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The Rising Trend of Responsible Travel

November 17, 2021

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As coronavirus restrictions ease, people are once again traveling, and sustainable travel is seeing an uptick. Let’s look at the eco-friendly travel trend that’s rising all over the world.

Slow Travel is a Fast-Rising Trend

What's "slow travel?" Pretty much what it sounds like—trips that last longer and cover distances at slower rates. So, you take a train instead of flying. Take a bus instead of renting a car. Rent a bicycle or walk instead of taking cabs and Ubers to go from spot to spot at a travel destination. But slow travel isn't just about taking more time to get from point A to point B. It also means having more immersive experiences in local cultures.

A survey by the analytics experts GlobalData suggests we'll be seeing a lot more slow travel as coronavirus restrictions are lifted. 22% of respondents said they wish to take trips of ten days or more compared to 14% who desire three-night stays and just 10% who are looking to take day trips. And sustainability is a big factor for these planned getaways; a quarter of the respondents say that "supporting social causes" goes into their purchasing decisions.

Global Views of Green Travel Are Mixed

The online travel agency did a deep dive into eco-friendly travel with their Sustainable Travel Trends Survey. Here are the top takeaways:

People Look to Governments for Leadership

The survey shows that travelers assume some personal responsibility in making their travels more sustainable. This includes using fewer single-use plastics, conserving electricity in accommodations, and staying at eco-friendly places. Globally speaking, however, people feel that governments should be more responsible for reducing carbon footprints related to travel. Except for Americans, with 28% of respondents assuming personal responsibility and only 16% looking to governments and tourism authorities to make sustainable changes.

People See Sustainability Differently

There are not one or two unifying factors that people consider when looking to make travel more sustainable. These factors include a focus on renewable energy such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric at the top of the concerns. Reusing towels and bedding at accommodations and buying products that are locally sourced were at the bottom of the concerns. But no single issue stands out; people simply interpret "going green" differently.

COVID Has Impacted Green Travel

There is a solid wish for more eco-friendly travels overall, with US travelers desiring to do more sustainable travel in post-lockdown days. But survey respondents across the world showed a decrease in their desire to travel sustainably compared to the pre-pandemic days. Experts reason that people are just hungry to get out and travel again and how they do it doesn't matter as much as it did before COVID hit.

Drilling down into the Sustainable Travel Trends survey, Americans are most concerned about pollution, over-tourism, and energy waste. The top pledges from US respondents looking to travel more sustainably are: turning off lights and air conditioners when they aren't in their accommodations, reusing towels and bedding, buying from local businesses, and being careful about their waste.

The Desire to Travel Sustainably Has Grown's 2021 Sustainable Travel Report took an in-depth look at the trend of eco-friendly travel in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The shift is seismic. The report found that a whopping 46% of Americans have changed their attitudes on the subject of sustainable travel because of the coronavirus pandemic. About the same percentage applies to new attitudes toward reducing food waste and recycling more at home.

The rise is measurable. Booking's 2016 survey found that 62% of respondents said that they planned to stay in accommodations that take sustainability into account. In 2020, that number went up to 74% and again rose in 2021 to a staggering 81% of people looking for eco-friendly accommodations.

The desire of travelers to stay in places that show concern for the environment has not gone unnoticed by the hospitality industry. The survey found that 75% of accommodation providers have implemented eco-friendly initiatives. But there's a disconnect in communicating this to their guests: only 31% of these providers say they tell the guests about their sustainability efforts or put anything about these eco-initiatives on their websites.

But Price and Convenience Play a Big Part

Good intentions are one thing, follow-through is another. While big percentages of survey respondents say they want to travel responsibly, not as many are willing to shell out big bucks or deal with major inconveniences to do so.

The travel site The Vacationer did a survey which found traveler desires that mirror other findings: 83% said they wish to travel more sustainably, that it was “very important” to them. But that number fell to 48% if this sustainability was going to inconvenience them. And when balancing eco-friendly travel against the overall cost of a trip, 62% went for the price as the biggest consideration and sustainability plummeted to a jaw-dropping 4%. In general, 71% of respondents said they would pay more to make a smaller carbon footprint. But how much more will they pay? It would seem, for most, not very much.

Is there a sustainable vacation planned in your near future? If not, consider responsible tourism—green trips are good for both you and the planet.

Written by William McCleary for Knockaround.

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