I just read an etiquette column in The New York Times where an adult daughter was lamenting that her father, who had just come into some unexpected money, was planning a blow-out birthday celebration by hiring a private jet to take the entire family to the Caribbean. The daughter’s primary focus in her request for advice was that private jets are not good for the environment. She also tacked on that she and her brother both have student debt, perhaps suggesting the money could be spent in a “better” manner.

The response from the expert was that that private jet was going to take off whether the daughter was on it or not, and could they perhaps purchase carbon offsets from a company that plants trees to make up for the jet’s waste of energy?

If this doesn’t sum up the luxury travel industry at this moment, I don’t know what does—blinged-out celebration getaways, spending money on experiences now rather than holding it for future generations, the desire for private travel and, yes, the objection that the luxury vacation in question will contribute to climate change. 

On our Europe roundtable discussion, the question of luxury travel being contradictory to sustainable travel was raised. There were two sides of the issue: Enjoying all activities privately, rather than in groups, consumes more energy. On the other hand, if a destination is trying to generate more revenue from tourism, it takes fewer travelers who are spending more to get to the stated goal. That raises another question: What is the future of mass tourism? What about the sun-and-sand vacationers who don’t mind being part of a massive crowd that fill a summertime hotspot to the absolute brim, potentially harming the environment?

There are many questions that the mention of sustainable travel raises. What does traveling responsibly mean to the individual? If it’s simply placing water bottles in a recycling bin as you’re ambling around a city, that’s a far cry from the traveler who refuses to stay in hotels that don’t have strong “green” practices, who is willing to give up some comforts to stay in a place that taxes the environment less.

Perhaps the furthest along with implementing a sustainable tourism industry is Switzerland, which launched “Swisstainable” last year; it’s a program with three levels of sustainability that suppliers can strive to achieve. Information about these suppliers’ efforts are then shared with travelers. Swisstainable-worthy tourism products are also bundled into travel packages by Kuoni and The Travel Corporation (TTC), which has long had its own sustainable enterprise, The Treadright Foundation.

The timing for all of these conversations comes just as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, wrapped up in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. During the conference, the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative launched its Roadmap, which outlines specific next steps with action areas and workstreams on topics such as travel, accommodation, energy, waste and measurement. So, organized change is afoot that will help better define what sustainable travel is, and better yet, how consumers can participate.

All of your clients care about sustainability in their own way. A good restaurant in my town recently got a one-star review on Door Dash because the food was delivered in a Styrofoam container, which disgusted the reviewer.

Then you’ve got the kids who are turned off to their parents blowing out their bank accounts like the Dad mentioned above who is renting a private jet for his birthday. Everyone has different measurements for disgust and varying levels of enthusiasm for spending their money before they die. It’s all just another part of your clients’ psyche you’ll have to tap in to when trying to craft that perfect sustainable luxury vacation for them.

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