The Spanish Tourist Office (UK) has hosted its inaugural Spain’s Sustainability Day, which took place on Wednesday 26 April 2023. 

The conference, co-sponsored by destination partners Turismo Lanzarote and Menorca Tourism Board; both celebrating 30 years of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status in 2023, included panels and keynote speakers from across the travel and transportation industries to discuss and debate the current tourism challenges.

Sessions were moderated by Richard Hammond, executive producer of Green Traveller Productions and speakers and panellists included representatives from ABTA, The Travel Foundation, Iberia, easyJet, Costa del Sol Tourism Board,  Renfe, Paradores, Intrepid Travel, the Aviation Environment Federation, Pura Aventura and more. 

Following the afternoon conference, Spain’s first ‘Sustainable Media Awards’ took place in the evening. 

Conference Overview:

The conference was officially inaugurated by Manuel Butler, director of the Spanish Tourist Office in the UK, who outlined how Spain's Sustainability Day was created to encourage important dialogue between the countries. 

Miguel Sanz, general director of Turespaña, gave a foreword identifying the path that Spain is currently on in terms of sustainable transformation. He outlined how 3.4 billion euros from the European Next Generation Fund has been allocated towards the sustainable transformation of tourism in Spain.  1.9 billion euros of this has been assigned to sustainability and modernisation projects proposed by Spanish destinations. 

Panel 1: Decarbonisation – the transition to true net zero

The panellists featuring Graeme Jackson from The Travel Foundation, Susan Deer from ABTA and Natalia Bóveda from the Costa del Sol tourism board agreed that collaboration between destinations is essential to be able to reach shared goals. 

Graeme Jackson from the Travel Foundation warned that based on today’s scenario and The Travel Foundation’s recent report, the tourism sector will not hit the interim 2030 target of halving emissions, but could get to net zero with huge investment and policy change. 

Susan Deer from ABTA talked about the need for education and training and how breaking down jargon is vital. She discussed how driving talent in this area also means recruitment from other industries. Meanwhile Natalia Bóveda from the Costa Del Sol tourism board outlined the value of reporting mechanism for visitors and industry partners to understand the carbon impact. 

Panel 2: Creating better places to live in, to work in, as well as to visit 

This second panel featured Hazel Plush from Intrepid Travel, Matt Callaghan from easyJet Holidays, Diego Otero from Galicia’s tourism cluster and Jose Guillermo, honorary chairman of Spain’s Hotel Institute (ITH).

The panellists focused on the tourism impact on local communities with Matt Callaghan first addressing how to become more sustainable in the mainstream space. He touched on the value of extending the season including easyJet Holidays’ stay-longer campaign.

Hazel Plush demonstrated how tourism companies can support social enterprises as part of their tour programmes, helping to raise the profile of important issues whilst generating sources of income for communities.  Meanwhile Diego Otero discussed how tourism can support other sectors such as fishing in a more direct way to drive the benefit of the tourism pound. 

Jose Guillermo discussed the value of the circular economy. He mentioned the example of the Balearic Islands as a leading case with a law in place to ensure that all the hotels within the archipelago have a circularity plan.

The panel also touched on technology as an aid to sustainable transformation by looking at elements such as food waste to help reinforce and reforecast food ordering. 

Panel 3: Going Green – The Future of Sustainable Transport 

The third and final panel on the future of sustainable transportation featured Jane Ashton from easyJet, Teresa Paredo from Iberia, Cait Hewitt from the Aviation Environment Federation and David Martín from RENFE

This in-depth discussion presented conflicting viewpoints. Easyjet’s Jane Ashton initiated the discussion talking about easyJet’s holistic approach. She said how their “forensic focus” aims to reduce the impact today for a better tomorrow, including the reduction of carbon intensity. Cait Hewitt from the Aviation Environment Federation however claimed that green tourism cannot include flying, and the sector is nowhere near where it needs to be, questioning the effectiveness and challenges of SAF. 

Teresa Parejo pointed out how aviation accounts for “2 to 3%” of global emissions which she says “doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously” however she states that aviation emissions is a complex problem that cannot be simplified. 

Jane Ashton, touched on legislation and how this is required to drive the production of SAF. She acknowledged the challenges and opportunities of SAF and the positive development of hydrogen saying, “more ground and rig tests are planned over the next few years”. Ashton expects small hydrogen planes to be operating in the next few years, with larger operations by 2035. 

David Martin from RENFE, Spain’s rail network, talked about how planes and trains need to work together and collaborate with multiple initiatives already in place. He talked about the progress of the high-speed networks throughout Spain and initiatives to bring more residents into the public transportation system with initiatives to low-cost travel, ensuring it is accessible.

Keynote speakers

Tom Power, CEO of Pura Aventura, gave a keynote speech titled “Why now is the time for action”.  He emphasized how the intention and action gap in travel is greater than anywhere else and that there is dissonance in the language between what the industry says and what consumers hear. 

Power does not think customers will demand alternatives, but they do want to be supplied with fantastic experiences saying, “we need to act now, not because consumers are demanding it, but because it is an opportunity”.  

Pedro Saura, the president of Paradores, Spain’s network of state-run heritage properties, touched on the evolution of the hotel and hospitality industry including sustainable initiatives being spearheaded by the group.

Awards Ceremony

The afternoon conference was followed by Spain’s first ‘Sustainable Media Awards’ recognising the best travel content by UK writers showcasing themes which correspond to Spain’s sustainable tourism pillars such as seasonal or geographic diversification, forming a connection with local people and cultures, visiting lesser visited areas and taking part in low-impact activities such as cycling and walking, as well a travelling by train and other forms of public transport.

Prior to the media awards, Wanderlust Magazine presented a special ‘Spain Sustainability Champion Award’ to Gabriel Escarrer, Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Meliá Hotels International, for being a pioneer and driver of sustainable tourism not only within Spain, but globally; working to inspire and innovate across the hospitality industry to minimise its environmental impact and generate a global net positive impact.

All media award winners and runners-up can be viewed here.

The full event programme and delegate list can be viewed here. 















Manuel Butler, Director of the Spanish Tourist Office in the UK.


For more information on Spain as a tourism destination, please visit www.spain.info 

@Spain_inUK / Spain on Facebook or email spain@wearelotus.co.uk