Where green travel is going

Carbon footprint jet

Not so very long ago, being green was deeply in the closet. If you were a lux­ury prop­erty, espe­cially, you hid your green­ness. It was unbri­dled excess and unbounded pam­per­ing you promoted, not … ugh … sustainability. Green was for granola-grazing New Agers and less-is-more ascetics. Travel was FUN. Travel was CAREFREE. Who invited that party pooper, Mr. Green?

Now, of course,  Mr. Green is on everybody’s A-list. This has happened very quickly. You can’t pick up a newspaper travel section or travel magazine without seeing the “G” word scattered everywhere, like droplets of holy water. Independent online booking agents such as Whole Travel jumped in to point to green options for travelers (and are still doing an excellent job). By the beginning of 2009, mega-reservationist Travelocity had added green travel booking tools, never mind that these tools were so buried on its site that a green blogger complained you had to belong to a “super-secret club” to find them. Today we’re all in the club—there’s a link on Travelocity’s home page. Expedia has its own green listings now, too. And TripAdvisor has its GreenLeaders Program for hotels and B&Bs in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

At the same time, the world has realized that the world is in deep, deep trouble—the Inconvenient Truth, as it were. Where does that leave green travel? Do we just stay at home and watch polar bears drown on television? No. That would be too depressing. We humans need interaction with other humans, and with the world’s magnificent diversity of human and natural environments. So travel we must, and travel we should. So we go green.

Green travel today

But what should traveling green mean, really—beyond the pro forma reminder to reuse bath towels and switch off the lights when you go. What should we expect from a green venue? What is the state of the green travel segment today, and where is it heading? In short, where is green travel going?

A few statistics would be good here.

In a 2013  TripAdvisor survey, 79% of travelers said implementing eco-friendly practices is important to their choice of lodging, and 85% of U.S. hoteliers indicate they currently have green practices in place.

66% of U.S. travelers believe their travel choices can make a difference to the environment, according to a recent PhoCusWright study; and more than 51% of meeting planners will hold meetings only in sustainable venues (Global Sustainable Tourism Council and Imex Global survey 2010). The U. S. Travel Data Center estimates that 43 million U.S. travelers are “ecologically concerned.”

46% of European business travelers say their company’s environmental policies have a direct impact on their travel.

Nearly 1/3 of U.S. travelers are willing to pay a premium for green travel.

67% of respondents  to a major 2011 survey by hospitality giant Accor said that a sustainable hotel is as comfortable as a conventional hotel, and 70 per cent said that they prefer a hotel with sustainability credentials.

The number of “dark green” consumers—those who select earth-friendly products for most of their purchases, travel or otherwise—increased in 2011, and now make up 9% of the consumer market.

56% of U.S. travelers are skeptical about what hotels and other travel destinations are telling them about their green practices. In the UK, the skeptics climb to 63%—yet the green travel market in England projects robust growth of 25% per year.

Only 8% of U.S. travelers think it’s easy to find green travel options.

Overall, the auguries are very promising. Travel Weekly recently reported that the number of baby boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials seeking authentic green experiences in their search for deeper meaning in their vacations continues to grow.

Green travel tomorrow

Where does this leave us? Our conclusions … and a few predictions:

Green travel is here to stay, and it’s growing. Likewise, greenwashing. People are right in their skepticism, but we must not let ourselves stray into cynicism. Being green or not being green does matter. And you can tell the difference.

Green travel should be transparent in its greenness. Increasingly, it isn’t enough for a hotel or tour company to claim it’s green because of this, that and the other thing—being green is certifiable, and ensures a continual upgrading of green practices. Short of 3rd-party certification, look for detailed information about green practices on a property’s Website and onsite. The good ones are proud to do show and tell.

Expect to be delighted

To thrive, green travel has to be great travel. You may have heard this from us before. It’s our own little mantra. In other words, don’t lower your standards to travel green. Expect to be delighted. Be willing to pay a bit more if necessary—because the experience is worth it. The mediocre players will fall away, the best will be recognized and thrive.

A word about lean economic times. It’s only natural that, when times are tough, we tend to refocus on price. Green travel is seldom the rock-bottom option, although enlightened hospitality managers like Travelquest’s Stephanie Lee understand it’s entirely possible to have “an environmentally sustainable and value-for-money vacation.” The word “value” is important—green vacations are healthier for you as well as the planet, and your well being is, well, priceless.

But prices for green value are likely to come down. Billy Connelly of  Gap Adventures points out that many green venues are finding savings through sustainable management and might increasingly be able to pass on these savings to consumers. “It is possible to deliver sustainability and value without raising the prices,” he says. “Over the long term, responsibility and efficiency can be very cost-effective paths.”

As with green living in general, innovation will make green travel more commonplace, more widespread. Alternative energies like solar and wind are becoming less costly. Passive energy systems like geothermal are proving both reliable and cost-effective. Alternative fuels like algae- or jatropha oil-based biofuels have been tested successfully by several airlines. (The Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines, wants 10% of aviation fuel to come from biofuels by 2017.) We can’t innovate ourselves out of global climate crisis—only much greener government policies and radical retooling of our industrial and agricultural sectors might have a chance of doing that. But if airlines successfully reduce their carbon wingprint  (air travel is approaching 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions), that will be huge … and will ease our collective consciences about continuing to fly.

And finally … the more things change, the more they stay the same: it comes down to personal responsibility. For your own green travel practices. For the travel choices you make. Your support of local green businesses and indigenous communities working to preserve native culture and eco-sensitive traditions has ripple effects—with travelers and locals alike—who might choose to do the same. Your individual impact might be small but the cumulative impact is great.

Supporting the best in green travel, now and into the future—that’s where we hope you’ll go. We’ll see you there.