Ahead of the Curve: Why Innovation in Travel’s Pursuit of Sustainability is so Important

by | 18 Apr 2024

Innovation does not have to be huge. There’s great potential for small changes which cumulate to have large impact over time.

Embracing sustainability is essential – for the future of travel and tourism, as well as the future of our planet. The key ingredient to staying ahead of the curve in this field, as in any other, is innovation. Whether an industry-first idea, or a simple challenge to the status quo, it is boldly and confidently embracing change that will help us drive forward sustainability in travel and tourism and make the difference in how we achieve real, positive progress.

To get a better understanding of just how crucial innovation is for the travel industry’s pursuit of sustainability, we spoke with Insight’s Chief Sustainability Officer & Head of our TreadRight Foundation Shannon Guihan. As well as providing expert insights on the subject, she also talked us though some of the industry-leading innovations we’ve put in place at here Insight Vacations, and our sister brands at The Travel Corporation.

Shannon Guihan smiles from the deck of a boat, wearing a cream wool sweater with the sea in the background

Innovation drives progress

Innovation is the cornerstone of progress, propelling society forward through new ideas, technologies and ways of doing things. Whether in science, technology, business or travel and tourism, innovation spurs individuals and organizations to challenge the status quo by addressing pressing challenges.

As we are all increasingly aware, one of the biggest challenges facing the travel and tourism industry is the need for sustainable travel – to protect our planet, its people and its wildlife for future generations.

“I think innovation when it comes to encouraging greater sustainability is crucial because, I would argue, that traditionally travel and tourism hasn’t addressed the true cost of doing business,” says Shannon. “The focus has very much been on travel as a service, rather than travel as an impact on a community or place – it’s traditionally omitted the cost to the destination. And so, as a result, innovation through financial mechanisms, technology, behavioral change or more is essential to ensuring progress on developing travel more responsibly.” 

Discover how you can travel responsibly with Insight Vacations


Small changes can have a big impact

“I think it’s critical that innovation includes small changes,” says Shannon. “The word innovation can be very daunting. If we encourage an environment whereby we think only about complex, big changes, this prohibits progress. There’s great potential for small changes which cumulate to have large impact over time.

“At Insight Vacations and across The Travel Corporation, because responsible travel is engrained in our culture and we’ve built sustainability into everybody’s job function, this means everyone is empowered to make these small changes. So, you’ve got an entire system moving, rather than just anecdotal initiatives, and that’s where you see real change.”

You may also enjoy reading: My 2024 Travel Resolutions, by Sustainability Expert Shannon Guihan


Our industry-first Carbon Fund

“A great example of this innovation in practice is our industry-first Carbon Fund,” says Shannon.

Launched in 2022 and funded by revenue from TTC brands, this is a fund set aside only to support carbon reduction initiatives within the business. supporting our sustainability in travel and tourism journey, it contributes to our goal of net zero GHG emissions throughout our value chain by 2050. From renewable energy in our offices to zero emission vehicles and low emission fuels for our fleet, anyone who works for TTC can make a proposal.

“This really was an innovative move for TTC,” she continues. “When we were considering this concept, the industry was, and still is, very focused on carbon offsetting. However, what this effectively meant in our case was paying another organization to reduce emissions, while we continued to produce them. So, while carbon offset projects are oftentimes valuable, as a means to achieve carbon reductions overall – they are not as effective as aiming for net zero carbon.

“A net zero commitment demands that you produce near zero emissions by 2050. We’re an asset-heavy business that owns hotels and offices and cruise ships, and offsetting was never going to reduce ours, or any other business’s footprint.”

You may be interested to read: Measure, Reduce, Restore and Evolve: Our journey to hitting Net Zero by 2050 

a close up shot of a brown bear’s face, with shaggy brown fur

Every donation made to Project GreenWave will fund the planting of 40lbs of kelp across regenerative ocean farms in North America. Kelp can capture and store carbon as well as support economies and global food systems.

Saying ‘no to more stuff’

This year, Insight Vacations along with fellow TTC Touring brands Costsaver, Trafalgar and Luxury Gold, has said ‘no to more stuff’ and no longer sources and gifts branded merchandise.

