3 Trends Shaping Eco-Travel and How to Avoid Greenwashing

March 28, 2023

With efforts to combat climate warming on almost every public agenda and tourism constantly under the microscope, sustainability-focused travellers are more demanding of travel operators and hotels. The Latest Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 showed that the geopolitical conflicts and climate crisis are putting the 17 SDGs in jeopardy.

2022 saw increased environmental efforts from eco-conscious companies, but not only. While almost half of Ikea’s wood comes from sustainable forests, and Panasonic made some efforts to keep its carbon footprint in check by helping employees avoid driving to work, several notable sustainable efforts were also made in industries with higher eco-awareness concerns. For instance, in the blockchain industry, Ethereum developers slashed the cryptocurrency’s energy needs in 2022, cutting the network’s carbon footprint and energy usage by approximately 99.99% each. Meanwhile, Binance is providing an energy-efficient and sustainable marketplace for NFTs.

As everyone contributes to climate change, consumers seek ways to adapt their lifestyles. According to Booking.com’s 2023 Travel Predictions, people are shifting their focus from cities to nature, and a rise in eco-friendly stays with strong sustainability credentials is expected this year.

If you want to step up and contribute to environmental efforts for a greener tomorrow, it’s worth discovering the trends that are transforming eco-travel this year.

Eco-friendly hotels

Fighting climate change is not an option anymore for hotel managers; it's a must that ensures long-term business health. According to Deloitte’s 2023 Travel Industry Outlook, aiming to help companies recalibrate their management strategy for the year ahead, the demand for environmentally-friendly travel options is rising as the public is increasingly aware of humans' contribution to climate change. Another Deloitte research reports that 68% of consumers regard climate change as an emergency.

The recent Booking.com survey of global travellers shows that 53% are more willing to travel sustainably than a year ago. The authors of the Deloitte report noted that the extent to which these aspirations translate into travel preferences, as well as the willingness to spend more for greener options, is unknown, particularly when prices are already high.

While these may be true, more travellers are willing to accept higher costs to support more environmentally friendly hotels and businesses. As per Expedia + Skift, half of the consumers might voluntarily pay more for transportation, lodging, and other activities, were they more eco-friendly.

Environmentally-conscious practices in luxury hotels

As sustainability is no longer an option but a necessity for every top-tier hotel or resort, becoming more eco-friendly doesn’t only contribute to environmental efforts but also the company’s brand image. They improve the company’s reputation, appealing to a new generation of eco-conscious guests. Moreover, sustainable practices can help increase efficiency while cutting operational costs, bringing long-term financial benefits.

Implementing sustainable practices can range from complex initiatives like using renewable energy resources to simple undertakings like recycling and reducing waste. For instance, many sustainable hotels have embraced solar and wind power, reducing their non-renewable energy dependence and carbon footprint.

Hotels Magazine reported last December that energy prices had fallen from their peak in the 3Q of 2022 but were still higher than in the 3Q of December 2022. Since the market is unpredictable and hit by inflation, no one can predict where the prices will be in a few months.

Increasingly more hotel owners are seeking new systems and enhanced green technology to help them save energy.

More sustainable transportation

According to the J.D. Power 2022 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study, car rental agencies are predicted to provide more electric vehicles this year, for two reasons. Once, they are responding to governmental financial incentives, and twice, they are trying to attract more sustainability-savvy members.

On the other hand, decarbonising aviation is a more futuristic objective. Sustainable aviation fuel derived from waste oil is crucial to shaping a net-zero carbon-producing industry by 2050, but more investments in technology are required. Swiss and other airlines are designing hydrodynamic fuselage skin to minimise drag, and a parade of innovations is expected this year.

France’s ban on domestic flights and other similar actions encourage people to embrace train travel, an eco-friendlier option.

How to avoid greenwashing when travelling

To tackle the issue of "greenwashing" in tourism, we must first grasp what it means. Greenwashing is a type of deceptive marketing that presents a company, product, or service as being superior in terms of environmental efforts and climate change, without providing clear proof to support these arguments. In layman’s words, when a business makes a lot of noise about the importance of sustainability, but it’s just empty words with no concrete action. As a consequence, travellers can fall into a marketing trap, paying more to travel sustainably and guilt-free but ending up using services that don’t align with what was promised.

On the other hand, eco-conscious companies work hard to ensure they share common values with society, offering travellers an eco-friendly and memorable experience.

A travel business may claim that it is sustainable while not recycling or helping the local communities. In contrast, others may unintentionally engage in "greenwashing" simply because they wish to talk about something they think might solve climate change.

How to spot and avoid greenwashing practices? Well, they’re difficult to identify, to start with. Sustainability is quite a complex topic, and thorough research is needed in order to see if there’s enough data to back up their marketing claims.

Several tellable signs of greenwashing in tourism can be:

  • Suggestive photos depicting a message, like a tour advertisement showing people planting a tree in a forest, when, in reality, the company might not adhere to such beneficial practices;
  • False and undeserving “green”, “eco”, “all-natural” labels that only make a company stand out from the crowd because customers are more likely to choose these services;
  • Vague claims that can be misinterpreted by customers, like promoting a well-preserved destination but not contributing to anything to maintaining it that that way.
  • No proof or access to support their words, or lack of customer access to such verifications.

2023 is shaping to be a transformative year for travel, with many trends gaining ground and contributing to environmental efforts and a greener future.

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