Research Shows Challenges With Sustainable Travel

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AMSTERDAM—Booking.com released research with insights gathered from more than 31,000 travelers across 34 countries and territories, exploring the latest consumer attitudes, priorities, and influences related to sustainable travel. While the annual research revealed a continued sense of desire and awareness with 83 percent of travelers confirming that sustainable travel is important to them, new insights show a sense of weariness could be emerging globally, fueled by the ongoing challenges experienced by travelers to make more sustainable choices.

The study showed that almost half (45 percent) feel traveling more sustainably is important but not a primary consideration when planning or booking a trip, and 28 percent of travelers even reported they are tired of hearing about climate change all the time. With this in mind, the opportunity for collective action is more pertinent than ever to ensure that progress toward a more sustainable travel industry remains a priority.

Positive Intentions Meeting New Challenges

Looking ahead, a reassuring 75 percent of global travelers said they want to travel more sustainably over the next 12 months, and (43 percent) would feel guilty when they make less sustainable travel choices. When it comes to motivators among those who want to travel more sustainably, (32 percent) want to do so because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

However, a sense of disillusionment toward making more sustainable travel choices may be counteracting those intentions. New areas of exploration researched for the first time this year revealed that some travelers don’t recognize the importance of being more mindful of their impact, as one-third (33 percent) feel that the damage already done is irreversible and that the travel choices they make cannot change that. In fact, a quarter of travelers (25 percent) don’t believe climate change is as severe as people make it out to be—a dismissal of the issue that may be impacting travel plans.

Moreover, some feel their time spent traveling is too precious to put sustainability at the top of their decision-making list (28 percent). Not seeing sustainability in action is also contributing to the sense of powerlessness; more than a third (34 percent) of travelers believe that being more sustainable in a destination that is not implementing sustainability practices itself feels pointless.

Shared Responsibility and the Critical Opportunity for Industry-Wide Enablement

The role travelers believe they can play in tackling the negative impacts of travel also highlighted their expectations around collaboration. A noteworthy 71 percent of travelers said they want to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived (up from 66 percent last year), and this year’s additional research shows 45 percent think they have the potential to counteract the social impacts of travel. On the other hand, 44 percent thought governments hold the most potential for countering the economic effects, and 43 percent believe travel service providers hold the key to addressing environmental factors. Furthermore, 40 percent of travelers believe that governments are responsible for educating people on the impacts of travel and tourism.

Responsibilities extend to how consumers are being supported to fulfill their intentions. Coming across an accommodation labeled as more sustainable is more appealing to almost half of travelers (45 percent) and consistency of certification standards is critical to identifying these options with 67 percent agreeing that all travel booking sites should use the same sustainable certifications or labels. However, the number of travelers who are interested in learning more about why the accommodation was given this label is down 17 percentage points (at 52 percent) when compared with the same time last year, indicating a need for simple, clear communication that enables easy decision-making regardless of priorities.

Sustainable Silver Linings

Despite the emerging frustrations, travelers who say they are making more mindful choices also feel that more sustainable travel experiences are actually adding value to their trips. New areas of research in this year’s report found that 62 percent of travelers recognized that they are the best version of themselves when they travel more sustainably and consequently take home this positivity, just as 67 percent think that witnessing sustainable practices while traveling inspires them to be more sustainable in their everyday lives. Of those who adopted sustainable behaviors on their travels, it was seen as an enhancement for 96 percent who did tours or activities for authentic, local, and cultural experiences, 93 percent who shopped at small, independent stores, and 93 percent who planned their trips so that they could walk, bike, or take public transport.

“While many travelers have retained a sense of optimism and a desire to have a more positive impact, there is a critical opportunity for the industry to accelerate efforts to make those choices easier for everyone,” said Danielle D’Silva, head of sustainability at Booking.com. “It’s important that we continue ensuring that more sustainable options are not only readily available but also easy to trust and understand. That’s where we believe further education, clear and consistent standards and credible third-party certification of legitimate sustainable practices across the travel experience can really help. While the signals of consumer frustration should be a concern, it’s also a reminder to maintain our focus on the impactful work we know can make a difference not only for travelers but for communities and destinations everywhere.”

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