A growing number of consumers are making travel decisions based not just on price and experience but on environmental sustainability. So called ‘Green Travel’ is making up an increasing percentage of the market as travelers become more environmentally sensitive and socially conscious. The United Nations has even gone so far as to declare 2017 the Year of Sustainable Travel for Development, encouraging nations, organizations and commercial entities to set goals around green or eco-tourism. The Year of Sustainable Travel for Development has several goals:
- Inclusive and sustainable economic growth
- Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction
- Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change
- Cultural values, diversity and heritage
- Mutual understanding, peace and security.
There is a reason for setting such goals. The travel industry isn’t just a pleasing diversion from other economic activities, but one of the largest contributors to global GDP and resource usage. The industry generated about $7.6 trillion in revenue in 2016, about 10% of the GDP of the entire earth while providing 292 million jobs in travel and associated industries. That’s more than 10% of the global workforce and represents a key industry in many developing countries. About 1.2 billion people travel internationally each year, nearly one in seven people in the world. Considering the size of the industry it’s not surprising that experts say even small changes in how business is done can have huge consequences.
Green Travel or Ecotourism according to the U.N has three fundamental principles: environmentally friendly practices (such as using avoiding non-biodegradable materials, recycling waste and so on), protecting natural and cultural heritage (such as wilderness areas and historic monuments) and supporting local economic development (buying local produce, employing local staff.etc).
There are currently three main trends within this movement. The first is sustainable adventure tourism where travelers immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the environment with the minimum of human interference and harm. Intrepid’s zero-carbon tour offerings are good examples of this, using local partners and purchased carbon credits to create an ecologically responsible travel experience.
The second is typified by consumers voting with their wallets to select ecologically sustainable alternatives. Examples of this include cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, who aim to use only sustainably fished seafood on their ships by 2020 and power all new ships in the line with natural gas to reduce pollution. Or hotels like the Hotel Skyler Syracuse in New York which heats its buildings with geothermal energy or the Hotel Brooklyn Bridge which uses reclaimed materials in its décor and offers electric car service to guests.
The third type is travel to places where work on sustainability is broader, where visitors can participate in a local community which is ecologically and environmentally sustainable, rather than green ventures being aimed specifically at the travel industry. Examples of this include cities like Copenhagen, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2025.
More and more additional Green Travel opportunities are opening up each year, guaranteeing that this movement is more than just a passing fad but a permanent feature of the travel preferences of a great and growing number of consumers.