Sustainable Travel in 2016

Camping, protecting local wildlife and volunteering – what sustainable travel means to consumers today

Bangkok, 21 April 2016 - In celebration of Earth Day 2016,, the global leader in connecting travellers with the widest choices of places to stay, has revealed findings from its global Sustainable Travel Report[i] , identifying what the term ‘sustainable travel’ means to consumers, how sustainable accommodation is viewed, and what the future holds in store for eco-conscious travellers.

What does green mean?

Only 42% of global respondents said they consider themselves to be sustainable travellers, rising to 72% amongst Chinese respondents and dropping to 25% amongst the Japanese, with findings showing a wide spectrum when it comes to what people understand ‘sustainable travel’ to mean. Over half (56%) considered staying in eco-friendly accommodation as sustainable travel and over two thirds (68%) confirmed they would be more likely to choose accommodation if they knew it was eco-friendly. However, just under two thirds (65%) of global travellers said they hadn’t stayed, or don’t know if they’ve stayed at eco-friendly accommodation. And of those who didn’t plan to stay in a sustainable accommodation in the upcoming year, 39% said it was because they did not even know sustainable accommodation exists. This reason was even higher amongst Japanese (43%), New Zealand (39%), and German (46%) respondents in particular.

Carbon offsetting for air travel was identified by 32% as sustainable travel, while 22% said they felt it involves staying in a natural environment such as a nature reserve or national park. 16% consider camping sustainable travel and just over one in ten (14%) deem it going to a destination where you can interact with local wildlife.

Beyond nature, altruistic activities are also regarded as ‘sustainable’ including buying local crafts and foods (35%), helping local communities by volunteering (14%), and staying with an indigenous community and learning about their culture (12%).

Sustainable stay scepticism

Whilst the report highlights that sustainable travel means many things to many people, it also reveals how the term ‘sustainable accommodation’ is often met with confusion and at times, scepticism. For instance, people who confirmed they will not book an eco-friendly stay in the upcoming year cited reasons such as they are expensive (22%), less luxurious (10%) or simply can’t be trusted to be truly ‘eco’ (13%). Brits and Australians in particular will not book an eco-friendly stay because of perceived expense (30% and 30% respectively) while 14% of Japanese detractors say it’s because they can’t trust in a property’s ‘eco’ claims.

Gillian Tans, Chief Operating Officer, comments: “Sustainable accommodation is a world away from dim lighting, low water pressure and no air-con. Guests may not realise that as they sleep on organic cotton sheets, washed with water heated by energy generated from the hotel itself, they are staying sustainably. Or that when eating a meal made from ingredients sourced within 30 kilometers of their accommodation, they are a sustainable traveller supporting local business.”

In fact, according to research[ii] over a quarter (26%) of the accommodations surveyed confirmed they have initiatives in place to protect the environment while almost a fifth (19%) support the local community. This rises to a third (33%) and nearly a quarter (24%) respectively for larger properties (36+ rooms). In addition, over half (51%) of properties are currently credited as following official sustainability criteria from a recognised organisation in sustainability such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

Tans continues: “The more clarity, understanding and visibility around sustainable travel that can be brought to travellers to help them make informed choices around their accommodation and destination the better. Our research and ongoing discussions with the accommodations we offer is uncovering a range of sustainability efforts that we’d ultimately love to be able to share with travellers searching and selecting on our site.”

The findings show a strong consensus that more needs to be done to aid sustainable travel; in fact, only 5% of travellers said they thought it was already easy. But when it comes to a solution to the problem, there are many converging ideas. The dominant two are economic incentives, such as tax breaks for eco travellers (41% of respondents were in favour) and an international standard for sustainable accommodation (41%). Even though there’s no clear agreement, online booking sites have an important role to play, with 38% of respondents wanting them to make it easier to understand and compare eco-friendly accommodation and transport options.

A greener future?

62% of those questioned confirmed they intend to stay in sustainable accommodation within the year and 50% say they have considered, or will be considering, a destination they would not have otherwise been interested in because of sustainable practices. These include protected natural environment and wildlife, animals being treated fairly and initiatives in place to help the local community.

As more people look to experience a sustainable stay, is considering ways to evolve its popular Passion Search platform to include eco-based interests and destination intelligence to make searching for the best destinations tied to specific sustainable initiatives and practices easier.

Tans concludes: “It’s heartening to see the great intent of people to travel sustainably. With more and more people wanting to select sustainable accommodation in the future we are looking at ways to harness the power of over 26 million recommendations courtesy of our extensive customer base to assist fellow travellers seeking to embrace and discover sustainable travel.”