Pandemic is a turning point for sustainable travel, says new survey: 'We're at pivotal moment'

Booking.com's 2021 Sustainable Travel Report suggests more people are looking for eco-friendly tourism and accommodation options

The pandemic could be a turning point in sustainable travel. Courtesy Booking.com
The pandemic could be a turning point in sustainable travel. Courtesy Booking.com

The pandemic could represent a turning point for sustainable travel, according to a new survey by Booking.com.

Based on insights from more than 29,000 respondents in 30 countries, the report proposes that “we are at a pivotal moment in travel”.

Now in its sixth year, the annual Sustainable Travel report shows that awareness of eco-friendly tourism is at an all-time high, and there is a unique opportunity, as people begin to explore the world again, for good intentions to be transformed into concrete actions.

A growing number of travellers are taking sustainability into account when planning their travels. Courtesy Booking.com
A growing number of travellers are taking sustainability into account when planning their travels. Courtesy Booking.com

“Our research uncovers how the travel hiatus has opened travellers’ eyes to the impact, both positive and negative, that their trips can have on local ecosystems and communities around the world,” says Marianne Gybels, director of sustainability at the accommodation booking website.

Here are five key takeaways from Booking.com's 2021 Sustainable Travel Report:

Travellers want to be more sustainable

In the survey, 46 per cent of travellers said the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future, while 42 per cent admitted that the pandemic has also shifted their attitudes to making positive changes in their everyday lives.

Interestingly, this number varied widely across different countries. For example, 88 per cent of respondents from Vietnam and India said the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future, with 84 per cent in Colombia and Chile saying the same.

Travellers in Asia and South America seemed more attuned to the need for a change in their travelling habits, compared to Europe, the US, Canada and Australia. Only 30 per cent of travellers in Germany and the Netherlands said that the pandemic had encouraged them to travel more sustainably.

Sustainability is multi-faceted

Sustainability is not limited to environmental impact, something that many of the respondents in the Booking.com study seem to recognise. Cultural understanding and preservation of cultural heritage are crucial, according to 74 per cent of respondents, while 68 per cent want to ensure the economic benefits of the travel industry are spread equally across all levels of society.

Travellers recognise that sustainability extends beyond environmental concerns to also include social-economic issues. Courtesy Booking.com
Travellers recognise that sustainability extends beyond environmental concerns to also include social-economic issues. Courtesy Booking.com

Meanwhile, 65 per cent expressed a desire to have authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture when they travel. When it came to key concerns, 43 per cent cited excess waste, such as single-use plastics, as their biggest worry, while threats to wildlife and natural habitats, overcrowding at popular sites and carbon-dioxide emissions were other primary areas of worry.

People want more sustainable accommodation options

In the report, 61 per cent of respondents said they would be more likely to choose an accommodation provider that had implemented sustainability practices, while 48 per cent reported getting annoyed if somewhere they were staying stopped them from being sustainable.

People are actively seeking sustainable accommodation options. Courtesy Booking.com
People are actively seeking sustainable accommodation options. Courtesy Booking.com

But barriers remain. More than 40 per cent of respondents claimed there still aren’t enough sustainable travel options available in 2021, and 53 per cent said they still find it harder to make sustainable choices while travelling than in their everyday lives.

Notably, 49 per cent view their holiday as a time to escape and relax, without having to think about sustainability.

Small changes can make a difference

They might feel like a drop in the ocean, but even the smallest changes, when multiplied exponentially, can have a lasting effect.

“Eliminating single-use plastics or switching to energy-efficient LED light bulbs might seem insignificant in isolation, but multiplied by millions of travellers and properties around the world, these small steps all start to add up to a much bigger potential positive impact,” says Gybels.

Multiplied by millions of travellers and properties around the world, these small steps all start to add up to a much bigger potential positive impact

Marianne Gybels, director of sustainability, Booking.com

Luckily, the report found that 78 per cent of travellers want to reduce their water usage and energy consumption while travelling, for example by turning off the AC and lights in their room while they are not in it, while 72 per cent want to use more environmentally friendly modes of transport.

Also, in increasing instances, these good intentions are being translated into actions. More than 30 per cent of respondents said they had made a conscious decision to reduce energy expenditure while travelling in the past year; 36 per cent travelled with their own reusable water bottle, rather than buying bottled water at their destination; and 36 per cent shopped at small, independent stores to support the local economy while holidaying.

Transparency is key

While many accommodation providers are making efforts to increase their sustainability credentials, in many cases they are not successfully communicating these initiatives to their guests.

More than 82 per cent of Booking.com’s accommodation partners claim to view sustainability as important, but 33 per cent do not believe they do enough to warrant communicating their efforts to guests. Notably, 32 per cent do not think their guests are interested, and 28 per cent worry that guests will find their communication on sustainability issues patronising.

“We are helping to support our partners in their efforts to become more sustainable, providing education and inspiration to take the next important steps on their journey,” say Gybels.

“This starts by encouraging them to identify and share the sustainability practices they already have in place with us, so that we can make this information transparent and easy for travellers to discover when they are searching for a property on our platform.

"In addition, we have also started to display over 30 certifications officially approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), Green Tourism and the EU Ecolabel, as well as multiple hotel chain sustainability programmes on Booking.com.”

While the 2021 survey shows a clear upswing in sustainable travel practices, largely attributable to Covid-19, more progress is needed if the pandemic is to mark a real turning point in the way the world travels.

“Over the six years we’ve been conducting this research, it’s been inspiring to see awareness of the importance of sustainable travel consistently grow, both with our customers and now with our partners, too,” says Gybels.

“The good intentions are there on all sides, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make sustainable travel an easy choice for everyone.”

Updated: June 10, 2021 06:04 PM

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