Post-Pandemic Travelers Care About Sustainability, But Won’t Pay More for It

Image: Austin Zhang/Pexels

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A new survey by travel company Virtuoso found that 82% of people say the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future and that 72% of people believe that travel should support local communities, preserve cultural heritage, and protect the planet.

But another study conducted by The Vacationer found that while sustainability is somewhat or very important to a vast majority of travelers, convenience takes priority for nearly half. Experts are now looking for solutions that will allow travel, strengthen communities, and protect the planet without cutting into traveler’s budgets. 

Why This Matters: Tourism is crucial economies across the world.

  • This industry took an enormous hit in 2020 due to COVID-19, but in 2021, it’s predicted to bounce back, reaching a market size of $1.7 trillion. But along with this much-needed economic boost comes increased emissions from the transportation sector.
  • The aviation sector produces about 2.4% of global emissions and is responsible for about 5% of global warming.

Since travelers are reluctant to spend the money and time necessary to ensure their travel is sustainable, industries and governments must step up to limit the emissions and environmental impacts of tourists. 

Eat, Pray, Love the Planet

Sustainable travel will have to cost more if it must reduce its carbon footprint, and there are signs that a niche market for this can emerge,” said University of Delaware Professor Dr. Srikanth Beldona. Only one-third of surveyed travelers said they would be willing to spend between $50 and $250 to offset the carbon emissions of their trip. According to myclimate’s carbon offset calculator, a romantic couples trip from New York to Paris would create 3.8 tons of CO2 and cost $118 to offset.

Experts say that extra costs disincentivize consumers from prioritizing sustainability. So how do we build a sustainable travel culture?

Firstly, aviation companies can set net-zero goals and make investments to offset their carbon footprints. Already, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have set carbon neutrality goals. A new industry has also emerged to help consumers plan environmentally friendly vacations. Nora Lovell-Marchant, the vice president of global sustainability at American Express international business travel, said that this route is very promising, even in a post-pandemic world. “Rather than overshadow the issue, the Covid-19 pandemic has roughly doubled the rate at which businesses and local governments commit to reach net-zero,” she said. 

Experts are emphasizing balance. Not only between travel and sustainability, but between the types of travel people participate in. “Traveling responsibly is not about making sacrifices or staying home,” said James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Group. “It’s about planning trips carefully so that you’re able to enjoy the experience you seek while leaving a positive footprint in the destination you’re visiting.” He suggests that travelers seek out fun, sustainable ways of traveling, like riding trains to their destination.

But Emily Weiss, global travel industry lead at Accenture, says that achieving balance is more than just a consumer task, “It will take cross-industry collaboration coupled with a more environmentally conscious consumer mindset to achieve a more sustainable future.”

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