Travelers care but few want to pay for it

Polls indicate that a silver lining to the pandemic is increased consumer commitment to “sustainable” travel. But as vaccinations increase travel prospects, hopes of a “green” recovery may have been overstated.

Sustainable travel has grown in popularity in recent years as people have tried to mitigate the negative effects of tourism, either by avoiding harmful practices or by compensating for them.

The pandemic appeared to accelerate this trend.

According to a recent study by the travel agency Virtuoso, four in five people (82%) said the pandemic made them want to travel more responsibly in the future. Almost three-quarters (72%) said travel should support local communities and economies, preserve the cultural heritage of destinations and protect the planet.

Sustainable travel will have to cost more if it is to reduce its carbon footprint.

Dr Srikanth Beldona

professor, University of Delaware

But another probe tells a different story.

In a separate study from travel site The Vacationer, a similar majority (83%) said sustainable travel was somewhat or very important to them. Yet almost half (48%) of those surveyed said they would only opt for such trips if it did not bother them.

And convenience isn’t the only limitation.

A journey that costs the earth

Good intentions aside, cost remains the top consideration for most travelers (62%) when planning a vacation, according to The Vacationer’s study. Sustainability and carbon footprint, on the other hand, paled to 4%.

Seven in 10 (71%) said they would pay more to reduce their carbon footprint, but the extent to which they are willing – or able – to do so varies widely.

Just over a quarter (27%) of respondents said they would pay less than $ 50 to counter their emissions, while a third (33%) said they would contribute $ 50 to $ 250. Only 3% said they would be willing to pay more than $ 500, and 29% would pay nothing.

Overtourism and the resulting environmental damage are among the factors accelerating calls for sustainability in the travel industry.

Oleh_Slobodeniuk | E + | Getty Images

This is where the problem with the travel industry lies. It would cost $ 69 for a person traveling from New York to Rome to offset carbon emissions for the flight alone.

Such costs make mass adoption on the consumer side unlikely, said Dr. Srikanth Beldona, a professor at the University of Delaware.

“Sustainable travel will have to cost more if it is to reduce its carbon footprint, and there are signs that a niche market for this may emerge,” he said, calling instead for a “one size fits all” solution. which combines the efforts of businesses and regulators.

Companies are embarking on “sustainability”

Already, the pandemic has prompted some governments and businesses to tout sustainability as part of their modus operandi – or at least their future modus operandi.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, for example, are among the main travel companies to have committed to carbon neutrality goals. At the same time, new businesses are emerging to meet consumers’ appetites for environmentally friendly vacations.

“Rather than overshadow the problem, the Covid-19 pandemic has roughly doubled the rate at which businesses and local governments commit to reaching net zero,” said Nora Lovell-Marchant, vice president of global sustainability at American Express Global Business Travel.

Younger travelers express greater interest and willingness to pay for sustainable travel options.

Paul Biris | instant | Getty Images

But with sustainability measures and accountability still in their infancy, more collaboration is needed to ensure goals are met.

In the airline industry, for example, carbon offsetting is only the first step. Developments in aviation fuel and sustainable aircraft are needed to create long-term change, said Emily Weiss, global head of the travel industry at Accenture, who has advised airlines on getting back to normal. .

“Data on carbon emissions from the pandemic have highlighted that even a severe reduction in air travel is not the only answer to neutralize the climate threat,” she said. “It will take cross-sector collaboration coupled with a more environmentally conscious consumer mindset to achieve a more sustainable future. “

“Completely stopping travel is not possible”

Yet with international travel showing signs of reopening, waiting for a wave of sustainable tourism is not an option – especially for the hundreds of millions of people whose livelihoods depend on the industry.

“Stopping travel altogether is not feasible,” said James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Group, a travel agency specializing in sustainable tourism. “In fact, tourism offers countless benefits to communities around the world and to travelers themselves.”

Instead, travelers can opt for more eco-friendly travel options that suit their price range and schedule, said Thornton, whose company uses 21 forms of public transport. Train travel, for example, can be a new way to experience a new place with much lower emissions than air travel.

“Responsible travel is not about making sacrifices or staying at home,” he said. “It’s about carefully planning trips so that you can have the experience you are looking for, while leaving a positive mark in the destination you visit.”

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