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Asian Travelers Are Confused By Sustainable Travel: That’s an Industry Problem

  • 21 November 2022 04:22 AM
  • Eco

From India to Indonesia, Asian travelers are becoming increasingly conscious about sustainable choices — and perplexed by them. The travel industry needs to understand this — and failing to do so might be tantamount to greenwashing in the eyes of consumers.

Net-zero, carbon-neutrality, sustainable, offset — as popular as these words may be, do travelers really know what they mean? Would they value travel products with a sustainable label more than the run-of-the-mill ones?

Sustainability has always been at the core of successful tourism destination management. Insights from reports serve as a barometer for how broad consumer awareness is evolving over time when it comes to more sustainable travel.

However, most Asian consumers have mentioned that the top reasons that discourage them from making sustainable travel choices are lack of access and information and claims that are hard to verify. And can they be alone among global travelers?

With the growing consumer appetite for sustainable travel options, it is important that the information is shared in a transparent and meaningful way for consumers, so that travelling sustainably becomes an easier choice for everyone.

Compared to other regions, Asian travelers have a higher preference for sustainable travel at 95 percent, compared to 74 percent in the Americas and 69 percent in Europe, according to a recent Expedia Sustainable Travel Study.

Booking.com’s inaugural Asia Pacific Travel Confidence Index also reveals an appetite for sustainable travel amongst travelers.

In Southeast Asia, 51 percent of travelers would spend at least half of their monthly salary or more to travel sustainably, according to a recent BlackBox study.

The pandemic has also made consumers more aware of the environmental degradation caused by human actions, and compelled them to reduce the harm.

While some travel companies are trying to educate consumers and raise awareness, the road to sustainability is a long one, a sentiment that was also echoed at the Skift Sustainable Tourism Summit this year.

What Asian Travelers Want

When it comes to ‘walking the walk,’ it differs from person to person and country to country. For example, Japanese travelers view supporting local economies as the top sustainable travel choice, whereas Chinese holidaymakers believe lessening the environmental impact of their travel is most important.

“Asian travelers are not shying away from spending their money on sustainability-centric vacations such as eco-friendly and ethnically-run accommodations that align with their values,” observed Jeremy Tran, founder of Sainha, a firm that develops sustainability-centric business strategies.

Travelers from Asia have also shown an increasing desire to engage in more meaningful, mindful and sustainable travel, noted Laura Houldsworth, managing director and vice president of Asia Pacific of Booking.com

This intent to travel responsibly combined with travel and accommodation providers enabling such sustainable travel experiences is making travel more meaningful, according to Houldsworth.

A lot of Asian travelers choose sustainable destinations and accommodation naturally without “sustainability” being a particularly conscious part of the decision-making process, noted Ross Veitch, CEO and co-founder of Wego.

A lot of popular destinations in Asia away from the big cities, and many of the home-grown local hospitality brands, have evolved largely in harmony with local environments and communities on a more or less organic basis, said 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 said.

Indian travelers are just beginning to start the journey even as awareness around this is being created, said Rajesh Magow, co-founder and CEO of MakeMyTrip. The Indian online travel agency, which has recently become a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, called it very early days for sustainable travel in India.

Role of Stakeholders in Sustainability

Destinations and hospitality providers must do more to communicate their sustainability values and credentials, and nature-positive services to their target audience, observed Sainha’s Tran.

On a national level, some Asian governments have begun transitioning away from relying on mass tourism. A few hotels in Asia have also joined sustainability-led alliances with vigorous membership criteria while many others have gone through the assessment process to get a stamp of approval from independent sustainability certification organizations such as EarthCheck, Green Globe, and Green Key.

“Every corporate at some level is keen to adopt sustainable practices. Every travel player is keen to do it, we certainly are very focused,” MakeMyTrip’s Magow said.

Booking’s Houldsworth noted that there is enough reason to believe that travelers are paying additional attention to sustainable measures adopted by brands and also acknowledged that building a truly sustainable travel industry will take time, coordination and concerted effort by the industry and the government.

Product innovation, partner support and industry collaboration can help make sustainable travel easier for millions of customers worldwide.

“We want to make sustainable travel the way to experience the world — but we know this is not something we can do alone. If we want to make real, lasting change, we need to work with both our partners and the wider industry,” Houldsworth said.

More and more public and private tourism and hospitality players in Asia understand the urgency of addressing the climate crisis, noted Tran. “Many have begun adopting and integrating sustainability, which is a balancing act of the planet, people, and prosperity in their business.”

Destinations managed by enlightened governments have always had to carefully plan the growth of their tourism sector to increase visitor volumes while maintaining harmony with the local environment and community that made the destination popular in the first place, noted Wego’s Veitch.

“There are plenty of examples of previously popular destinations that have got this balance wrong,” Veitch said.

The attention and desire to be more sustainable is only set to increase manifold in the near future, said Houldsworth. “This is the perfect time for us to put a renewed focus on our sustainability initiatives — and it is mandatory I would say — if you are in the hospitality sector.”

There has been a much greater awareness in western markets among consumers that current carbon footprints and lifestyles are unsustainable, which makes Western consumers particularly susceptible to marketing messages around sustainability themes.

As a result, any destination or business that is targeting these Western consumers is ticking whatever boxes they need to, in order to include these sustainability messages, observed Veitch, and cautioned — “Some of this makes a difference, but a lot of it is greenwashing.”