Could ‘flight shame’ affect incentive travel?

16 October 2019 •

By Mark Williams, C&IT


Event planners give their thoughts on an environmental trend that’s gaining traction around the world.

The Swedish concept of ‘flygskam’ or ‘flight shame’ is beginning to affect the air travel market, according to new research by Swiss bank UBS.

Flight shame is a climate change movement that began in Sweden in 2017 when pop star Staffan Lindberg announced he would not be flying any more. His new travel policy was endorsed by many others concerned about emissions from airplanes, including the mother of Greta Thunberg.

Now, UBS says that one in five people are actively reducing the number of flights they take for environmental reasons.

But what do event professionals make of flight shame and its potential impact on an industry which flies a lot, especially for incentive travel?

“People are becoming far more environmentally aware and it’s only natural that people question and modify their behaviour,” says Stephen Morton-Prior, CEO at Clearwater Events.

But rather than cutting out flying altogether, he thinks it will mainly affect long haul travel.

“Our clients do seem to want to stay closer to home and flight shame is certainly a factor, but there are other reasons, such as Brexit, which keep briefs more local.”

Liz Zutshi, managing director at TTA, shares a similar sentiment: “We are finding that our stakeholders and clients are more mindful of their environmental impact in their day-to-day lives, which is transferring into the corporate world and their business decisions.”

Abena Poku-Awuah is the managing director of Legacy Events, an event agency with a major focus on sustainability. She says: “It’s an unfortunate truth that we are going to have to make some uncomfortable choices if we are really serious about acting on climate change.

“In the UK, 1% of the population is taking the majority of the flights, which is a shocking statistic and suggests that not everyone deserves to be ‘flight shamed’. If we tackle that small group we can make a big difference.”

Rachel Tamblyn, events coordinator at Parallel Blue, says: “The fact that the flight shame and just general waste shame has started to catch on shows how seriously the general public is starting to take the ‘climate crisis’ compared to just a year ago.”

“As travel and event professionals we have to lead by example,” says Clive’s senior project manager Francesca Venturi. “We can’t escape or hide behind the rise in need for sustainable practices.”


“I can’t fathom how anyone wasn’t moved by Greta’s emotive but scientific address to our world leaders and I’m adamant that we all need to do more,” says Karen Kadin managing partner of Brands at Work.

Kadin has more of a focus on conferences and meetings than incentives and believes there are plenty of sectors that could cut back on their air miles.

“There are a number of industries who have a pervasive culture of frivolity and who fly for the sake of flying; people who fly three or four times a week and think nothing of hopping on a flight to LA for a game of golf or lunch with a client and then flying straight back.

“While I acknowledge that building relationships with clients face to face is important, I think that more could be done to make these trips more purposeful by adding other meetings to the trip.”


People might question whether they should travel more often, says Morton-Prior, “but  incentives are a powerful motivator and if there is a need, travel will continue.”

“I think it could encourage more creativity,” says Poku-Awuah. “Travel broadens the mind but the idea that people might take their time to travel overland to events, getting more time to view landscapes and interact with local communities is intriguing.”

“In Switzerland, you can actually hire a train kitted out for meetings so that your staff can work effectively as they travel to their destination.”

Venturi also thinks train travel could benefit: “Perhaps we could begin making it more about the journey as opposed to the destination, eg experiential train travel such as Eastern & Oriental Express or the Belmond Royal Scotsman.”

To read the full article published by AIME 2020 Media Partner C&IT, click here.