Industry Buzzwords: Sustainability and Tourism

Take nothing but photos; leave nothing but footprints. The sustainable tourism industry just keeps on growing, but what are travellers saying and what does it mean for your business?

Sustainability has been a buzzword in tourism for over a decade now. The UN named 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and with most big tourism companies just beginning to find their feet with what the sustainable travel movement means to them, we can expect the concept to flourish over the coming decade too.

Just this year, released their Sustainable Travel Report which offers some pretty conclusive indications that the green travel movement is gaining massive momentum; 87% of travellers surveyed said that they want to travel sustainably and 39% claimed that they often or always manage to do so. However, that leaves a massive 48% of travellers who never, rarely or only sometimes manage to travel sustainably, even though they want to.

Part of the problem is that sustainable travel can mean a million different things to a million different people. Some travellers will concentrate on on environmentally sustainable travel, which can range from avoiding travelling by plane to not using plastics. Some will be more interested in socially and economically sustainable travel; for example staying in places that pay fair wages and hire locally. Still more will want to ensure that their food is sourced locally and their power is solar.

The UN defines three pillars of sustainable tourism to help those new to the game. They are:

  1. employing environmentally friendly practices (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)
  2. protecting cultural and national heritage (restoring historic buildings or saving endangered species)
  3. providing tangible social and economic benefits for local communities (ranging from upholding the rights of indigenous peoples to supporting fair wages for employees)

With travel and tourism growing faster than most of the rest of the global economy, it’s important to recognise the significance of this critical trend. have recently launched their new ‘Booking Cares’ initiative to ensure a company wide concentration on making a ‘positive, lasting impression on the global travel industry’. Airbnb have launched a similar ‘Office of Healthy Tourism’ to a similar end; the initiative sees the company ‘expand its efforts to economically empower communities, drive travel to lesser-known places, and support environmentally-friendly travel habits’.

As larger companies recognise the need to promote more sustainable tourism practices, that 48% of people who want to travel more sustainably but currently don’t will find themselves empowered to make choices that they feel more comfortable with. According to that report, the two biggest obstacles to travelling more sustainably are cost and information/lack of certification - basically, not knowing how to make travel more sustainable without heading to luxury eco-lodges. That’s not a very difficult problem to overcome.

With more than two-thirds of travellers willing to pay a bit more to make their travel as environmentally sustainable as possible, there’s a massive sub-industry on the cusp of exploding. There’s a bet here in the office on how long companies create their own sustainability criteria to help travellers make their decisions. Some of us (me) don’t think it’ll be long…

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