We Can All Do Just a Little More: Column

With Earth Day having just passed on April 22, it’s hard not to think about the travel industry’s relationship with “sustainability.” Obviously, there are two sides to the coin. On the perhaps more publicized negative side, travel—particularly air travel—is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; plus, mass tourism can lead to overcrowding, putting strain on infrastructure and resources in popular destinations and disrupting local ecosystems and communities, and it can sometimes exploit local communities and cultures, commodifying them for the benefit of tourists and neglecting their needs and perspectives.

As for the positives, however, tourism can generate revenue for local communities and economies, providing jobs and supporting small businesses; it can encourage the preservation of natural and cultural resources, including protected areas and cultural heritage sites; and it can promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation, leading to increased tolerance and respect among different cultures and communities.

Matt Turner at Lovango Resort + Beach Club
Matt Turner, editor, Luxury Travel Advisor, is seen here
from his Treetop Glamping accommodation at Lovango
Resort + Beach Club in the U.S.V.I.
(Photo by Matt Turner)

The industry walks a tightrope when it comes to eco-friendly practices but with more intention, the pros can outweigh the cons. At a recent conference in Florida, cruise line executives spoke about all the sustainable practices they’ve put into effect, such as building ships powered by LNG (liquefied natural gas) and hybrid engines and plugging into shoreside power when available. We also received dozens of emails last month from public relations firms highlighting hotels that are adding social impact managers; offering wildlife education experiences or tree-planting or coral restoration programs; installing solar panels for clean energy; collaborating with local non-profits and much more. In other words: Your supplier partners are already implementing eco-friendly practices behind and, better yet, hands-on experiences for your clients.

Surprisingly, however, in the most recent Luxury Travel Advisor “Affluent Traveler Sentiment Survey,” nearly two-thirds of advisors (62 percent) said their clients are not any more aware of sustainable travel options than they were in the past. Similarly, Booking.com, in a survey of over 1,000 U.S. consumers, found that while 70 percent want to travel more sustainably over the next year, 49 percent don’t know where to find these options. One-third (32 percent) said they didn’t know sustainable accommodations existed and half (48 percent) admitted that they don’t actively look for the sustainability efforts of a property, but if this was easily accessible, they would consider it.

To me, that says we need to do a better job of educating the traveling public about the many, many companies out there that are doing great things. But booking an oftentimes more expensive eco-friendly resort is not the only option when it comes to sustainable travel; it can also be simple sustainable practices, such as walking or biking (if able) within destinations, supporting local restaurants and boutiques, traveling in the offseason, packing lighter and opting into carbon offsets.

The best part about these simple ways of being a more sustainable traveler? They often align with what luxury travelers are looking for. Resonance Consultancy, which surveyed U.S. households with an income of $500,000-plus and/or net worth of at least $11 million, identified “Conscious Consumption” as one of its top trends for 2023. This is any form of tourism that minimizes travel’s negative impacts and empowers local communities, feeds the local economy, assists conservation efforts or boosts connections between tourists and locals. So, it may take a bit more work to become familiar with some more eco-minded supplier partners or ways in which to make a trip more sustainable, but it will pay huge dividends—to the satisfaction of the client, to your bottom line and to Mother Earth.

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