Global: Consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable travel
November 19th, 2021, Eva Stewart

Global: Consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable travel

The Covid-19 pandemic upended the travel industry when it took centre stage last year, but it also forced travel marketers and businesses to adapt. This can be viewed as a good thing – an opportunity to rebuild and innovate in ways that better suit the needs of our customers.

As it turns out, the pandemic has made many consumers more cognisant of their impact on the environment.

New research from YouGov reveals consumers across the globe want to live more sustainably and carry through on that desire when it comes to travel. But there are still some key barriers to choosing sustainable travel options around price, ease of information and accessibility.

The importance of sustainability to consumers and businesses

YouGov surveyed consumers in the US, UK, Australia, Germany, South Korea and Japan to measure which environmental and social issues are most important to them. More than half of those surveyed say caring for the environment is important to them (55%). What’s more, 48% believe increasing sustainability to tackle climate change is a critical issue.

To put this into perspective, these two issues seem just as important to respondents as the issue of improving access to healthcare (50%). Furthermore, they occupy a higher degree of importance in the minds of consumers than other topics such as ensuring access to fair justice for all (40%), improving social equality (40%) and animal welfare (40%).

Consumer concern for environmental issues isn’t equal across the world stage, however. For instance, consumers in the UK (63%), Germany (60%) and Australia (59%) are significantly more likely than the overall sample to say caring for the environment is an important issue. South Koreans (56%) and Germans (53%) are significantly more likely than Americans (44%) to believe working on sustainability to tackle climate change is an important issue.

The pandemic shifted consumption and lifestyle behaviours around the world and YouGov’s sustainability study reveals a third of global respondents say they are making more sustainable choices in their lifestyle than they were 12 months ago (34%). The growth of sustainable practices during the pandemic is highest among Australians (46%) though Brits (40%) and Americans (39%) also stand out. German (27%) and Japanese (15%) consumers rank lowest in their propensity to say they have been making more sustainable choices during the last 12 months.

Sustainability appears to be more than just a trend too; more than two in five (44%) global respondents say they are making the same sustainable choices as 12 months ago suggesting that, at the very least, they are maintaining their sustainable practices. This seems especially true of Germans, more than half of whom say they are keeping up with the same sustainable choices over the last 12 months.

The opportunities and challenges in sustainable tourism and hospitality

The study indicates that, as part of their concerns about the planet, consumers want travel to be “greener”. Roughly two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed say it’s vital that travel be more sustainable but who do consumers believe should play a role in achieving this?

Half of consumers hold that individuals such as themselves should be responsible for making travel more sustainable (53%). They’re even willing to place their wallets behind making their travel purchases more sustainable; at least one in three say they would pay more for an environmentally friendly flight (35%). Australians and South Koreans express the highest rate of willingness to pay more for sustainable flights (41% in both markets).

But it is the travel industry that consumers point to as being most responsible for achieving sustainable travel. While travel helps people connect with one another and explore the world, the travel industry as a whole is now expected to play a role in addressing sustainability in travel by nearly three in five global consumers (59%). When asked who should be most responsible, 21% of global consumers point say it’s the travel industry, followed by citizens (19%) and national governments (19%). Brits (70%) and Australians (65%) are especially likely to say that travel brands must play a role.

A growing number of travel companies are responding to this consumer expectation and taking a stand to reduce their carbon footprints. These companies’ increasing involvement in sustainability not only draws in customers looking to have a positive impact on the world but can have a notable impact on the environment.

Some airlines run carbon offset programmes that allow passengers to offset the emissions of their flights with donations. For example, JetBlue purchased offsets for more than two billion pounds of CO2 since 2008.

As it stands in the current travel landscape, a quarter of global consumers believe there aren’t enough sustainable travel options (26%), rising to 32% among Brits. A similar share of global consumers say they would like to travel more sustainably but don’t know how to (23%).

Skyscanner – a search engine for flights and travel providers – finds that making sustainable flight options clearer and more visible to customers is both effective in drawing attention to these options and even influences consumers to purchase them. The company saw a 43% increase in travellers choosing to carbon offset their flights when it made these sustainable options clear during the check-out experience.

There is a clear demand for sustainable travel options and even a willingness to pay more for them. The costs associated with sustainability will have to be balanced carefully, especially with consumers proving sensitive to travel prices. The study reveals that a quarter of consumers say price is still more important than sustainability considerations when it comes to selecting their flights (24%).

The pandemic has made people stop and think about the world we live in and how we can protect it. Ever-growing interest in travelling sustainably unites travellers with the brands that make their vacation dreams possible. Understanding consumer views on how we should strive to achieve sustainable travel can help brands figure out their roles in the next frontier for travel.