As common as the terms net-zero, carbon-neutrality, sustainable, and offset may be, do tourists genuinely understand what they mean? And do they still favor conventional travel products over those with a sustainable label?
Sustainable tourist destination management has long been the foundation of the tourism industry's success. Report findings are used as a gauge of how consumer awareness of more environmentally friendly travel is changing over time. However, most Asian consumers have stated that a lack of access to information and claims that are difficult to verify are the main barriers preventing them from making sustainable travel decisions. Can they remain alone among international travelers?
Given the increased consumer demand for environmentally friendly travel options, it's critical that information be distributed in a clear and useful way so that everyone can choose to travel sustainably. According to a recent Expedia Sustainable Travel Study, travelers in Asia had a stronger preference for sustainable travel than those in other continents, with 95% stating it was an important factor in their decision-making process, compared to 74% in the Americas and 69% in Europe.
The first Asia Pacific Travel Confidence Index from Booking.com also demonstrates tourists' interest in eco-friendly travel. Moreover, according to a recent BlackBox study, 51% of travelers in Southeast Asia would spend at least half of their monthly salary or more to travel sustainably.
The realization of those preferences varies greatly from country to country, as well as among individual travelers. For instance, Japanese tourists prioritize helping local businesses while Chinese vacationers place a higher priority on reducing their travel's impact on the environment.
Ross Veitch, CEO and co-founder of Wego, observed that many Asian tourists make sustainable choices spontaneously, without giving "sustainability" any thought during the selection process. Many of the locally grown hospitality brands and well-known tourist locations in Asia outside of the major cities have developed substantially in harmony with the surroundings and communities on a more or less organic basis, according to Veitch. “These destinations have always been popular with Asian consumers without them having to market their “sustainability” as a virtue. I think that’s more of a western market thing,” Veitch noted.
A truly sustainable travel industry will require time, coordination, and a concerted effort from the industry and the government, according to Booking's Houldsworth, who also noted that there is enough evidence to believe that consumers are paying more attention to sustainable measures adopted by brands.
Consumers in western markets are more conscious than ever that their present carbon footprints and lifestyles are unsustainable, making them more receptive to marketing messages with sustainability themes. Accordingly, Veitch noted that while some of this makes a difference, a lot of it may be greenwashing in disguise, which provides only more reason to emphasize transparency and equal access to information in the sector.