Phocuswright Senior Research Analyst Madeline List kicked off day three of the Phocuswright Conference by revealing the results of the research authority's latest sustainability report. The survey, aimed at thousands of travelers from the US and Europe, revealed the existence of a considerable gap between what is said and what is done regarding sustainability:
In the US and EU, about half of respondents said they were more likely to choose transportation based on carbon footprint than convenience. But when asked why they had chosen certain transportation options on recent trips, far fewer cited environmental factors as a reason.
Respondents said they were more likely to choose a hotel for its sustainability credentials than price. But of those who had booked, only between 6% and 13% said environmental reasons were among their top five considerations.
"People are more likely to follow through on what they say if they will directly feel the consequences of not doing so," List says. "For example, about half would prefer to stay in a less famous and less crowded place, and many people comply, since it affects them more directly not to do so. When it comes to environmental decisions, people care, but do not directly feel the consequences of not moving forward with sustainable options."
"Likewise, travelers want their money to benefit the communities they visit. But when asked if they ever check to see if what they buy is locally sourced, only 1 in 4 say they do. Emotionally, people care, but they don't take the practical steps necessary to make those decisions.
Travelers find sustainability confusing
Do travelers know what it really means to travel sustainably? Most respondents say they find the rules for eco-conscious travel confusing, and those who are already oriented toward sustainability are more confused than those who don't care.
19%-26% also believe they do not travel frequently enough to have a significant impact on the environment. Even those who take two trips a year don't think they have a big impact... but they are an important part of traveling.
Travelers are divided as to who should take responsibility for sustainability: many believe it is the role of governments, while others think it is travel providers, destination organizations or travelers themselves. Travelers believe it should be the responsibility of destination organizations to keep tourism dollars within the local community, which would explain why they don't ask where their money goes after they spend it.
36%-47% of travelers also think sustainable travel options are more expensive. And the more you think about sustainability at home, the more likely you are to believe it presents more expensive travel options. Between 10% and 15% more was the accepted premium that people said they would pay for a greener trip.
"I don't think this mismatch between beliefs and behavior is negative," List says. "They want to believe they will make the right decision, but it's important [for travel providers] to understand that's not always the case." List ended by giving his practical suggestions for the travel industry:
Increase sustainable options: to start, make them more accessible and viable; They have to be attractive to travelers as a whole, and should not only focus on sustainability.
Eco-friendly options should be easy to find and prominent.
Demonstrate that sustainable is accessible and affordable: promote sustainable options at different prices.
Help travelers understand that sustainability goes beyond the environment and extends to many other areas.
Educate, educate, educate: inspire travelers to aspire to collective change; talk about why and not just what, foster understanding from the base.