By IC, Jul 23 2020 12:10PM
The travel industry is witnessing many countries fight to attract much needed tourism income post-lockdown to help revive their economies. Many potential travellers are, of course, concerned about the health risks of travelling and the changed experience while on holiday as destinations attempt to suppress the virus. However, one of the much talked about elements of the new normal is the increased importance of the environment. Our research showed that the definition of Eco-tourism was changing quicker than ever before the pandemic, and that is likely to only accelerate over the longer term and will create greater opportunities.
Consumers interested in ecologically focused holidays tended to look for the experience of a simpler type of holiday where there was little or no impact on the land, people, flora or fauna in which they were visiting. In some cases, specialist operators provided the opportunity for travellers to be ‘hands-on’ and volunteer with locally beneficial projects.
However, even before COVID 19, travellers were seeking a greater range of sustainable holiday options. We found that more travellers were searching for more eco-friendly getaways to find the right level of eco-friendliness for them. We saw a range of needs from fully immersive contributing experience to just wanting to know that they are supporting those hoteliers, tour operators and airlines that go beyond simple carbon offsetting.
For many, it begins with waste. Since consumers are more conscious about their production of waste at home, many would like to see travel companies make clear and transparent commitments towards the reduction of waste.
Finding notices in hotels about saving water and re-using towels/bed linen just doesn’t reflect what consumers are looking for now and what will influence their buying decisions. Seeing that excess food is donated to those in need, recycling food waste to local farms and generating fewer non-recyclables is just the start.
Consumers feel that travel companies’ eco-credentials should be made much more overt and less hidden. A hotel using mainly/only locally sourced produce or because it serves honey from its own bee colony should be made clearer. Consumers want to read stories from airlines or tour operators that provide business advice, practical guidance or financial support in sustainable local start-ups in the tourism industry.
Then we go from those mainstream eco-travel consumers to those for whom sustainability and zero-impact are no longer enough. ‘Enrichers’ are the new eco-tourists, they want to preserve, learn and appropriately enhance the area in which they are vacationing. For so many years, tourism has neglected the people, plants and animals at holiday destinations, but now we find both the wealthy and average income traveller looking for information on what travel companies give back, to make better informed decisions on which to use.
We see travel consumers wanting to enrich their own lives by learning from locals and their culture – the most desirable souvenir is knowledge imparted by someone whose life may be very different from their own. Volunteering and skills-based holidays are increasing in popularity as what some consumers want are reciprocal give and receive experience’s whilst away from home, things that perhaps might even benefit them in their everyday life or work.
So while eco-tourism may not be top of mind at the moment, it has already evolved significantly, and that change is only likely to accelerate, as it will do in many industires.