Sustainable tourism

The challenge of sustainable tourism: Yes to a greener future but tourists won’t pay

The travel and tourism industry has been identified as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, making up approximately 8% of global emissions, according to the World Tourism Organization. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the industry’s environmental impact and a push for more sustainable tourism practices.

However, studies show that while tourists support the idea of eco-friendly trips, they are hesitant to pay extra for them. This presents a challenge for the travel sector as it tries to become greener while facing thin margins and a slow post-pandemic recovery. This article will explore the current state of sustainable tourism and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The state of sustainable tourism

A survey conducted by the German motor vehicle association ADAC found that 24% of travelers in Germany believe ecological sustainability is an important criterion when booking a holiday. However, only 5-10% of them would be willing to pay even a moderate sustainability surcharge. This sentiment is not unique to Germany, as studies have shown similar results across the globe.

The travel industry has tried to address this issue by offering carbon offset programs, where customers can voluntarily invest in projects that reduce carbon emissions. However, the uptake has been limited, with less than 3% of customers of Irish budget airline Ryanair using their carbon offset program. The effectiveness of carbon offsets is also questionable, as there is debate over the number of carbon offsets.

To encourage sustainable travel, some airlines and hotels have started offering “green fares” and asking customers to reuse towels, respectively. Lufthansa, for example, now offers more expensive green fares on some flights, which offset the burden on the climate by 20% through the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and 80% through the financing of climate protection projects. However, uptake of their existing opt-in charges has been very low at 0.1%. A trial run of their new integrated offer in Scandinavia showed an improved uptake rate of 2%.

Opportunities for sustainable tourism

Despite the challenges, the demand for greener tourism options is growing, particularly among younger generations. This presents an opportunity for travel companies to innovate and find creative ways to reduce their environmental impact without increasing costs. Many travel services are encouraging customers to adjust their habits, such as by renting hybrid cars or using bikes or public transportation. Time-slot bookings, which became popular during the pandemic to prevent overcrowding, are also an option to minimize visitors’ footprint locally.

Berlin-based platform GetYourGuide is reducing its impact by implementing queue management at popular tourist destinations, such as the Vatican, to prevent overcrowding. This not only reduces the environmental impact but also enhances the customer experience by reducing wait times.

The travel industry must find innovative low or no-cost solutions

Sustainable tourism is an essential component of addressing the global climate crisis. While tourists are generally supportive of eco-friendly trips, they are reluctant to pay extra for them. This presents a challenge for the travel industry, which must find innovative solutions to reduce its environmental impact without increasing costs.

While some companies are starting to offer green fares and carbon offset programs, uptake has been limited. To encourage sustainable tourism, companies must find creative ways to incentivize customers to make more environmentally friendly choices, such as renting hybrid cars or using bikes or public transportation.

The demand for greener options is growing, particularly among younger generations, and the travel sector has an opportunity to lead the way toward a more sustainable future.