After discovering that the branded merchandise we give away produces 2,500 tonnes of emissions, equating to 6.5 million car-driven miles worth of carbon emissions, we introduced a policy to stop it. This money used is now donated to nature-based solutions to climate change in the form of Project GreenWave’s Kelp Climate Fund and Rainforest Rescue’s Daintree Project.

Each donation to Project GreenWave’s Kelp Climate Fund will fund the planting of 40lbs of kelp across regenerative ocean farms in North America – Kelp can capture and store carbon as well as support economies and global food systems. Each donation to Rainforest Rescue restores 1 square meter of  Australia’s Daintree Rainforest, which will preserve biodiversity and remove carbon from the atmosphere through planting, maintenance and restoration programs.

In addition to preventing the carbon emissions associated with producing merchandise, the investment of donations in nature-based solutions will remove a further 1.5 million car-driven miles in carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

While a simple decision, this is a bold move for TTC. Shannon explains that “we’re not assuming that the status quo is the direction we’re going carry on in and I think all of that in and of itself is innovation. I’m proud of this move and I think we can see other brands follow in future”

Bookmark for later: Insight investigates: What is greenwashing, and how to avoid it?

MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® – criteria to assess true impact

Forward thinking on matters of sustainability in travel and tourism, the founders of TTC set up the non-profit TreadRight Foundation in 2008. This is funded exclusively by The Travel Corporation’s family of 40 brands to be able to give back to projects in travel. Some of the projects that were funded became experiences on tours, (one of the original experiences, loom-weaving with Marta in Perugia, Italy, you can still visit on tour today).

These grew and developed in 2020 as a part of our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, travel experiences that are chosen for the way in which they advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). They currently feature on 93% of Insight Vacations itineraries with the goal of having at least one experience on100% by 2025.


Since World War I, the Brozetti family of Perugia in Italy have practiced textile weaving. Marta is now leading a whole new generation of weavers, and providing employment opportunities, education and training programmes for local women.

“The idea to align our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences with the UN SDGs was driven by a request from our forward-thinking product and operations team,” Shannon explains. “They were coming to us saying everybody in the market is calling this or that experience sustainable, but how do we know that’s true?

“So, we looked for a way to tie our impact as a business to our impact on trip, and to make sure that that was a clear ‘through line’ through all of what we do. For a business such as ours, that is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“We then used the framework for the UN SDGs to create a set of criteria that allows us to assess whether or not there is true positive impact through the experience.”

You may also be interested to read: MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®: Why developing meaningful travel experiences has never been more important

The stone walls of Edinburgh Caste sit atop a grass covered tock, against a bright sky with white clouds

Innovation through partnerships

Powerful collaborations and partnerships are also a great driver of innovation in sustainability in travel and tourism. This year TTC has launched a new and wholly innovative partnership with VisitScotland, the focus of which is on developing and delivering responsible experiences and itineraries to accelerate decarbonization of tourism in Scotland, and which have a positive social or environmental impact.

The partnership will look at every touchpoint in the supply chain that a visitor experiences and focus on the challenge of how to reduce carbon emissions, representing a huge opportunity to influence and drive change with businesses, visitors and destinations.

This is the first time that VisitScotland and any global tour operator have committed to work together to share learnings on sustainability in travel and tourism, insights and support each other in accelerating change and being part of the climate change solution.

“The fact that we’ve taken a traditional marketing partnership, and we’ve built it around the long-term goal of developing a net zero destination and itinerary series net zero targets is true innovation,” says Shannon.

You may be interested to read: How Scotland Became a Global Leader in Sustainable Tourism

Join us and keep one step ahead

If you are curious to learn about everything we are doing for sustainable travel you can read our 5 year Sustainability Strategy How We Tread Right, and our Climate Action Plan. Our latest Impact Report is coming out next month which will let you know how in 2023 we performed in relation to our targets.

In line with our commitment to stay ahead and be a leader in sustainability in travel and tourism, we were the first operator to get our targets validated by the SBTi initiative, planning for near, long and Net Zero. This means we know we’re on the right path and you can rest knowing that by travelling with us you are choosing a responsible travel partner.

I'm a writer, editor and interview specialist with a lifetime's love of travel. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than meeting, and writing about, the world's leading destination experts and travel industry insiders. The thing I love most about writing for Insightful is that I'm always learning something new.