Sustainable Business Travel Expert Interview - Helmut Stiglbauer
Dear Mr. Stiglbauer, First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview.
You have been working in the tourism field for a long time and have worked both as a consultant and in the management of various airlines and other tourism companies.
Among other things, you are currently advising startups with a special focus on sustainability - what was the trigger for you to also deal with this topic professionally?
The simple answer would be, I have 3 kids and they must have a good perspective into the future – but to be frank the truth is that over the last years with all discussions about for example the energy sector I learned and blamed myself that beside protesting against nuclear power plants my generation has done almost nothing to sustain an environment that can be handed over to the next generation giving them the same opportunities we had. Lately the “Fridays for future “movement showed me that we should have started much earlier and since we did not, everybody must start doing something about it. Now one can change private behavior but also any idea in one’s professional world must get double checked against sustainability requirements. Consulting acting players in the industry for me means I cannot only act accordingly but have the big chance to have other people to shorten their learning curve toward this topic.
Do you think that mobility and the travel industry play a special role in achieving the necessary climate goals according to the Paris Agreement?
Yes – mobility in general has a major impact starting whether we use public transport but our private car whenever possible (and empower our politicians to enforce much more sustainable solutions). The travel industry needs people to come from A to B first, so one must start there. I personally do not want to refrain from traveling in the future because there is nothing what opened my views more than learning about other cultures and people. But beside the private view we cannot neglect that we live in a global world meaning that traveling is and will stay part of our business live. So, what can we do to solve this conflict – my answer: do not question always the why but the how and I have learned over the many years of my career that there are always solutions if mankind is required to solve a problem.
The current pandemic is a major turning point for the travel sector - how do you think it will develop after COVID-19? Is everything going to be "normal" again?
Yes, but a new normal. Things need to change and will do so. For example, home office working I believe will grow and with it will people move outside big cities with much less commuting travel BUT that needs better public transport. What does that mean for office meetings, will they disappear – I do not believe that. May be there are no big offices in some companies anymore, but people meet somewhere just for a day – what an opportunity for hotels and MICE operators. See what I mean by normal but different! As I said what was most important in my live was to learn about other cultures and meet people, that can be reduced but never replaced and will be organized differently in future.
Times are difficult, especially for airlines and their suppliers - first of all, the pandemic-related loss of income and imminent changes in terms of climate protection. How can airlines deal with this double burden?
This is a hard question because I believe that airlines will suffer longer than other players in the travel industry. First step will be that they must clean up their portfolio of destinations served, not subsidizing different routes by ridiculous low fares to operate a fleet not adjusted to the needs but their expansion plans. Second, they must focus again on their customers’ needs – travelers first, for example with new business models like subscriptions comparable to Netflix. And as the car industry they must focus much, much more on alternative fuel engines – become the spear head of development and not the end.
Do you think that a distinction must / can be made between sustainability for leisure travel and business travel?
First of all, I’m convinced that the suppliers as well as travelers will have to start compensating their CO2 consumption. It must get part of the prices and new models must give options where and how to save consumption with differentiated offers. In my eyes it is within the responsibility of all parties to publish the CO2 footprint with every service used and thus increase awareness. And yes, there are no “one fits all” solutions and the answers must differ. How, I do not know an answer right away (and I am convinced nobody has a complete answer yet) but how challenging and interesting are times with complete paradigm changes. Big opportunities for new entrants and startups!
What should companies in particular pay attention to in order not to fall back into old patterns in the post-covid era?
Be proactive and open – publish what is one’s share of CO2 consumption, offer alternatives and put environment on 1st place of company priorities – after Covid the environment will and need to be Nr. 1 and not only for a time but for long! It should have been for long but we the elder ones were so busy to rebuild societies that we almost forgot about the consequences and I am happy that youth stood up and showed us again that we have responsibilities for future generations.