Roughly one-third of travelers are concerned about maintaining environ-mentally friendly practices while on the road, according to a recent Deloitte survey. What’s more, the survey points out, 40 percent of travelers are willing to pay more for earth-friendly accomm-odations.
Those numbers underscore the changing face of travelers today. As the idea of protect-ing the earth seeps further into the conscious of consum-ers, hotels are finding guests of all types are placing more importance on the eco-friendly features of properties they choose to stay in. And that sentiment isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
“All of the research indicates that more and more travelers are looking to align their personal values with their consumption choices, so if price and quality are perceived to be equal, they’ll choose the more ‘green’ option,” says Brian Mullis, president of Sustainable Travel International, a Boulder, Colo.-based nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable development and responsible travel. “Some travelers are even willing to pay more. We see numerous examples of that, for instance, in the grocery store. Some weeks you might have a little more money in the food budget and you’ll buy organic or locally sourced food.”
Mullis says the same mindset goes for travel. “That’s a general characteristic, and in travel, in particular, [consumers] are looking for vacation experiences that have a positive impact,” he says.
It used to be the main things hotel guests were concerned about were simply good beds and good showers. While no one would suggest either of those things, and the other assorted amenities featured in hotels, have fallen by the wayside in terms of significance, other factors have joined them as dealmakers for potential guests. According to the Deloitte survey, business travelers, in particular, expect certain environmental actions at lodging facilities these days. Among the top expectations: recycling (77 percent), energy-efficient lighting (74 percent), energy-efficient windows (59 percent) towel/sheet reuse programs (52 percent), and the use of environmentally safe cleaning products (49 percent).
Additionally, the survey notes that seven out of 10 say the lodging industry is only “somewhat green”, and 23 percent say it’s “not at all green.”
The survey speaks volumes about the changing attitudes of travelers. They not only want hotels to be more environmentally sound, but they are also arriving at hotels with a different point of view. “More and more travelers are traveling more lightly and offsetting their carbon emissions. They’re searching out ways that they can give back to the places they visit, whether it be through donations of their time or monetary contributions to projects that they visited,” Mullis says. “We see it predominantly in the business sector, but I think it’s occurring more and more in the public sector.”
One of the reasons for the predominance in the business sector is that many corporations are addressing their own environmentally friendly practices, either by choice or necessity. “More companies are requiring their employees to stay at eco-friendly hotels,” Mullis says.
Travelers are also addressing their pocket books, seeking out ways to save on the cost of travel. For example, business travelers are often required to cut their transportation expenses, and leisure travelers are often looking to minimize their energy usage due to costs. That’s led travelers to be more apt to utilize public transportation, or seek hotels offering free shuttle service.
Who’s Being Green?
There is a consensus among researchers that green concerns have now made their way onto the business traveler’s agenda. Because business travel reaps repeat visitors, sustainability has become a market imperative for the lodging industry. But business travelers are not the only ones. According to a survey conducted by Y partnership, 90 percent of Americans claim to be environmentally friendly, even if their actual practices contradict those claims.
And the industry has started to notice, as nearly every major brand has established some sort of green initiatives. But the gap between expectations and reality still remains wide.
For one thing, there hasn’t been quantifying measure-ment for judging eco-travelers, unlike standards for busines-ses, such as The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification, until now. Last October, a consortium of 20 environmental groups released global sustainable tourism criteria. (See sidebar.)
But the gap mainly arises from the different definitions people have of “being green.” Most experts believe the definition of “sustainability” remains variable. “When we’re talking about sustainability, we’re talking about environmental conservation, cultural heritage, motivation and local economic development,” Mullis says, “so, when a lot of travelers think about traveling responsibly they think about their environmental impact.”
However, Mullis points out, more and more people are thinking about the other variables involved. “I don’t think you can give it a canned definition,” he says. About
the only definitive conclusion that can be drawn is that the travelers are making a conscientious decision to support environmental conservation, cultural heritage preservation and/or localized economic development.
While many travelers say they are environmentally conscious, it’s often hard to ascertain just how much. A lot of the time, travelers intentions are ahead of their behaviors. “Based on the research, they may perceive themselves to be green, but, for example, they might only engage in recycling,” Mullis says. “But they expect the businesses that they patronize to be doing more than just recycling, again, for example.”
It’s that type of thought processes that leads one to believe that the green movement is still very much a work in progress. “We’re really witnessing the evolution of the green movement,” Mullis says. “In my opinion it’s not a fad, because it has become part of consumer and corporate culture. But as it’s evolving, the average traveler doesn’t expect a business to be doing everything, but they do expect every business to be doing something.” n
Groups set a framework for responsible tourism.
The idea of environmentally friendly travelers often evokes images of hiking tourists in national parks or safari hat-wearing sightseers in the Serengeti. But eco-travelers come in all shapes and sizes, and can be as easily spotted at a New York City hotel as at an inn in New England.
However, the question is: Are those who say they are concerned about the environment when traveling actually pulling their weight when it comes to action?
While surveys report skyrocketing poll results that would make any politician jealous—some report numbers as high as 80 or 90 percent of Americans who consider themselves environmentally friendly—there really hasn’t been any standard measurement of sustainable tourism, until now.
In October, United Nations Foundation Founder Ted Turner announced the first global sustainable tourism criteria at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The criteria, which will be the minimum standard that any tourism business should aspire to reach, is the work of a partnership of organizations called the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The partnership was initiated by the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Foundation and the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
“Sustainability is just like the old business adage: ‘You don’t encroach on the principal, you live off the interest,’” Turner said in announcing the criteria. “Unfortunately, up to this point, the travel industry and tourists haven’t had a common framework to let them know if they’re really living up to that maxim.”
“Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries and a strong contributor to sustainable development and poverty alleviation,” added Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. “Over 900 million international tourists traveled last year and UNWTO forecasts 1.6 billion tourists by the year 2020. In order to minimize the negative impacts of this growth, sustainability should translate from words to facts, and be an imperative for all tourism stakeholders.”
Available at www.SustainableTourismCriteria.org, the criteria focus on four areas experts recommend as the most critical aspects of sustainable tourism: maximizing tourism’s social and economic benefits to local communities; reducing negative impacts on cultural heritage; reducing harm to local environments; and planning for sustainability. Educational materials and technical tools are being developed to guide hotels and tour operators in implementing the criteria.