The environmentally-aware traveller represents one of the fastest growing niche markets in the tourism, travel and leisure sectors today and this discerning market is set to become one of the key income generators in global tourism over the next decade. For the southern African travel industry, this global trend presents an opportunity for sustainable growth, but this will require tourism professionals to understand the profile of the ‘green’ traveler and how to meet their expectations as a service, establishment or destination.
‘These days, nobody can “go green” simply because it is the right thing to do – even though it is. Every company and organisation around the world is operating with higher budget scrutiny, and demonstrating a return on investment (ROI) has become an important consideration for travel decisions,’ says Thomas Roth (pictured), President of US CMIGreen Community Marketing Inc. and speaker at the EMiT conference in November.
Roth is a contributor to the international CMIGreen Traveler Study, which surveyed the purchasing habits, travel behaviour, environmental commitment, expectations and motivations of 1,736 self-defined, eco-conscious travellers to produce the report.
‘The Green Traveler study is not another initiative about how many people recycle; there is sufficient data on that. It is a comprehensive profile of sustainable travel consumers, and it fills a need for concrete data on this distinct, desirable niche segment. Until now, no one has had a clear idea about who sustainable travellers are or what they want – because they have been defined mostly by spending figures,’ says Roth.
Difficult to understand
Without the insight that this study provides, it had been difficult for tourism and hospitality leaders to understand and serve the interests of this increasingly important segment. Nor has it been possible to establish consistent standards for sustainable travel. In fact, this study has found that consumers are often confused and skeptical about green travel claims, and this in turn undermines many marketing initiatives. Marketers, sustainable programme designers and other stakeholders at travel and hospitality companies need to understand the green travel spectrum in order to know where their customers fall in it, and what motivates them.
‘As the planet continues to heat up and resources become scarcer, every other sector of the economy is going to be adopting sustainable practices, ; perhaps at different stages. Whether it happens now or at a later stage, going green and making environmentally sensitive decisions makes business – as well as environmental – sense,’ he adds.
Tomorrow’s eco-conscious travelers are considered as being well educated, more aware of their travel impacts and financially relatively well-off. They will increasingly make their travel choices based on the environmental status of destinations, products and services and while they could be considered trendsetters in this respect, experts believe that what is today still regarded as a niche in travel will soon become the mainstream source as the rest of the market follows.
A critical time
According to Roth: ‘This is a critical time in travel and tourism – particularly when supply begins outstripping demand for product, and in order to avoid a catastrophic meltdown of the industry – whether from government regulation, shifting consumer behaviour, or both – the industry has to become authentically more sustainable, and has to communicate this to its customers in a credible way.’
Roth is just one of the speakers to join an impressive line-up of local and international specialists discussing different aspects of tourism sustainability at the upcoming Environmental Management in Tourism (EMiT) conference which takes place from 9-10 November 2011 at the Sandton Sun Conference Centre, Johannesburg.
EMiT is sponsored by the Gauteng Tourism Authority and Southern Sun Group, and supported by FEDHASA, SATSA, SAACI, the Event Greening Forum and FTTSA. The event is partnered with WTM’s World Responsible Tourism Day and Green Globe Certification, and is being held in conjunction with the 10th annual Imvelo Responsible Tourism Awards.