Consumer Demand for Environmental and Social Policies from Travel & Tourism

“I pledge to demand to see the environmental and social policies of the companies with which I book my travels.”

Consumer behaviour drives Travel & Tourism products and services around the world. While the sustainable and responsible travel niche has grown over the past several years — both in terms of awareness and products marketed to the niche — travellers are still buying based on price and location rather than an eye towards sustainable trips and tour providers. Interestingly, an ever increasing number of consumers demand sustainability in other purchases, such as food and automobiles, but market research shows those same habits do not always carry over to T&T despite a need for sustainable practices. Only through consumer demand for sustainable and environmental policies will the industry continue to make the needed shift towards long-term sustainability.

According to the United Nations, the industry will need to “sustainably manage an expected 1.8 billion international tourists in 2030.” Even more, 57% of those international tourists in 2030 will arrive in emerging economies, where innovation and a commitment to sustainability can make T&T a vehicle to alleviate poverty and protect biodiversity in some of the world’s most delicate habitats.

The Sustainable Mindset

Research shows that travellers believe in sustainability and that awareness is only rising. The UN marked 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and evidence suggests that the shift in mindset and consumer focus on sustainability lies within the millennial generation.

A global study from The Nielsen Company in 2015 surveyed 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries. Data suggested that “despite high unemployment rates and low wages, millennials are willing to spend more for products that are environmentally friendly.” In fact, 66% of global respondents — up 11% from the previous year — noted they would “pay more for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.”

But which sectors are seeing the results of this rising awareness, and how does it play out?

Aligning Beliefs with Behaviour

Within the automobile industry, millennials in the U.S. are looking for inherently sustainable options over other measurements, according to a series of U.S.-based focus groups held by Business Insider. The results show that 47% of millennials ranked “product is inherently sustainable” as the most important measurement, ranking it higher than even corporate responsibility, which came in at 21%. In practice, when looking at automobile purchasing habits, millennials tend to most value inherently sustainable aspects of the car, like if it “uses little to no fuel and is good for the environment.”

But carrying that trend and awareness into Travel & Tourism has challenges. The long purchase cycle in T&T, and the varied types of travel experience, makes measuring consumer behaviours more difficult. Deloitte published a Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook for 2017 and noted:

“Perhaps most importantly, consumers are different travellers on different trips. Travel behaviour and preferences change dramatically depending on the context of a specific trip, such as traveling alone for business or taking a family vacation. It is extremely difficult for travel companies to predict intent before travel planners land on their website.”

While personalised data sharing from social networks may help some travel planning websites tailor information to travellers, the shifting priorities and long cycles between trips makes it “incredibly difficult for travel companies to capture enough behavioural data to determine actionable preferences.”

Which is where consumer demand comes into play. Consumers must use purchasing power to demand that T&T integrate sustainability into every aspect of the industry. It shouldn’t be called ‘sustainable tourism’ as a niche, but rather just ‘tourism’. That level of change comes from motivated consumers.

Demanding Environmental and Social Policies

Positive change in industry goes beyond intention and lies within the follow through. Travellers committed to sustainable vacations have options. Using accredited companies on your trip is first and foremost among the ways to emphasise your commitment to sustainability. Companies need to know you are motivated to purchase based on corporate environmental policies. In 2010, a Rainforest Alliance report emphasised the “need to demonstrate the positive impacts of certifications to businesses as certifications are currently not seen as a good investment of time and money.”

When selecting tour companies and hotels, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) emphasises four pillars for sustainability in tourism:

  • Sustainable management
  • Socioeconomic impacts
  • Cultural impacts
  • Environmental impacts (including consumption of resources, reducing pollution, and conserving biodiversity and landscapes)

Companies aligning with these pillars may have implemented a variety of programmes and services. Here are a few examples of the vast differences in company policies that are all contributing to a sustainable shift in tourism models:

What do these programmes have in common? A commitment underpinning a company’s actions to using tourism to support destinations, communities, and the environment. The UN World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as:

“Tourism that meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. Rather than being a type of product, it is an ethos that underpins all tourism activities. As such, it is integral to all aspects of tourism development and management rather than being an add-on component. The objective of sustainable tourism is to retain the economic and social advantages of tourism development while reducing or mitigating any undesirable impacts on the natural, historic, cultural or social environment. This is achieved by balancing the needs of tourists with those of the destination.”

Right now, travellers demanding sustainability in travel should look for accredited and certificated companies. The GSTC offers a large database of tour operators, hotels, and destinations that have met stringent criteria demonstrating an identifiable commitment to sustainability. And National Geographic collected formal geotourism programmes around the world that enhance the geographical character of a location. But that’s not all, the Rainforest Forest Alliance Certified seal guarantees the destinations and tour operators have implemented programmes to benefit local communities, ecosystems, and wildlife too.

There are countless other companies and destinations around the world aligning with sustainability standards. At the WTTC, the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards surface companies that are displaying the best practicing in sustainable tourism. This movement towards sustainable Travel & Tourism relies on support not just from the industry, but the travel consumers as well.


To learn more about what you can do to make your travels more sustainable, visit toomuchtoask.org


This post is part of a series about the various pledges that are part of the Is It Too Much To Ask campaign. You can view the campaign microsite here.

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