourself with data to counter objections. This way, you can move forward with confidence and address any concerns effectively,” said Rogers.

I would say you definitely need leaders to make the big decisions because, ultimately, they are the ones tasked with that responsibility. However, it’s equally important to get buy-in and inspiration from everyone.

Often, the people you want at the table might be those who don’t have a voice right now. Look at the younger people within the business—anyone passionate about this topic and who wants to get involved. They have valuable information to share and can take action.

I think showing leadership at any level of seniority can make a big difference. Because leadership isn’t confined to a title; it’s about the actions you take.

Thought starters for any willing leader (that’s you!)

Karryon Open Mindset Event Melbourne June2024 Kyla JaneRickard 9188
Panellists: Neil Rodgers, Managing Director at Adventure World; Yvette Thompson, General Manager of Sales and Marketing AU/NZ at Intrepid; Michelle Degenhardt, Global Sustainability Officer at Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG); and Matt Leedham, founder, Karryon

It’s a collective effort: Sustainable practices require a collaborative effort to create meaningful change. Every individual, from employees to consumers to the entire trade supply chain, plays a role in reducing environmental impact. Start a conversation and follow the thread.

Get diverse perspectives: Engaging everyone, young and old, in sustainability efforts brings diverse perspectives and innovative solutions, enriching the strategies and outcomes. Individually, we’re great, but together, we can do so much more. Get curious.

Create a culture for good: When sustainability is embraced by all levels within an organisation, it becomes ingrained in the corporate culture. This ensures that sustainable practices are integrated into everyday operations and decision-making processes. Celebrate the good stuff far and wide. It’s contagious.

Enhance employee engagement: Involving employees in sustainability initiatives increases their engagement and sense of purpose. Employees are more likely to be committed and motivated when they see their efforts contributing to a larger goal. Who knows where this could lead? One thing is for sure: you’ll attract and retain great people.

Influence stakeholders positively: Businesses have a wide range of stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and the local community. When everyone is involved in sustainability efforts, the impact is amplified, and broader community participation is encouraged and unified. Tourism only wins when it benefits people, planet and place.

Highlighting the universal issue of overtourism, for example, Michelle Degenhardt said, “We are dictated by customer demand, so it’s about education. We educate our agents to have responsible travel conversations with customers and work with suppliers to provide sustainable options. Ideally, we want to move towards community-based travel, where customers’ dollars make a significant impact. It comes back to educating customers and ensuring our agents have the tools to guide them.

While Neil Rodgers added, “Over-tourism is becoming more prevalent again. If we don’t manage tourism levels, governments will impose penalties. Over-tourism affects customer experience, too. For example, visiting Canada in peak summer means dealing with massive crowds. We’re launching “Green Season” to promote travel during off-peak times for better experiences. By promoting shoulder seasons and winter experiences, we can distribute tourism more evenly and offer better value.”

Exceed customer expectations: Modern consumers increasingly expect travel companies to act responsibly. When sustainability is a collective effort, it aligns with consumer values and enhances the company’s reputation and financial results.

Open Mindset
Intrepid Travel’s GM for AU/NZ, Brett Mitchell

Sharing her hospitality story as an audience member at Open Mindset, GOKINDA founder Ali Greer said, “Plastics are definitely not the most impactful thing that a hotel could be doing to improve its overall sustainability, but when it is the thing that customers actually see, it’s really jarring. So we make sure that everything, including every hotel on our platform, has removed those really obvious signs of single-use plastics.

Create sustainable growth: You hear this a lot now, but words are not enough. Long-term sustainability requires consistent effort and innovation. By involving everyone, businesses can ensure that sustainable practices evolve and adapt over time, leading to consistent growth, environmental stewardship, and business success rather than short-term profits.

As Intrepid Travel’s GM for AU/NZ, Brett Mitchell, says, “Every time we’ve doubled down on sustainability initiatives and broader purpose initiatives, it’s helped our business. We’ve become a better business as a result.”

Think about it: what does the alternative look like?

Open Mindset
A special thanks to Yidaki (Didgeridoo) artist and proud Gamilaroi man Ben Moody for his Acknowledgement of Country and story.

Karryon’s second innovative Open Mindset event, held this time at Metropolis in Southbank on the land of the Wurundjeri people in the Kulin Nation, Melbourne, aimed to challenge traditional thinking and inspire new perspectives to forge a collaborative path for all in the travel industry’s sustainability transformation.

From travel advisors and product and destination specialists to C-level leaders across all sectors of the travel industry and guests from purpose-driven businesses like ‘Who Gives A Crap’ and ‘GO KINDA’, the common thread among attendees was a desire to contribute to change.

Thanks to a $10 donation from every ticket and Karryon bolstering the amount, we collectively also raised $5,000 for the not-for-profit “Country Needs People,” which supports Indigenous Rangers leading community-based conservation efforts in Australia. That felt good.

The event was sponsored by Intrepid Travel, Tourism New Zealand, Hurtigruten, and TTC Tour Brands.

Karryon Events organised and managed the event. For more information, contact Karryon’s Event Manager simran@karryon.com.au