Conscious travel: beyond the environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about how we live and what we value. When it comes to travel, a recent survey conducted by Economist Impact indicated it has changed the way people think about sustainable tourism.

The survey of more than 4,500 respondents across nine Asia Pacific countries – Australia, Japan, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand – revealed COVID-19 has made sustainable tourism more important to 7 in 10 (71.8%) people.

This rings true elsewhere in the world. Business Travel News reported on the recent Business Travel Show Europe in London, where a panel of industry figures discussed the growing interest in travelling more sustainably.

Amy Taylor, senior director product strategy at travel software company SAP Concur, said their research had shown that not being able to travel sustainably on the route had ‘crept into the decision’ about whether employees would travel or not.

Michael Riegal, general manager, Europe at travel management company TripActions added that clients were spending more time looking at their carbon emissions data on the company’s dashboard. He said there had been behavioural change in clients using trains instead of flights for some journeys.

Beyond the environment

Interestingly, while the environment is commonly associated with sustainability, the Economic Impact survey found travellers considered the economic (46.7%) and social (41.3%) aspects of sustainable tourism more important, closely followed by cultural and community facets.

Of the respondents:

  • >60% are conscious that communities are in need of economic recovery
  • 64% want to meaningfully connect with local communities and culture next time they travel
  • 66% said it’s important that their travel habits are creating a positive impact for locals.

According to Economist Impact’s White Paper: “Sustainability is often linked to environmental or climate concerns, with a focus on issues like avoiding single-use plastics and reducing carbon footprint, but the survey finds that travellers in Asia-Pacific have a holistic approach to sustainable travel and are thinking deeply about their travel habits, behaviours and their implications beyond the environment alone.”

What does this mean for businesses?

More than half (54.5%) of respondents said they were willing to pay a premium for sustainable travel options, to varying degrees, while 57.2% said they would actually avoid destinations or activities that would negatively impact the environment and community.

“This tells us two things. One, that businesses have an opportunity to create new revenue streams by innovating different ways to experience travel. Two, businesses that are serious about sustainable tourism can positively influence their brands,” the White Paper stated.

In the context of business events, it can be assumed that more attendees will expect business events to meet a range of sustainability objectives, not just environmental ones.

This market expectation is more likely to be met by companies that can demonstrate a comprehensive range of impacts and legacies across the four pillars of sustainability: Human, Social, Economic and Environmental.

Learn more about the Economist Impact Survey.