Net-zero, carbon neutral, sustainable, offset – as popular as these words are, do travelers really know what they mean? Would they value travel products with a sustainable label more than ordinary products?
Sustainability has always been at the heart of successful tourist destination management. The insights from the reports serve as a barometer of how consumer awareness has changed over time regarding more sustainable travel.
However, most Asian consumers mentioned that the main reasons that discourage them from making sustainable travel choices are lack of access, information and hard-to-verify claims. And can they be alone among world travelers?
With consumers’ growing appetite for sustainable travel options, it’s important that information is shared transparently and meaningfully to consumers, so that traveling sustainably becomes an easier choice for everyone.
Compared to other regions, Asian travelers have a higher preference for sustainable travel at 95%, compared to 74% in the Americas and 69% in Europe, according to a recent Expedia study on sustainable travel.
Booking.com’s first Asia-Pacific Traveler Confidence Index also reveals an appetite for sustainable travel among travellers.
In Southeast Asia, 51% of travelers would spend at least half their monthly salary or more to travel sustainably, according to a recent BlackBox study.
The pandemic has also made consumers more aware of environmental degradation caused by human actions and compelled them to reduce the damage.
While some travel companies are trying to educate consumers and raise awareness, the road to sustainability is a long one, a sentiment that was also echoed at the Skift Sustainable Tourism Summit this year.
What Asian Travelers Want
When it comes to ‘going with the flow’, it differs from person to person and country to country. For example, Japanese travelers consider supporting local economies to be the top sustainable travel choice, while Chinese vacationers believe it is more important to reduce the environmental impact of their trip.
“Asian travelers are not shy about spending their money on sustainability-focused vacations, such as eco-friendly and ethnic accommodations that align with their values,” observed Jeremy Tran, founder of Sainha, a business that develops business strategies. focused on sustainability. .
Travelers from Asia have also shown a growing desire to engage in more meaningful, mindful and sustainable travel, noted Laura Houldsworth, managing director and vice president of Asia-Pacific at Booking.com.
This intention to travel responsibly, combined with travel and accommodation providers enabling such sustainable travel experiences, makes travel more meaningful, according to Houldsworth.
Many Asian travelers naturally choose sustainable destinations and accommodations without “sustainability” being a particularly conscious part of the decision-making process, noted Ross Veitch, CEO and co-founder of Wego.
Many popular destinations in Asia, away from major cities, and many local local hotel brands, have evolved largely in harmony with local environments and communities on a more or less organic basis, Veitch said.
“These destinations have always been popular with Asian consumers without them having to market their ‘sustainability’ as a virtue. I think it’s more of a Western market issue,” Veitch said.
Indian travelers are just getting started on the journey even as awareness about it is rising, said Rajesh Magow, co-founder and CEO of MakeMyTrip. The Indian online travel agency, which recently became a member of the World Sustainable Tourism Council, called it the early days of sustainable travel in India.
Role of stakeholders in sustainability
Destinations and hotel providers need to do more to communicate their sustainability values and credentials, as well as their nature-friendly services, to their target audience, Sainha’s Tran observed.
At the national level, some Asian governments have started to stop relying on mass tourism. A few hotels in Asia have also joined sustainability-focused alliances with rigorous membership criteria, while many others have gone through the assessment process to gain approval from independent sustainability certification bodies such as EarthCheck, Green Globe and Green Key.
“Every company, at some level, wants to adopt sustainable practices. Every travel stakeholder wants to do this, we are certainly very focused,” said Magow of MakeMyTrip.
Booking’s Houldsworth noted that there is enough reason to believe that travelers are paying extra attention to the sustainable measures adopted by brands and also acknowledged that building a truly sustainable travel industry will take time, coordination and concerted efforts by industry and government.
Product innovation, partner support and industry collaboration can help make sustainable travel easier for millions of customers around the world.
“We want to make sustainable travel the way to experience the world, but we know it’s not something we can do alone. If we want to bring about real and lasting change, we must work with both our partners and with the industry as a whole,” Houldsworth said.
More and more public and private tourism and hospitality stakeholders in Asia understand the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, Tran noted. “Many have started to embrace and integrate sustainability, which is a balance between planet, people and prosperity into their business.”
Destinations run by enlightened governments have always had to carefully plan the growth of their tourism sector to increase visitor numbers while maintaining harmony with the local environment and community that made the destination popular in the first place, a noted Wego’s Veitch.
“There are many examples of previously popular destinations that have a poor balance,” Veitch said.
The focus and desire to be more sustainable will only grow in the near future, Houldsworth said. “Now is the perfect time for us to put a renewed emphasis on our sustainability initiatives – and it’s mandatory, I would say – if you’re in the hospitality industry.”
Western consumers are much more aware that current carbon footprints and lifestyles are unsustainable, making Western consumers particularly sensitive to marketing messages on sustainability topics.
As a result, any destination or business that targets these Western consumers is ticking all the boxes it needs to include these sustainability messages, Veitch observed, and cautioned – “Some of these things make a difference, but much of it is greenwashing.
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