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Harry: 99% of my flights are commercial

The Duke of Sussex addressed the launch of a global project to make the tourism industry more sustainable.

The Duke of Sussex (Gareth Fuller/PA)
The Duke of Sussex (Gareth Fuller/PA)

By Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent, in Amsterdam

The Duke of Sussex has defended his use of private planes, saying he spends “99% of my life” using commercial flights but occasionally needs to ensure “my family are safe”.

Harry spoke about his decision to use exclusive jets as he launched a global project to encourage the tourism industry to become more sustainable and make eco-choices simpler for travellers.

The duke and his wife have faced mounting criticism after reportedly taking four private jet journeys in 11 days during the summer, apparently at odds with their views on supporting the environment.

I came here by commercial, I spend 99% of my life travelling the world by commercial Harry

During a question-and-answer session at the end of the launch of Travalyst, which features leading online travel firms, Harry was asked how he travelled to Amsterdam for the event and if he was changing his travel behaviour.

He replied: “I came here by commercial, I spend 99% of my life travelling the world by commercial, occasionally there needs to be an opportunity based on a unique circumstance to ensure that my family are safe – it’s generally as simple as that.”

One of the trips taken by Harry, Meghan and baby son Archie was in a private jet loaned by Sir Elton John, who said he wanted to “maintain a high level of much-needed protection” for the Sussexes.

Earlier in a speech to outline the Travalyst project, the duke spoke about his impact on the environment, saying “no-one is perfect” but what is important is “what we do to balance” out negative effects.

In the later question-and-answer session, Harry expanded on his actions to mitigate his carbon footprint: “I’ve always offset my CO2, I think part of the group discussion we had earlier was ‘What is offsetting CO2?’

“There are so many people out there that hear about it, don’t know about it. In my mind it’s the right thing to do and we need to make it cool, but it can’t just be a ticking-the-box exercise.

“Somehow we have to connect people to where that little bit of extra money is actually going and, the moment you have that connection, you feel you have a bigger purpose in life, and you can actually see the difference you’re making, and I think that’s acceptable.”

Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation – a leading NGO campaigning on the environmental impacts of aviation, praised Harry for his environmental campaigning but said all flights were detrimental to the planet.

He said: “Harry’s done a lot recently to raise the profile of climate change and wider environmental impacts and he deserves credit for that. And when it’s done right, offsetting can help to finance CO2 reductions.

“Ultimately, though, travel can only be sustainable if it’s low-carbon and, whether commercial or private, flying remains an intensely polluting activity that can’t easily be balanced through offsetting.

“The emissions from a flight impact the atmosphere immediately, whereas the benefits from tree planting, for example, can take years and years to materialise.”

Harry has spent three years working on the Travalyst initiative which he hopes will improve conservation, environmental protection and help increase the economic benefits of tourism for local communities.

The duke and the co-founders of the project – Booking.com, Ctrip, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and Visa – want to spark a movement of like-minded companies and organisations to make the future of travel more sustainable.

Harry said in a speech to launch the initiative at Amsterdam’s A’dam Tower: “Sometimes the scale of the conservation crisis feels overwhelming and that individual actions can’t make a difference.

“I’ve certainly felt that – but I’ve learned that we cannot dismiss the idea of trying to do something, just because we can’t do everything. We can all do better.

“And, while no-one is perfect, we are all responsible for our own individual impact; the question is what we do to balance it out.”

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The Duke of Sussex and online travel chiefs at the launch of the new Travalyst sustainable tourism partnership (Gareth Fuller/PA)

It is unlikely that the duke or other members of the royal family will stop taking private jets as security, time constraints and safety are normally put forward as reasons for travel decisions.

But a Buckingham Palace spokesman said all aspects of the trip to the Netherlands – from Harry’s commercial flights, and those of all who attended, to the heating used in the venue building – would be off-set, paid for by the Travalyst partners.

Sunshine Sachs, a US public relations firm, has been assisting the palace press office with the project, liaising with US media and the American-based firms who are part of the project.

Keleigh Thomas Morgan, who represented Meghan when she was an actress in the TV drama Suits, is a partner of the company.

In his speech, the duke outlined the “negative impacts of mass tourism” from Maya Bay in Thailand, made famous by the film The Beach, where its reefs have died, to Africa, where safari vehicle “traffic jams” are beginning to outnumber the wildlife.

But he stressed that there are positives from tourism, which accounts for one in 10 jobs worldwide.

“Tourism can strengthen the local economy. Tourism drives improvements in the quality of life for so many. In some cases, it’s all they have,” he said.

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Kanika Soni, of TripAdvisor (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Outlining the future for his new initiative, Harry said: “Over the next few years, the members of Travalyst will work together to create incentives for organisations and destinations to do right by the places, spaces, and animals we all need to protect.

“At the same time, they’ll be making consumers aware of more ‘off-the-beaten-track’ places to share the impact as well as the benefits with local communities.”

The duke hosted a question-and-answer session with his travel company co-founders – Gillian Tans, chairwoman of Booking.com; Jane Sun, chief executive of Ctrip; Skyscanner chief executive Bryan Dove; Kanika Soni, president of TripAdvisor’s hotels department; and Suzan Kereere, global head of merchant sales and acquiring with Visa.

Ms Soni told the discussion: “Sustainability and conservation are growing things in the travel industry. We certainly keep hearing that from our travellers and businesses who are looking to do good in the community.

“Often what gets in the way is they just don’t know how to put it into practice; that’s the reason why we’re really excited about this initiative.”

Earlier, Harry joked about having the “best night’s sleep I’ve had in the last four months” staying over in Amsterdam.

When he left, he was given a rabbit-shaped wooden spoon by a well-wisher for his son, Archie.

PA

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