Covid-19 and subsequent travel restrictions left tourism facing devastation like no other with international arrivals plummeting in 2020. As tourism begins to reopen, sustainable tourism will play a pivotal role in driving green recovery across the industry. But only if all stakeholders get on board.

Climate change reveals the necessity of green tourism recovery

The devastating impact of climate change permeates the world. From extreme weather events, rising sea levels and soaring temperatures, the effects are global. The travel and tourism industry, which faced an unprecedented crisis due to Covid-19, is uniquely exposed to the climate emergency. Tourism is dependent on the natural resources which are at risk, employs a vast number of people both directly and indirectly and relies on carbon-intensive practices such as aviation. Consequently, rebuilding a tourism industry that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable is critical.

While tourism adjacent businesses and governments alike showcase a commitment to climate action, efforts and progress remain fragmented. Nevertheless, the ongoing COP26 conference has spurred a renewed focus on the environment. Furthermore, with tourism in the process of recovery, there is an opportunity to transform tourism’s relationship with the environment, by reassessing priorities, practices and long-term goals.

Sustainability is important to consumers

Prior to Covid-19, consumer concern for the environment was already growing. This can be seen most acutely in a global movement of the younger generation demanding stronger and more targeted actions from the public and private sectors. GlobalData’s Q3 2021 consumer survey* found that nearly three-quarters of global respondents (74%) consider environmental matters as extremely or quite important, which was found to be relatively consistent across all age groups. The same survey revealed that more than half of global respondents (56%) are more loyal to brands that support ‘green’ or environmental matters. Within travel and tourism, several consumer-driven trends have emerged. These demonstrate travellers’ increasing interest to embrace sustainable practices such as preferences for more environmentally friendly transport choices, slow travel, and consideration of business’ sustainability credentials.

However, there may be discrepancies between values that consumers express versus how they act while travelling. For instance, despite the purported importance of environmental matters, GlobalData’s Q3 2021 consumer survey* revealed that only 19% of global respondents typically take an eco-holiday, with this figure falling to just 8% for respondents 65 and over. Closing this value-action gap requires tourism suppliers to consider complex factors such as knowledge, budget, time, and a sense of personal responsibility. In tandem, travellers have an onus to incorporate their personal values into holidays choices.

Business as usual is no longer an option

Tourism can play a pivotal and proactive role by embracing green business practices that align with COP26’s vision for tourism’s transition to net zero. As such, travel can not only repair its image as a destructive force but set the stage for a new phase of global growth. With international arrivals in some countries not expected to exceed pre-Covid levels until 2024/25, according to GlobalData forecasts, it is critical that growth is sustainable and inclusive with positive contributions to local communities, natural ecosystems and cultural heritage which tourism depends on. To this end, it is crucial to encourage stakeholders at all levels to recognise not only the value of tourism but the importance of a sustainable approach.

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*GlobalData consumer survey Q3 2021 – 22499 respondents