Surveys suggest that one silver lining of the pandemic is increased consumer commitment to “sustainable” travel. But with vaccinations improving travel prospects, hopes for a “green” recovery may be exaggerated.
Sustainable travel has grown in popularity in recent years as people have tried to mitigate the negative effects of tourism by either avoiding or offsetting harmful practices.
The pandemic appeared to be accelerating this trend.
According to a recent study by the travel company Virtuoso, four in five people (82%) said the pandemic made them travel more responsibly in the future. Almost three quarters (72%) said travel should support local communities and economies, preserve the cultural heritage of the destinations, and protect the planet.
Sustainable travel has to cost more if it has to reduce its carbon footprint.
DR. Srikanth Beldona
Professor, University of Delaware
But another probe tells a different story.
In a separate study by the travel website The Vacationer, a similar majority (83%) said that sustainable travel is something or very important to them. However, almost half (48%) of respondents said they would only choose to travel like this if they were not uncomfortable.
And convenience isn’t the only limitation.
Journeys that cost the world
Aside from good intentions, cost remains the top consideration for most travelers (62%) when planning a vacation, according to The Vacationer’s study. Sustainability and carbon footprint, on the other hand, pale at 4%.
Seven in 10 (71%) said they would pay more to reduce their carbon footprint, but the extent to which they are willing or able to do so varies widely.
Just over a quarter (27%) of respondents said they would pay less than $ 50 to cut their emissions, while a third (33%) said they would contribute $ 50 to $ 250. Only 3% said they would be willing to pay more than $ 500 and 29% would not pay anything.
Overtourism and the resulting environmental damage are among the factors that are fueling the call for sustainability in the travel industry.
By_Slobodeniuk | E + | Getty Images
That is the problem for the travel industry. It would cost $ 69 for one person traveling from New York to Rome to offset the CO2 emissions for the flight alone.
Such costs make mass adoption on the consumer side unlikely, said Dr. Srikanth Beldona, professor at the University of Delaware.
“Sustainable travel has to cost more if it has to reduce its carbon footprint, and there are signs that a niche market may develop for it,” he said, calling instead for a “universal solution” that brings together the efforts of businesses and regulators .
Companies rely on “sustainability”
The pandemic has already prompted some governments and companies to promote sustainability as part of their modus operandi – or at least in their future modus operandi.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, for example, are among the major travel companies that have committed to carbon neutrality goals. Meanwhile, new businesses are emerging to satisfy consumer appetites for eco-friendly vacations.
“Rather than overshadowing the problem, the Covid-19 pandemic has roughly doubled the speed at which businesses and local governments commit to net zero,” said Nora Lovell-Marchant, vice president of global sustainability at American Express Global business travel.
Younger travelers show a greater interest in and willingness to pay for sustainable travel options.
Paul Biris | Moment | Getty Images
However, as sustainability metrics and accountability are still in their infancy, greater collaboration is needed to ensure the goals are met.
In the aviation industry, for example, carbon offsetting is only the first step. Developments in sustainable aviation fuel and aircraft are necessary to bring about long-term change, said Emily Weiss, global travel industry lead at Accenture, which advises airlines on returning to normal.
“The CO2 emissions from the pandemic have shown that even a large reduction in air traffic is not the only answer to neutralizing the climate threat,” she said. “In order to achieve a more sustainable future, we need cross-industry cooperation in connection with a more environmentally conscious consumer attitude.”
“It is not possible to stop traveling entirely”
However, with signs of international travel reopening, waiting for a wave of sustainable tourism is not an option – especially for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the industry for livelihoods.
“Stopping travel altogether is not feasible,” said James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Group, a travel company specializing in sustainable tourism. “In fact, tourism offers myriad benefits for communities around the world and for travelers themselves.”
Instead, travelers can opt for greener travel options that suit their price range and schedule, said Thornton, whose company operates 21 public transportation. For example, train travel can be a new way to experience a new place with far lower emissions than air travel.
“Traveling responsibly doesn’t mean making sacrifices or staying home,” he said. “It’s about planning trips carefully so that you can enjoy the experience you want while leaving a positive footprint in the destination you visit.”