Bridging the gap between desire and action for more sustainable travel choices

Image: Booking.com

The travel sector must collaborate to ensure stakeholders, including consumers, play a role in creating a more sustainable travel future – that considers both the environment as well as local communities. But for travellers, it can often be difficult to marry the intention to make more sustainable choices with the desire to see what the world has to offer.

This quagmire is demonstrated in Booking.com’s annual Sustainable Travel Report which revealed a complex picture of consumer attitudes towards sustainable travel. While a significant majority of Brits surveyed (83%) acknowledge the importance of sustainable travel, the industry is witnessing an emerging sense of fatigue. This fatigue, characterised by 28% of travellers feeling overwhelmed by constant climate change messaging, and 45% viewing sustainability as important but not a primary consideration, highlights a critical challenge for the travel industry.

To navigate this evolving landscape, collective action from industry stakeholders is more pertinent than ever. And taking a unified approach to streamlining sustainable travel choices for consumers is a key step towards that.

Overcoming complexity

One of the primary hurdles for travellers is the complexity and inconsistency of messaging and information surrounding more sustainable travel options. More than two-thirds of travellers agree that travel booking sites should use the same sustainability certifications or labels. But at the same time, there has been a fall in interest among travellers wanting to learn why some accommodations have been awarded sustainability labels in 2024 (40%), compared to 56% in 2023.

There is a clear need to make it easier for travellers to understand the sustainability efforts of an accommodation or the emissions of a specific flight. At the same time, in order to build trust and credibility, we must also make sure the information being shared is consistent and substantiated, for instance, by a third-party sustainability certification. This trust and credibility among travellers looking for more sustainable travel options is crucial for maintaining their engagement on the topic.

Enhancing education and support

Education plays a pivotal role in fostering sustainable travel practices. The industry comprises millions of businesses, the vast majority of which are SMEs. However, for many of these businesses, staying abreast of the latest sustainability trends, techniques or requirements can fall down the list of priorities due to the complexity, perceived cost or simply a lack of time.

This is where the broader industry and governments can provide support, ultimately making it easier for those businesses that want to improve the sustainability of their operations.

Creating easy access to tailored educational resources relevant to hospitality can help these businesses operate more sustainably. Government initiatives and industry collaborations can facilitate training programmes, workshops, and resource materials that demystify sustainability practices. We’ve sought to address this by partnering with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) of the United Nations, offering free online courses designed to support accommodations on their journey to operate more sustainably. By equipping businesses with the necessary knowledge and tools, businesses can ensure that sustainability becomes an integral part of their operations, thereby enhancing the overall sustainability of travel destinations.

Aligning industry efforts

Our research reveals that travellers hold varying views on who should take the lead in promoting sustainable travel. While 45% believe that governments have the most potential to counteract the economic impacts of travel, 44% think that travel service providers play a crucial role in addressing environmental factors.

The results highlight the need for a collaborative approach that involves both the public and private sectors. Governments can implement policies that incentivise sustainability practices and provide the necessary infrastructure, while travel service providers can adopt and promote more sustainable options.

Creating a multiplier effect

Travellers themselves also have a role to play. Our research highlights that nearly three in five travellers (59%) feel inspired to adopt more sustainable practices in their daily lives after witnessing them during their travels. This underscores the opportunity of integrating sustainability into the travel experience.

Promoting electric or hybrid car hire, encouraging the use of public transport, and displaying flights with less than typical emissions are practical steps that can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of travel. Additionally, offering authentic local and cultural experiences that support small, independent businesses not only enriches the travel experience but can also contribute positively to the economic and social impact of tourism in destinations.

Importantly for travellers, opting for more sustainable options adds meaningful value to their trip, rather than hindering it. Our research found that over half of travellers believe are the best version of themselves when they travel more sustainably, and consequently, take this positivity home with them.

The next steps

Travellers still feel sustainability is important, but their growing fatigue shows that the industry must do more to make more sustainable travel choices easier. How we do this is through improved upskilling of travel providers, clear and consistent standards for everyone, and credible third-party certification of legitimate sustainability practices to build trust for travellers.

* This article refers to UK statistics.

Danielle D’Silva is head of sustainability at Booking.com

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