By Anthony Lu, Regional Director, Partner Services for China & Mekong at Booking.com
COVID-19 has amped people’s awareness about their impact on the environment and local communities, and we are seeing heightened mindfulness among travelers on how they want to travel more sustainably in the future. Less is more is the new travel mantra. Our industry must adapt to the travelers’ sustainable mindset for the long-term.
How COVID-19 has impacted Northeast Asian travelers’ sentiment towards sustainable tourism
A year of limited travel has opened many of our eyes to the impact our trips can have on the planet and local communities. With sustainability being fast-tracked to the top of many travelers’ agendas, I am glad to share with you some of the latest traveler insights towards sustainable travel from our Sustainable Travel Report 2021, which gathers insights from over 29 thousand travelers across 30 markets.
Our research has found that over eight in ten (84%) Chinese travelers say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future. As a result, we would expect to see a rise in travelers actively searching for more sustainable options. Whether it’s for environmental protection like choosing eco-accommodation or for local community benefits like preserving cultural heritage, traveler intentions are growing to be more thoughtful with each trip that they take, at least according to our research. Meanwhile, the activations and adaptations vary among the areas in Northeast Asia, which means there is lots of potential for our industry.
Key ways in which Chinese travelers are making more sustainable choices
We are seeing many Chinese travelers already taking small but important steps that will have positive impact
To be more specific, we found that almost half (48%) of Chinese travelers have made a conscious decision to turn off their air conditioning or heater in their accommodation when it is not required. Nearly six in ten (57%) say that they took their own reusable water bottles, rather than buying bottled water while on vacation.
And it is worth noting that making sustainable choices is not just limited to eco-focused actions such as reducing energy consumption. Chinese travelers in recent trips are consciously also seeking out ways to support local communities too, as almost a quarter (23%) indicate having shopped at small, independent stores during their travels.
What travel industry players should do to help customers find and make sustainable travel choices
With travelers starting to think more holistically about their impact, our industry can certainly support their intent in making travelling sustainably easier, more accessible and transparent. We know that building a truly sustainable travel industry will take time, coordination and concerted effort. But through product innovation, partner support and industry collaboration we can make sustainable travel easier for millions of customers worldwide.
There is much we can do to provide a wider offering of sustainable travel experiences. We are encouraging our accommodation partners to update their sustainability information across five key categories: waste, energy and greenhouse gases, water, supporting local communities and protecting nature.
From this global roll-out, hundreds of thousands of properties have already started to share their sustainability information with guests, which can be viewed on their property pages. By doing this, we hope to make sustainability a transparent and easily identifiable part of travelers’ travel decision-making process, thus further putting more of their sustainable travel intentions into action.
Advice for organizations who want to be more sustainable
We all have a part to play in ensuring that we have a world worth exploring—now and in the future. I encourage every one of our partners to take the next positive step towards this goal—no matter where you might be on this journey, no matter how small you think that step might be.
While we know that some of our accommodation partners are incredibly knowledgeable already when it comes to sustainability, the majority of our partners are at earlier stages in their sustainability journey. That is why we are sharing guidance, insights and best practices with our partners via various opportunities like handbooks and dedicated content on our website, or a joint effort with some of the leading experts in the field. For instance, in 2020, we worked with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to help support our partners on reducing single-use plastics while maintaining safety during the pandemic. And we all need to challenge ourselves and our industry to become more sustainable in the future.
What we all can do to travel more sustainably in the future
Taking a more sustainable approach to the way we travel does not have to be hard or expensive. The first step is to be aware of our impact and to make a conscious effort to do better and be better.
We can start small, for example, by considering how we can support local communities in the destinations we travel to—visiting and purchasing from local artisan stores; or reducing and eliminating our use of disposable plastic water bottles.
For example, I appreciate and am now practicing some small acts personally during the trip, like using more environmentally-friendly means of transport and reusing the same towel to reduce water usage.
These actions might seem insignificant in isolation, but if multiplied by millions of travelers like you and me, these small steps all start to add up to a much bigger positive impact. And when done responsibly and sustainably, travel truly can empower marginalized communities, expand opportunities, preserve cultural heritage, help regenerate delicate ecosystems and, ultimately, ensure there is always a world worth experiencing.