Traveling well is the best revenge

Published April 13, 2021, 10 a.m. by Lara McCoy

Airport scene
Can consumers push the travel industry to be more sustainable in its post-covid recovery?

Someday – maybe even someday soon – people will find opportunities again to venture beyond the borders of their homes, cities and even countries. As we look to a less restricted future, are there any indications that we will make more sustainable choices?

From a macro level, the statistics so far say – not really. While there was a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions last summer and fall, by the end of 2020, numbers began climbing back to what they were before the coronavirus shutdowns began.

Nevertheless, a number of industries seem to have taken the past year as an opportunity to reconsider their impact on the environment. This is especially true in segments that are heavily influenced by consumer preferences.

The travel sector in particular seems to indicate a desire to embrace sustainability in the post-Covid world. A study from Japan released last December indicated that travelers intend to prioiritize sustainable experiences in their post-Covid trips, and tour operators are ready to deliver them. Australia, for example, is developing a portfolio of “restorative tourism” opportunities that allow visitors to engage on a more personal level with their destination while reducing their impact on fragile environments. At the other end of the spectrum, even large tour companies are putting sustainability messaging front and center. US-based tour operator Globus is featuring its new offering of curated “choice tours” while German travel giant DER Touristik is launching a new portfolio of sustainable trips in Europe, Turkey and Egypt. Even cruise lines are reconsidering their relationship to their destination ports in preparation for returning to sailing.

But can these efforts trump the overall desire to revenge travel? Will there be so much pent-up demand for trips that people will think even less than before about their carbon footprint?

Many experts are positive about the future of sustainable travel, at least in the near term. They anticipate that some of the dynamics shaping travel trends for the rest of 2021 and into 2022 will be an appreciation for the opportunity to go somewhere new and higher budgets for trips – both of which are positive for sustainable tourism.

Additionally, potential travelers are also being cautious, taking their time to select their next destination, leaving an opening for considerations like the environment to be part of the discussion.

In January, the UN Development Programme released the results of the People’s Climate Vote poll, the world’s largest survey on climate. The survey of 1.2 million people in 50 countries found that the majority of respondents want governments to prioritize green policies when investing in programs to help national economies recover from Covid-19.

Choosing travel destinations or programs based on sustainability is a way to prioritize a green economic recovery on a micro scale. The travel industry was among the most hard-hit by the pandemic, and the future of the sector will be heavily shaped by the choices travelers make in the early post-pandemic period. So, with more time and money to invest in travel, why not choose an option with a lower carbon footprint or an off-the-beaten-path experience with a local guide. After all, what could be better revenge on the difficulties of the past year than making choices that will improve our lives and destinations for the long term?