Global travel is increasing above expectations, some great news for most of the travel industry. But as more people take to the skies and the seas, their holidays are having a serious impact on the destinations they visit.
Sustainable travel is a growing concern for travellers. More than just eco-tourism, sustainable travel has a much wider scope, incorporating the impact of tourism on the environment and wildlife, as well as communities and local economies. And as the number of travellers increases each year, their impact on the places they visit is becoming more visible and problematic.
A key topic within sustainable tourism is the carbon footprint of rising travel. A recent study found that the global tourism is responsible for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, overtourism – where a high number of visitors puts strain on infrastructure, resources and local communities – has become both a buzzword, and a real concern in the last year.
Dubrovnik, Venice and Santorini have all limited the number of visitors allowed, while the tropical isle of Borocay in the Philippines closed to all visitors to give locals and government time to repair some of the damage caused by excessive tourism. Part of the issue is that iconic destinations and popular countries attract the lion’s share of tourists. According to McKinsey, by 2020, the number of visits to the world’s 20 most popular countries will increase more than the rest of the world combined.
Consumer awareness of their environmental and social impact varies, but most travellers agree that they want to travel in the most sustainable way possible. According to a global study by Booking.com, 87% of travellers want to travel sustainably, and 39% often or always manage to do so, perhaps due to the perceived higher cost of eco travel. However, 67% of travelers would be willing to spend at least 5% more on low-impact travel. Indian travelers claim to be the most willing, with 32% declaring that they would pay 15% or more, followed by 21% of Brazilians and 18% of Chinese.
The research found travellers’ own experiences are the main motivator to seek more sustainable accommodation: 54% are motivated by the visible impact of tourism at the destinations they have visited, while 49% were inspired by seeing the positive effect of sustainable tourism on local people and 47% are determined not to repeat the mistakes made with unsustainable tourism in their home country.
In an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of flights, airlines such as United, Qantas and KLM are increasing their use of sustainable biofuels, while Virgin Atlantic is developing a new low-carbon fuel. For conscious consumers, train travel is likely to become more appealing, even for long journeys, where the experience can form part of the trip. The expanding Eurostar network is carbon-neutral, and a train journey across the Australian outback can offer great views as well as lower carbon emissions than intra-national flights. In the Asia-Pacific region, plans to create high-speed lines that connect China, Singapore and Malaysia (among others) could relieve pressure on busy air routes as well as decrease emissions.
But sustainable travel goes beyond transport: it incorporates sightseeing, dining and accommodation too. A survey of luxury travellers by Accor Hotels found that 84% consider it important that hotels only recommend experiences that are not detrimental to the local community, while 4 in 5 believe that environmentally sustainable practices and locally sourced kitchen ingredients are important.
The brand is taking guests’ sustainability concerns seriously, installing 600 urban gardens in its global properties to reduce the carbon footprint of its restaurant ingredients, as well as supporting local biodiversity. AccorHotels’ Planet 21 initiative is also reducing food waste in all of its properties and improving energy efficiency to become carbon neutral in many of its buildings.
Hilton is also making changes in its operations to boost its sustainable credentials, by pledging to work with more local and minority-owned suppliers, halve its environmental footprint and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.
As consumers become increasingly aware of their environmental and social impact of their travel, it is imperative that brands at every point of the trip-planning experience make sustainable choices wherever possible. From flights and hotels to dining options, sightseeing itineraries and even staffing, travellers are now looking for more sustainable and responsible options.