Article | by Becki Hemming

Ethical, green & conscious - learning from the sustainable travel upswing

 

This article is part of The Great British Staycation

Building on the solidarity and compassion we’ve found during the pandemic, travel and holiday providers have new opportunities to answer the needs of the sustainable traveller looking for more eco options.

 

When you read the word, ‘sustainability’, keeping the planet healthy is probably one of the first things you think of. But it’s not just our environment that needs to be maintained. Local economies, living conditions and employee wages should also be sustainable for a thriving travel offering that doesn’t leave a negative impact in its wake. As Helen Coffey wrote for the Independent, “if a hotel has composting toilets but barely pays its workers a living wage, is it really the better choice?”

 

In Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report, 64 per cent of travellers said they wanted to stay in “sustainable accommodation” in the year ahead. However, as people, we’re terrible predictors of what we’ll do in the future and a significant number of us have inconsistencies in predicted and actual behaviour. Travel is no exception. But the recent pandemic does tilt things in favour of sustainability.

 

More people are primed to be compassionate tourists coming out of the pandemic.

 

In crisis events we see collective values of solidarity, altruism and compassion come to the fore. Community behaviours like wearing face masks to protect others, can have a knock on effect on what we consider in other areas of our lives (Cheng, Lam, & Leung, 2020). With growing awareness of the negative impacts travel can have, more people are primed to be compassionate tourists coming out of the pandemic, as they consider local economies, communities and environmental impacts (Bechwati, Baalbaki, Nasr, & Baalbaki, 2016; Geiger, Otto, & Schrader, 2018). So what can travel organisations do to help their audiences make more sustainable decisions and maximise on profits?

 

What is sustainable travel?

There are various terms used to describe a sustainable offering. Sometimes these descriptions are incredibly vague and too often used as a greenwashing tactic to capitalise on eco-conscious spending. Audiences are getting smarter at spotting inauthentic claims of sustainability and will look for actions and initiatives to demonstrate that it’s more than lip service. 

 

The environmental, social and economical factors that play a part in whether travel is sustainable can get overwhelming very quickly. Brands that can simplify this for us and make it clear how they are acting sustainably, will make us feel better in choosing to spend with them. Google’s ‘Eco-Certified’ tool, makes it easier to identify sustainable hotels, displaying information from waste reduction to water conservation and energy efficiency. 

Pura Aventura, a travel company with sustainable priorities, released carbon labelling this year. The UK tour operator introduced labels for itineraries as part of its preparation to become a certified B Corporation – the premier sustainability certification only awarded to brands that are legally committed to balancing purpose and profit. “The complexity we have is that all our trips are tailor-made – so we can’t say we’ve got 50 trips and let’s measure the carbon of each one,” says co-founder and CEO Thomas Power. “Every trip is different. You need a live tool – so we built it into our database.”

  • How might we make it simple for audiences to understand how you act sustainably?

"How might we?"

Our ‘how might we’ questions turn the opportunity into addressable questions, to spark new ideas. We're sharing them to help you trigger thoughts for how your brand may implement solutions.

Tip: When answering these questions, don’t only think about your existing services, solutions, and revenue streams, but also consider how you might create new ones for this market. 

Learning from ecotourism

Beyond wanting to make sure we don’t leave a negative impact on the places we travel to, we’re increasingly looking to leave a positive contribution behind. “Up until now the sustainability leadership has been about reducing negative impacts from the production… such a narrow perspective is not enough.” Dennis Pamlin, Accelerator Net-positive and Digital Sustainability at Cybercom.

Much Better Adventures is a travel provider with a sustainability conscience. It offers adventure travel as a way to benefit local communities and back important conservation work to protect wild and beautiful places. On its mission to build the world’s most positive impact adventure company, the organisation continually communicates initiatives that address our climate and biodiversity crises.

  • How might we enable customers to leave a positive contribution to the places they travel to?

 

Reimagining the slow travel experience

It’s not just where you're going, it’s also the journey there. For those of us that fly, air travel is likely to be the most significant portion of our carbon footprint. Increasing awareness of this has led people to explore alternatives. Typically, taking a train has between six and eight times less carbon impact than taking a plane. It’s also often a lot longer. Those who embrace this travel time as part of the experience itself, and have the luxury of that journey time to spend, are feeling the benefits. There is growing interest in slow travel (we looked at that too in this article - Link to Emma’s), mindfulness in being present and joy in connection in journey downtime spent with friends and family. 

We’re seeing brands looking to offer travel services that will cater to this preference. Midnight Trains is looking to disrupt the image of sleeper trains in Europe by offering a premium experience. 


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Inside a Midnight Train. Image from TimeOut.com

 

It’s launching its first routes in 2024, with eventual routes planned from Paris to Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Denmark, and Scotland. European Sleeper is an overnight sleeper train company that’s launching in April 2022. Its route will go from Brussels to Prague via Amsterdam and Berlin. American train operator Amtrak will offer new high-speed routes along the Northern Corridor in 2022 with an increased focus on hospitality. By shifting the perceptions of negativity around slow speed and low quality travel to a more premium offering that is part of the enjoyable travel experience, these organisations will be looking to offer sustainable value. 

  • How might we add value to travel experiences alongside sustainable journey options?

 

New business models for a new travel ecosystem

Travel providers can take cues from organisations in other industries addressing sustainability. The fashion industry has a severe impact on our planet and local communities, but brands are looking to additional services and alternative business models to help address this. 

Houdini is an outdoor clothing brand that isn’t satisfied to stop at making sure all materials used are recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or Bluesign certified. It is creating secondary business models to design a whole new system so that customers can use the products but still consume less. With Houdini Reuse, customers can shop used garments in stores and online. A rental service allows customers to access garments without needing to own, store and care for them, so Houdini can give more people access to their clothes without having to make more. A pilot subscription service provides access to a library of clothes that can be switched whenever customers want to for different environments, seasons and occasions.

Another fashion brand with a sustainable mission at its heart is Vivobarefoot. With the aim of keeping their shoes on customers’ feet and away from landfill - where over 90% of the 24 billion pairs of shoes produced each year end up - the barefoot shoe brand offers its own repairs service.

  • How might we build a more circular travel economy with complementary services and alternative business models?

 

What businesses can learn from this travel trend

In our post pandemic society, we’re primed to choose more sustainable and regenerative travel options. And we’ll feel good about it. The travel brands that offer clear initiatives and compelling services to make it easy for us, will win hearts, minds and wallets.

  • How might we make it simple for audiences to understand how you act sustainably?
  • How might we enable customers to leave a positive contribution to the places they travel to?
  • How might we add value to travel experiences alongside sustainable journey options?
  • How might we build a more circular travel economy with complementary services and alternative business models?

 

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