As the cost of living has increased in the past couple of years, it is creating a dilemma for consumers who are also interested in traveling more sustainably.
A new survey by Booking.com of more than 33,000 respondents from 35 countries and territories finds nearly half – 49% — believe more sustainable travel options are too expensive. That’s a dramatic increase from the online travel agency’s similar survey last year that put that number at just 11%.
The results are included in the company’s 2023 Sustainable Travel Research Report out today.
While the data shows economic concerns are top of mind for respondents, consideration of climate issues is also increasing. The percentage of respondents who want to travel more sustainably in the next 12 months is 76% in the latest report, up from 71% in 2022 and 61% in 2021 from Booking.com’s similar surveys.
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But the question of how to choose sustainable options while also watching their wallets is weighing on consumers as they think about future trips. According to the report, “While nearly half (49%) think the environment will get worse in the next six months, 64% believe the cost-of-living crisis will also get worse, leaving people unsure of what to prioritize as they work to reconcile what is important to them with the demands of everyday life.”
A lack of information and options for sustainable travel also continues to be a barrier for consumers.
In the latest report, more than half (51%) of travelers believe there are not enough sustainable travel options, while 74% want travel companies to offer more sustainable travel choices (up from 66% in 2022) and nearly half (44%) say they don’t know where to find more sustainable options as they are planning a trip.
“We recognize that our global scale and reach could drive universal change across a segment that has historically been fragmented and complex, while solving for some of the challenges consumers have experienced in identifying a more sustainable choice,” said Danielle D’Silva, Booking.com’s head of sustainability.
Booking.com is continuing to grow its Travel Sustainable program, launched in 2021. More than 500,000 accommodations on its platform now have a “Travel Sustainable Badge” to help consumers identify their efforts to operate more sustainably.
In addition, the OTA will soon indicate in flight searches when a certain route or carrier is offering a relatively lower emission option, and it recently introduced a new search filter for electric and hybrid rental cars on its app and website and added “100 Electric” as a tag to filter taxi options in 95 cities worldwide.
Kayak, Expedia Group, Google take action
Several other organizations and brands say they are trying to help people choose greener travel.
Kayak has unveiled the 2023 City Index for Mindful Travelers. The interactive guide ranks more than 160 cities around the world based on 28 factors, including mass transit, airport carbon accreditation, air quality and local markets.
“With the new City Index for Mindful Travelers, we are making it easier for mindful travelers to make informed choices when exploring city destinations,” says Per Christiansen, senior vice president of marketing at Kayak.
Expedia Group is also acting on this topic and “is committed to mobilizing its vast network of travelers, partners and peers to enable more responsible journeys,” said Aditi Mohapatra, the company’s vice president of global social impact and sustainability.
We’ve increasingly been hearing from our travelers that they expect travel options in line with their values.
Aditi Mohapatra – Expedia Group
“We’ve increasingly been hearing from our travelers that they expect travel options in line with their values,” Mohapatra said. “At Expedia Group, we want to empower travelers to act more sustainably through better information and enhanced eco-conscious travel options.”
The company is working to build “trusted sustainability information” into its products, developed within the Travalyst Coalition. Expedia Group is testing product features including estimates of flight emissions, sustainability practices of hotels and electric and hybrid vehicle filters for car rentals.
In September, Expedia Group launched its Open World social impact and sustainability strategy with the aim of “advancing a travel ecosystem that is open, accessible and responsible for all.”
Over the past year, Expedia Group has also connected with stakeholders to create a Climate Action Plan, set to be released later this year, that Mohapatra said will promote more sustainable travel options across its platforms and incentivize travelers to choose them.
Expedia Group has also partnered with the Travel Foundation to launch a capacity-building program for destination marketing and management organizations (DMOs) this summer. Mohapatra said the program will provide practical training to DMO staff and create “climate champions” who can apply a sustainability lens to strategic planning and decision-making.
Google aims to help people make more sustainable choices in their everyday lives, and that extends to the travel research and booking process, said Craig Ewer, communications manager for Google.
Google introduced updates in September to help users more easily find sustainable travel options, with a new “Less emissions” filter for flights and a new “Eco-certified” filter for hotels.
The company in 2021 launched sustainability features to make it easier for people to understand and compare more eco-friendly options for flights and hotels. Google hopes that as more people choose lower carbon flights, Ewer said, it will signal to airlines that consumers want to prioritize sustainability.
Travalyst Coalition seeks to unify approaches
One of the biggest hurdles in promoting sustainable travel is developing a consistent approach to measuring the environmental impact of someone’s travel choices, he said. People need to trust the information they’re seeing before they act, and consistency across platforms is part of how the industry builds that trust.
To that end, Google joined the Travalyst Coalition in 2021 and is helping to lead the organization’s efforts to create a data framework.
The coalition, which along with Google and Expedia Group includes Amadeus, Booking.com, Skyscanner, Travelport, Trip.com Group, Tripadvisor and Visa, is working to unify approaches to “help travelers make lower impact choices every time they book a trip,” said Sally Davey, Travalyst’s chief executive.
“We collect and share sustainability data on a global scale, ensuring that all the work we do is transparent, independently validated and, over time, open access,” Davey said, “so anyone in the travel industry can use it.”
And in December, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Travalyst announced they would align their emissions calculations.
The most vital part of making a good decision is having the right information, and consistent sustainable travel information has never before been available at scale — until now.
Sally Davey – Travalyst
“The most vital part of making a good decision is having the right information,” Davey said, “and consistent sustainable travel information has never before been available at scale — until now.”
Other industry groups are working to get the word out about companies’ sustainability efforts.
The new Journey To Clean initiative, led by the U.S. Travel Association, highlights “more than 100 examples of sustainable travel practices from a diverse cross-section of more than 50 travel businesses.”
“The travel industry embraces sustainability initiatives and business practices because it is good for the planet, and it’s good for business,” says Geoff Freeman, the trade group’s president and CEO.
“By utilizing Journey to Clean, travelers can have a better understanding of the many sustainable options across the travel ecosystem and make decisions that best align with their values.”
The Global Hotel Alliance, a United Arab Emirates-based alliance of independent hotel brands, has launched Green Collection to spotlight “nearly 200 hotels, resorts and palaces that are demonstrating their commitment to protecting people and the planet.”
Every Green Collection property has attained at least one certification from a globally recognized environmental organization, including EarthCheck, Green Growth 2050, Green Key and Green Globe. The certifying bodies require hotels “to meet the highest international standards for sustainability initiatives and performance, with regular third-party audits conducted to retain certification,” according to the hotel alliance.