Unlocking Commercial Benefits through Corporate ESG: A Conversation with Kate Heiny, VP, Sustainability Booking Holdings

Kate Heiny E+E C-Suite

by | Jul 26, 2023

Kate Heiny E+E C-Suite

As Booking Holdings’ Vice President of Sustainability, Kate Heiny is responsible for leading the company’s strategy to help build a more sustainable travel industry as a global leader in the industry, in addition to deepening strategic alignment and impact across the company’s brands. Her team’s remit includes programs focused on product innovation and partner support, as well as collaboration with stakeholders across the industry.

Kate joined Booking Holdings from German e-commerce fashion company Zalando, where she served as the Director of Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship, and has deep experience in the consumer packaged goods and retail industries. Kate originally hails from the United States, having studied at Tulane University and receiving her MBA from the University of Virginia, and now lives in Amsterdam.

Define your leadership style:

Nelson Mandela’s quote, “Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world,” has always been something I reference in many different ways, including my own leadership style. Having a vision and communicating it effectively is central to how I try to lead, but equally important is what comes next – going out and taking action, and none of us can do it alone. Recognizing, hiring, enabling, and retaining great talent is integral to being able to achieve any vision, and as a leader, my role is really to support my team and ensure they have the runway and resources they need to flourish as we collectively work to execute our vision.

How would you describe the climate and culture where you work?

At Booking Holdings, our mission is to make it easier for everyone to experience the world, and part of that relies on ensuring there is always a world worth experiencing. After 25 years in the travel industry, we at Booking Holdings and our portfolio brands are more determined than ever to make the future of travel more sustainable, more accessible, and more inclusive so that everyone can enjoy this extraordinary world for many more years to come.

I am proud of the organizational culture we have worked to build, not just at Booking Holdings but across all of our unique brands: a culture that fosters an environment of respect, compassion, diversity and inclusion, learning, collaboration, and excitement for innovation. This confluence of qualities is what ensures that we are both empowered and accountable to make the commitments we have made and to push the travel industry to become more sustainable.

Define Sustainability in your own words. How does your definition of sustainability relate to the overall goals, values, and mission of the organization?

At its core, sustainability at Booking Holdings is about ensuring that we are considering our social, environmental, and economic impacts and that we include them in our decision-making, thereby ensuring that we will be a part of the transition toward a thriving future. As a business, we believe sustainability is multi-faceted, and we have evolved over recent years from a more traditional corporate responsibility approach to embracing a shared-value sustainability framework. For us, sustainability covers the spectrum of ESG efforts across our organization, including; sustainable operations, sustainable travel, community engagement, our people, corporate governance, compliance and ethics, customer privacy, and data protection. All of these areas go towards creating long-term value for our stakeholders, internally and externally, and incorporate the impact of our company as a responsible travel platform and as an inclusive employer.

What are the commercial benefits of establishing a corporate ESG strategy?

In the travel industry, in particular, we see consumer awareness evolving over time when it comes to more sustainable travel. We know from our research that 76% of consumers say they want to travel more sustainably, but there are barriers to them making more sustainable choices. Whether those barriers are perception or reality, the platforms and travel suppliers who can figure out how to overcome them will unlock significant commercial benefits in concert with doing more for the climate.

Booking Holdings brands have an enormous opportunity to meet that demand for more sustainable travel options, by innovating to surface information in a transparent, consistent, and easy-to-understand way to customers and working with partners to improve the supply of sustainable options. That’s why we’ve expanded Booking.com’s Travel Sustainable program, which now recognizes over 500,000 accommodations worldwide, across our enterprise, including Priceline, KAYAK, and Agoda. It’s also why we include emissions information when booking a flight, has expanded our rides capabilities to include electric taxis in 50 cities, and added search filters for fully electric and hybrid rental cars. By taking important steps to make sustainable travel easier for both travelers and accommodation providers alike, we’re working to unlock key barriers and make sustainable travel the way to travel.

How do you infuse ESG into professional development for your employees?

One of the core tenants of our sustainability strategy is to build a culture of sustainability at Booking Holdings, empowering our people to make sustainable choices in their day-to-day work and lives. We believe that making travel more sustainable requires everyone’s input, as individuals and as a business. Some of our teams may already have direct KPIs related to sustainability – whether that’s emissions reductions or enforcing our animal welfare guidelines. But we also ensure each individual knows they can play a role in achieving our targets by limiting business travel or improving the quality of our code.

Notably, we recently launched a climate awareness learning and development course that will help all employees, across all of our brands, gain a greater insight into how we’re approaching and combating the climate crisis. The course focuses on educating the Booking Holdings workforce on the changing climate of the world, the carbon footprint travel and technology leave on the world, the company’s ambitious strategy, and the role they play in both reducing our own carbon footprint as well as helping travelers minimize their own.

What major industry changes do you anticipate seeing in the next 5-10 years?

Sustainable tourism is what will enable our industry to continue to connect people and cultures and bring value to communities globally while contributing toward a more sustainable future and meeting the rapidly evolving demand for more sustainable choices in travel. But a future where tourism can continue to bring its immense benefits to every corner of the globe relies on driving real impact in the next decade. By taking a step back and looking at the full trip and each of the decisions a traveler can make throughout that journey, we open up a world of opportunity to improve sustainable travel options and surface the right kinds of information. This enables customers to make more sustainable choices with regard to destination selection, transportation, accommodation, the experiences they seek out, and more. We believe making it easier to choose more sustainable travel options is of urgent importance, and we aim to advance a more sustainable travel industry together with our partners and peers, including through the continued rollout of the Travel Sustainable program across the travel ecosystem. We are proud to be a leader in making our vision a reality through the scale of our company, the size of our impact, research, and standards development for the whole sector. Together, we will create a lower-impact travel industry.

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