Could Sustainable Travel boost recovery for Travel Operators?

Travellers and consumers alike have a newfound appreciation for planet earth since the pandemic with 83% inspired to make sustainable travel a priority in the future. But sustainable travel is more than providing recycling options during tours. It is limiting damage, or in some cases providing a positive impact, to the cultural and natural environments we visit.  

So how does this fit in for operators? 69% of travellers anticipate that travel companies will cater to sustainable travel options this year, so incorporating sustainability into products and distribution matters now more than ever.

In this post, we will be looking at how operators can meet these sustainable expectations while still leveraging them to boost recovery.

How Sustainability Can Boost Recovery

The sustainable shift offers operators and the local community an excellent opportunity to thrive. Around (35%) of travel consumers have said that they are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly flight. It is a consistent pattern seen in the consumer goods industry, where customers are also willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. So going green is not just good for the environment; it also positively impacts your bottom line.

Two-thirds of travellers also want to support the recovery efforts of destinations and local communities. When communities are respected, paid fairly, and supported ecologically, it encourages innovation and new products or experiences. Hartleys Crocodile Adventure is the perfect example. It was built on a former farm overgrown with weeds. More than 7,000 native species were planted to restore the site, which is surrounded by World Heritage rainforest.

The owners, the Freeman family, established the North Queensland Wildlife Trust to match donations from visitors with more than $200,000 distributed to local conservation groups. Now, travellers and locals alike can enjoy the unique experience and natural habitats while leaving a lasting positive impact that benefits conservation.

Leveraging Sustainable Travel for Tours and Activities 

Here are some of the ways operators can embrace sustainable travel offerings and generate economic opportunity as a result: 

1. Turn towards sustainable distribution

With increased digitisation, sustainable travel distribution is becoming easier than ever to prioritise. Google’s latest ‘Things to do’ program increases traffic and direct online bookings. When combined with digital tickets or online check-in, you have a seamless experience and a hugely reduced carbon footprint compared to in-person or offline bookings.  

‘Things to do’ can also add an ‘eco-badge’ on the listings of sustainably-minded firms. For example, GreenKey or EarthCheck have highlighted a hotel for its positive impact on environmental practices. Potential guests can even find out about property-specific sustainability practices through a new feature that will also be available on Google Travel. For the eco-conscious traveller, this will help operators, attractions, and locations to stand out among the crowd. 

2. Look at ‘green credentials’ 

53% of travellers are willing to pay more for products that demonstrate their sustainability and responsibility, so accreditations and awards can go a long way to proving credibility. Time Unlimited Tours is an excellent example of how focusing on its impact has boosted its reputation. They have won the impressive Qualmark Gold Sustainable Tourism Award 2010 – 2021, which recognises those who have gone above and beyond to be an eco-responsible operator. Alongside their positive impact, this accreditation increases awareness, authority, and web presence for the business making them more popular among sustainable tourists.  

3. Be wary of local impact

A great example of how unsustainable travel can impact locally is Maya Bay in Thailand which you may recognise if you have seen the film ‘The Beach’ in the 2000s. After 6,000 people were visiting per day, 50% of the coral reef was destroyed, and the bay had to close to tourists for four years which had a devastating economic impact for the local area. 

63% of travellers do not want to join the crowds anyway, so creating unique, quieter tours and activities are in the best interests of everyone. Here are some examples of how operators could put this into practice: 

  • Turn sustainability into an experience like visiting coral nurseries, releasing turtles, or doing a collective beach clean-up with the locals. 

  • Work directly with local authorities and tourism boards to try and limit the impact in the area and understand when to stay away for the sake of animals and habitats, e.g., breeding season.

  • Support local charitable organisations that are fighting to solve issues ‘on-the-ground’. This could include incentivising travellers by committing a certain percentage of profits to local charities if they purchase through you.

4. Provide uniqueness through local partnerships 

Partner with locals for tours and activities to support communities that may not be paid a fair wage. Connect with local guides who can share areas away from tourist ‘hot spots’ and provide a unique and authentic experience. Promote local culture and cuisine through educational tours, locally made product markets, and tasting experiences in locally run restaurants. It all goes towards the local economy to people who are directly impacted. 

Just remember to thoroughly research who you are partnering with in-destination to avoid anyone whose contributions may undermine your sustainability efforts. 

5. Partner with eco-hotels

Eco hotels are designed to have minimal impact on the environment. Whether they use green energy or have practices that protect the environment, they are becoming the preferred choice of accommodation; 73% of travellers would choose a green hotel over a traditional one. For operators, partnering with hotels is common, but switching to sustainable options can enhance the traveller's journey while improving green credentials for the business.