NEW YORK—New research from Booking.com that contains insights gathered from more than 29,000 travelers across 30 countries suggests that the pandemic has been the tipping point for travelers to commit to sustainability, with 63 percent of U.S. travelers believing people have to act now to save the planet for future generations.
As the world of travel starts to open up again, Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report reveals that U.S. travelers are more committed than ever to do so in a mindful way, with just under half (46 percent) stating that the pandemic has influenced them to want to travel more sustainably in the future and almost half (42 percent) admitting that the pandemic has shifted their attitude to make positive changes in their everyday lives, with recycling (49 percent) and reducing food waste (38 percent) being the top priorities at home.
According to the findings, U.S. travelers that commit to sustainability daily are consistent with their intentions for future trips, with 81 percent wanting to reduce general waste, 78 percent wanting to reduce their energy consumption (e.g. by turning off air conditioning and lights when they are not in a room) and 72 percent wanting to use more environmentally friendly modes of transport such as walking, cycling, or public transport over taxis or rental cars.
Respect for the local community is also high on the list as almost two thirds (65 percent) want to have authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture when they travel, 74 percent believe increasing cultural understanding and preservation of cultural heritage is crucial, and 68 percent want to ensure the economic impact of the industry is spread equally in all levels of society. Furthermore, 65 percent of those surveyed that commit to sustainability will go as far as avoiding popular destinations and attractions to ensure they aren’t contributing to overcrowding challenges and helping do their part to disperse the positive benefits of travel to less frequently visited destinations and communities.
Breaking Sustainable Travel Barriers
Many of these sustainable pledges are coming to fruition, with U.S. travelers revealing that while on vacation in the past 12 months, 31 percent made a conscious decision to turn off their air conditioning/heater in their accommodation when they weren’t there, 36 percent took their own reusable water bottle rather than buying bottled water while on vacation, and 28 percent did activities to support the local community. In fact, almost half (48 percent) have admitted that they get annoyed if somewhere they are staying stops them from being sustainable, for example, by not offering recycling facilities. The positive signs are indeed there, but there is still room for improvement, with more than half of travelers not yet thinking about the local community during their trips or taking small steps to minimize their impact.
While 66 percent of U.S. travelers say they want to stay in a sustainable accommodation in the upcoming year—which is a slight decrease from 68 percent in 2016, when Booking.com first conducted its sustainable travel research and up four percent from 62 percent in 2020, just prior to the pandemic—barriers still remain. In fact, when looking just at the 40 percent of U.S. travelers that said they have not stayed in a sustainable property in the past year, 37 percent said they didn’t even know that they existed, 16 percent said they couldn’t find any options where they were traveling, and 26 percent said that they didn’t know how to find them. In fact, 42 percent of travelers still believe that in 2021, there simply aren’t enough sustainable travel options available.
In terms of awareness and intentions, travelers and properties do appear to be on the same page, with new research revealing that 82 percent of Booking.com’s global accommodation partners surveyed view sustainability in the hospitality industry as being important. This mirrors the 73 percent of U.S. travelers that commit to sustainability in their daily lives reporting travel accommodation sustainability as an important issue. However, although three out of four global accommodation partners say they have implemented sustainable steps at their property, only one-third (31 percent) actively communicate about their efforts proactively to potential guests, with this mostly happening at the time of check-in (59 percent), indicating that significant challenges remain to make sustainability information easy to access for travelers at earlier stages of the booking process.
Closing the Gap
Booking.com believes it has a responsibility to make sustainable choices easier, both for accommodation providers and travelers. The company is currently rolling out a program for properties that will support becoming more sustainable. The program includes sharing guidance, insights, and best practices with properties via various educational opportunities, including handbooks and dedicated content.
Booking.com is currently displaying over 30 certifications officially approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), Green Tourism, and the EU Ecolabel, as well as multiple hotel chain sustainability programs. The company is sourcing this information directly from the certification bodies and displaying it on the property pages of partners who hold one of these established third-party certifications. Booking.com is also encouraging its accommodation partners to update their sustainability information, which includes 32 impactful practices across five key categories: waste, energy and greenhouse gases, water, supporting local communities, and protecting nature. From this global roll-out, many properties have already started to share some of their sustainability information with Booking.com.
“Over the six years we’ve been conducting this research, it’s been inspiring to see awareness of the importance of sustainable travel consistently grow, both with our customers and now with our partners, too,” said Marianne Gybels, director of sustainability for Booking.com. “The good intentions are there on all sides, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make sustainable travel an easy choice for everyone. The more sustainable practices we can help our partners to identify and implement, the more we can experiment with how best to highlight this information to customers and ultimately make sustainability a transparent and easily identifiable part of their travel decision-making process. A small change like eliminating single-use plastics or switching to energy-efficient LED light bulbs might seem insignificant in isolation, but multiplied by millions of travelers and properties around the world, these small steps all start to add up to a much bigger potential positive impact.”