Siobhan Downes is a senior travel reporter for Stuff.
OPINION: I’m not going to lie, I’m hardly the world’s most sustainable traveler.
I often treat myself to a pre- or post-trip McDonald’s at the airport. If I’m in another city, I shop at big-name brands I don’t have at home (hello, Zara). And – whisper it – I don’t offset my emissions on flights.
But I still couldn’t help feeling royally peeved when my environmental footprint was put into question by none other than Prince Harry.
The royal this week launched the first campaign for his sustainable travel initiative, Travalyst.
The campaign centers around the idea, we rate our holidays – but what if your holiday could rate you? To get that point across, Prince Harry stars in a jokey video clearly inspired by Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety productions. In it, a “rating agent” (played by safety video veteran Rhys Darby) accuses the royal of dropping a lolly wrapper during his 2018 tour of New Zealand.
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Prince Harry is given a rating of three stars out of five, taking into account this infraction, but winning points for his diligent reuse of a single towel, his support of a local honey producer, and his commitment to turning off the tap while brushing his teeth.
After watching the video, you’re supposed to head to the Travalyst website and take a quiz to receive your own holiday rating. You answer a series of pointed questions, including “how do you like to experience the great outdoors while on holiday” and “how do you immerse yourself in the local culture while on holiday”.
Now, it’s fairly obvious you’re going to get a better rating if you claim to make your destination choices based on “what benefits the community the most”, rather than admitting you hope it will provide good Instagram fodder.
Still, I answered the questions as honestly as possible, and, just like old mate Hazza, got three stars. “You travel well, but there is always an extra bag for improvement,” the quiz told me.
I was then directed to a list of sustainable travel tips – groundbreaking stuff, like support local businesses, don’t litter in nature (and always poo in a loo), use fewer towels at your accommodation, and try to go for sustainable transport alternatives.
Look, I’m not a monster. I can totally get behind the principle of sustainable travel – that my holidays shouldn’t harm the communities I’m visiting, the environment, or the wider planet. And I genuinely want to know how I can do better – and how my actions will make a difference.
But does Travalyst’s campaign convince me to change my ways? No.
My main issue is the messenger. It feels at best condescending, and at worst downright hypocritical, that Prince Harry, wealthy jet-setter who once stayed in a $ 2000-a-night tentis the face of this campaign telling me how I should be spending my holidays.
This is something critics have pointed out before. When Prince Harry launched Travalyst back in 2019, he came under fire for his frequent use of private jets – which generally produces significantly more carbon emissions per passenger than commercial flights.
His defense was he traveled commercially “99% of the time”, and always offset his carbon emissions. But that was a few years ago now, so I put the criticism to his team di lui again, asking for examples of changes the royal has personally made to make his travels more sustainable.
I can’t say I was all that inspired by the response: “The entire Archewell organization, including its Co-Founder, The Duke of Sussex, have already committed to a goal of being net zero by 2030. This means making choices that make our carbon footprint as small as possible over time, and flying commercially is one of several ways to reduce our collective footprint. “
That doesn’t mean anything to me, as a normal person. I had to chuckle at the line, “flying commercially is one of several ways to reduce our collective footprint” – I always fly commercially, so does that mean I’m green as, bro?
The trouble is, over the last few years “sustainability” has become a major buzzword in the travel industry, with operators big and small eager to tout their green transformations. But in so many cases it’s all talk and no meaningful action, resulting in the practice known as “Greenwashing”.
For many travelers, the concept of sustainability has been diluted so much that it has lost all meaning. I know a big thing for me is I just don’t know what credentials I can trust – does booking the hotel with the little green leaf symbol really help the planet?
Travalyst says they want to change that, by providing travelers with “consistent, credible and easy-to-understand” information that will help them make more sustainable choices.
But amid all the noise about sustainable travel, why should we choose to listen to a prince with a penchant for private jets?