The travel industry is at a pivotal moment. Often criticized and scrutinized for unsustainable practices, such as flight shaming or greenwashing, it’s also a sector that employs 10% of the world, comprises over 3 billion businesses worldwide and is worth a staggering $1.5 trillion USD. It’s an industry not to be underestimated.
We caught up with sustainability consultant Julie Cheetham, Founding Member and Managing Director of Weeva, a SaaS platform enabling the travel industry to adopt a measurable and holistic sustainability practice.
Weeva promotes realistic, achievable, and meaningful change in the travel industry. To facilitate this, the Weeva team has developed a framework that allows users infinite opportunities for self-improvement and impact that reflect the sector’s diverse needs. Our Regenerative Hotels™ are committed to using Weeva to help improve their operations and constantly strive for a more positive impact.
While travel and tourism will never be entirely zero-impact, providers can improve their sustainability practices to make sure that impact is more positive. We asked Julie about the greatest challenges facing the travel industry and how we as individuals and professionals can contribute to improving the sector as a whole.
What are the greatest challenges the travel industry is facing today?
The challenges facing the travel sector today are complex. As the climate crisis worsens, we need to rebalance our relationship with nature and rethink tourism, whilst continuing to drive commercial resilience, community support, and wellbeing – which is hugely important as the travel and tourism industry employs 10% of the world’s population. While a lot of businesses are ready and willing to make changes to better support ecological health and the personal, social, and economic wellbeing of local people and communities, progress has been undeniably slow.
A large part of the problem is that even with good intentions, many businesses don’t know where to start. All too often they struggle without having a single repository of their data and information, and no clearly defined objectives, targets, and reports. As such, they are unable to drive their sustainability programme forward because it’s too overwhelming and too time-consuming. We see a lack of centralized knowledge as one of the biggest barriers to real change and improvement within the travel industry.
Can you tell us about what Weeva is and why you founded it?
Following the pandemic, myself and fellow Founding Weeva, Lindsey Walter could see how much travel businesses were struggling, and how vital it was that businesses built back better and more resilient.
In our minds the key to achieving this was to integrate more sustainable practices into day-to-day operations. Speaking with friends in the sector we found that many wanted to be more sustainable, but there were just so many obstacles. Too much jargon, too many approaches, so much noise. So, the idea behind Weeva was to build something that could cut through this noise and democratize sustainability so that all businesses, large or small, have the tools they need to take the first step towards more sustainable operations.
Working with sustainability experts over the course of around 18-months, we built a one-of-a-kind sustainability management platform – a sustainability ‘Fitbit’ for properties.
Weeva brings up-to-date expert knowledge and information into one place, explained in simple language, and with clear instructions, to help businesses understand and embrace sustainability –and by doing so, become more efficient and resilient.
The beauty of Weeva is that each journey is personal to the property. So, no matter how far along you might be on your sustainability journey Weeva works for you. We were also adamant that it went beyond carbon and water/waste management (often the focus) and approached sustainability in a more nuanced way. Drawing on The Long Run’s 4 Cs framework we have ensured properties can measure their conservation, community, cultural, and commercial efforts all in one place.
What are you hoping to achieve with Weeva?
Through Weeva, we want to improve access to information and tools so properties can build the know-how to drive commercial, environmental, social, and cultural value. We want to shift from a short term to a long-term sustainability view, and highlight that not only is this good for the environment, it’s good for business too. This approach will allow the travel and tourism industry to become more durable, resilient, and efficient in the face of change. And we’re building a community of sustainability experts and people who work in tourism to ensure we can meet every new challenge together.
How will Weeva help to improve the travel industry?
By democratizing sustainability tools and making them more accessible, we want to help every travel and tourism operator around the world to fully understand their impact and how to improve it. Weeva gives businesses the ability to measure, build and manage their sustainability practice in a way that works for them, allowing them to create a unique sustainability journey based on customized goals. This in turn will lead to a more conscious and inclusive global travel industry that takes environmental, community, and cultural heritage protection into account, while responding to the growing consumer demand for sustainable business practices.
Which of the 4 Cs have you found to pose the biggest hurdles when it comes to data collection, and how does Weeva hope to alleviate some of those challenges for users?
Unlike measuring data that’s easily quantifiable like waste, for example, tracking your Cultural or Community impact can seem much more complex and daunting when it comes to knowing where to even begin. To help demystify the process, Weeva provides educational guides that explain each of the 4Cs and their respective parameters in simple, easy to understand terms, offering guidance and concrete progress indicators to help you understand and set your own targets.
For the more qualitative of the 4Cs like Culture and Community, Weeva allows you to track data including stakeholder engagement, cultural heritage protection, community impact, and employee engagement and wellbeing, which gives businesses the tools to create a more positive impact in their local/regional environment and communities.
It’s also important to note that Weeva is a truly 360-degree platform – as the 4Cs are interconnected. Weeva’s Business Transparency parameter tracks how a property’s expenditure is allocated, which gives businesses the ability to accurately record how much of their expenditure is spent where, and make operational decisions on how to allocate their spending. This in turn lets businesses make choices that can drive positive impacts for local/regional communities and bolster cultural heritage preservation efforts.
As the impact measurement industry grows more sophisticated, how do you imagine your work and the work of other certification/measurement bodies will help move the needle when it comes to bringing about a more “ethical” capitalism? Why is data tracking and reporting so important?
Sustainable practice is good for the planet, but it is also good for business – not just in terms of creating more resilient operational models and supply chains but also with regards to attracting consumers. The industry is seeing a shift in consumer priorities, consumers want more meaningful experiences, and many want to know they’re spending their money in a way that creates a positive impact.
If you want to run any business really well, you have to look at all of the aspects of that business, and Weeva allows you to do that. Our goal is for every B&B, backpacking hostel, and hotel to be able to use the tool to not only help their own business, community and ecosystem thrive, but to ultimately help create a more sustainable and resilient tourism sector with shared goals and values.
What advice would you give to business owners looking to transform their operations and make them more sustainable?
Just start. Any change, big or small, makes a difference in propelling us further towards holistic sustainability. No matter where you are on your sustainability journey – even if you have yet to embark on it – know that every bit counts, and Weeva is here to help.
What gives you the greatest sense of hope when the effects and challenges of climate change seem too overwhelming?
It’s true that tackling climate change is an enormous challenge, but it also presents an opportunity for new and innovative solutions. It’s so encouraging that more and more businesses are starting to think about and prioritize sustainability, and to see how fast the field of sustainability tech is growing.
Weeva is an example of how we can better utilize tech to drive positive impact for the environment, people, and businesses. There is also a wind of change that we are seeing thanks to the younger generation and their commitment to climate action and justice. I’m inspired by the work of young activists and leaders like Mitzi Tan Jonelle and Dyson Chee, both of whom were recently featured on the Funny Old World podcast, hosted by Juliet Kinsman and Simon London and powered by Weeva.