Environmental concerns are more likely than ever to impact travel in the next five to ten years. According to MMGY Global’s 2019-2020 “Portrait of American Travelers,” 48% of travelers believe climate change will have a significant influence on destinations they want to visit and 60% believe tourism overcrowding will have a significant influence on destinations they want to visit.
Still, a lot of those travelers surveyed in “Portrait of American Travelers” aren’t willing to make major changes to their traveling habits to help work toward a more sustainable travel world. While 54% said they would use less single-use plastics while traveling, and 41% said they would visit destinations in the off-season to help reduce overcrowding, just 7% said they would purchase carbon offsets, and 28% said they would fly less. And, according to Travel Market Report’s new “Outlook on Sustainability” report, most advisors (68%) still are not asked about it by their clients.
During a panel discussion at the New York Times Travel Show last week, hosted by Travel Market Report’s Publisher Anne Marie Moebes and called “Market Sustainable Travel Solutions,” executives from companies across the industry came together to talk about what exactly sustainable travel is and how travel advisors can adapt to a future where its importance is going to grow.
“The way I look at it, every five or ten years, there is a big travel trend that starts to emerge. Family travel became important after September 11 and then five years later, we had a big emergence of solo travel. I really believe we are on the cusp of seeing that happen with sustainable travel,” Guy Young, chief engagement officer, at the Travel Corp., said. “I believe it is going to be one of the big emerging trends.”
What is sustainable travel?
“When people think about sustainable travel, they think, ‘oh, volunteerism or towels in hotels,’ but I think the definition is more encompassing than that,” said Adrienne Lee, director of global impact, Tourism Cares.
According to the panel, sustainable travel in the future is going to include a number of issues, including the kind of environmental impact the actual travel will have on the earth and on an individual’s carbon footprint; the effect that travel is going to have on the local communities; and possible contributions to overtourism issues.
The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include what the UN calls “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all,” is also a good framework to follow, with goals such as no poverty, reduced inequalities, gender equality, climate action, and life on land included.
But sustainable travel means different things for different people.
“For us, when we talk about sustainability, it’s about fostering that awareness and respect for the destinations that we go to. It’s fundamental, people want to enjoy beautiful oceans, they want clean air and want to support locals,” said Christine Da Silva, vice president of public relations, Norwegian Cruise Line.
For travel advisors trying to market themselves as purveyors of sustainable travel, but who can’t wrap their heads around the definition, they can start to get an understanding by limiting the scope.
“We do understand that it can be a daunting topic,” said Lee. “One of our recommendations is that I now hear that the SDGs seem very daunting. We are the only industry that touches all 17 of the SDGs.
Her suggestion is to “pick one or two that resonate with you, that you feel comfortable talking about.”
A guide to the SDGs can be found at the Tourism4SDGs website.
How are suppliers marketing sustainable tourism?
For Norwegian Cruise Line, marketing its efforts towards a more sustainable travel future is not how it reaches it guests. Instead, “what we do is talk about interesting partnerships that might get attention,” Da Silva said.
One of those partnerships is with JUST, a company founded by Jaden Smith that manufactures bottles made of 82% renewable materials — and that helped Norwegian eliminate all single-use plastic bottles on its ships last year. Another is its partnership with Guy Harvey, the artist who provided artwork for the hull of Norwegian Escape, which provides direct funds to the Guy Harvey Foundation that helps to conduct research on conservation and educating the public on what they can do to help.
Greentique Hotels, a Costa Rica-based boutique hotel and eco-resort company, also does not market its products as “sustainable.” Instead, they focus on how their vacations can make a difference.
“For us, when we try to present our products to the consumer directly, as well as the tour operator or travel agent, we say, ‘Why not a responsible vacation, why not a vacation that makes the difference?’” Jim Damalas, Greentique’s founder and CEO, said. “We see people choose Costa Rica because they know they can make a difference.”
With that in mind, Greentique markets its product on its website with the tagline of “Travel Well. Travel Right.”
In other sustainable travel marketing, The Travel Corp. and its brands, in coordination with the Treadright Foundation, puts its efforts behind three pillars — people, planet, and wildlife — that gives it “a bit more structure in the way we communicate it,” Young said.