“Eco-Friendly Travel: The Large Discrepancy Between Travelers’ Beliefs and Actions”

A recent study by Phocuswright reveals a significant gap between what travellers believe about Sustainable Tourism and their actual practices. The research, presented at a conference in Florida, focused on six Western markets: the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Through an online survey conducted from June 2 to June 26, 2023, and in-depth interviews with various travel industry participants, the study gathered insights from over 5,000 respondents and 21 organisations. None of the participants knew they were being surveyed regarding Sustainable Travel. This underlines the differences between what travellers say and do without the focus on the environmental spotlight. 

Sustainable Travel – Tourists Intentions and Actual Behaviours

The presentation thoroughly explored the disparity between travellers’ sustainable intentions and actual behaviours. This insightful research, designed to uncover authentic travel patterns without the bias of sustainability as a focus, combined surveys and in-depth interviews with industry experts.

Traveller’s Understanding of Sustainability

The study found general confusion among travellers about what constitutes sustainable Travel. They are familiar with basic environmental measures, such as littering, recycling, using public transport (less so in the US), conserving energy in hotels, avoiding single-use plastics, and opting out daily hotel linen changes. Their grasp of cultural and economic sustainability is limited.

Green Transportation Choices

About half of the travellers in the US and Europe claimed they would prefer transportation options based on their carbon footprint rather than convenience. However, the number of those making eco-friendly transportation choices was closer to one in ten.

Lodging and Accommodation Selection

A similar pattern was observed in lodging choices. Despite a significant proportion of travellers expressing a preference for environmentally friendly accommodations, only 6% to 13% actually considered such factors among their top priorities when selecting lodging.

Destination Choices and Overcrowding

Many travellers expressed a desire to avoid overcrowded, famous destinations in favour of less crowded ones. While this area had a slightly better follow-through, a substantial gap between belief and behaviour existed.

Support for Local Communities

A notable discrepancy was found between travellers’ professed desire to support local communities and their actual practices. Less than a quarter inquired or verified if their choices (like food or lodging) were locally sourced or owned.

Perception of Responsibility and Impact

Many travellers do not see sustainability as their individual responsibility and believe that governments, destination organisations, or travel providers should lead sustainability efforts. This perception contributes to the gap between their sustainable intentions and actions.

Cost Concerns and Premium Tolerance

Many travellers perceive sustainable travel options as more expensive. However, they are willing to pay a premium (10-15% more) for recognisable sustainable choices.

Recommendations for Bridging the Gap

  • Increase and Highlight Sustainable Options: Travel providers need to offer more sustainable choices that are clearly marked and easily accessible.
  • Affordable Sustainability: Introduce options at various prices to ensure sustainability is not perceived as a luxury.
  • Education on Sustainability: There’s a critical need for comprehensive education about all aspects of sustainability, including over-tourism and cultural impacts.
  • Meeting Travelers Where They Are: The industry should work towards building a deeper understanding of sustainability among travellers, starting from their current level of awareness and misconceptions.

The presentation highlighted the urgent need to bridge the gap between what travellers believe about sustainable Travel and what they practice. This requires a concerted effort from travel providers to offer viable, sustainable options, clear communication, and education to help travellers make informed decisions that align with their sustainable intentions. 

There is no mention of attitudes toward flying. 

Nevertheless, the research didn’t touch on attitudes to the general concept of reducing air travel. This is a hard sell if your business model relies on carbon-intensive transport. According to the research, numerous travellers are prepared to pay more to make greener choices, which is positive news. Perhaps communicating the environmental benefits of reducing short-haul flights, particularly in Europe, may help spread a message of sustainable tourism.   

This study underscores the need for increased awareness and education about sustainable travel practices among consumers and the role of travel providers in promoting eco-friendly options.