Beyond the hype:  American travelers' views on hotel greenwashing
May 31st, 2023, Bhavika Bansal

Beyond the hype: American travelers' views on hotel greenwashing

With environmental consciousness permeating various aspects of our daily lives, it comes as no surprise that 69% of travelers globally are actively seeking eco-friendly travel options in 2023 - as revealed by a recent World Travel and Tourism Council report. In response, the hospitality industry has embraced sustainability as a compelling selling point. In terms of travel accommodations, this often looks like messaging that highlights hotels’ green awards, green initiatives, sustainable supply chains and more. However, amidst the marketing hype, the phenomenon of greenwashing has raised scepticism about the authenticity of such claims.

A recent YouGov Surveys: Serviced study reveals that more than four out of ten Americans (46%) plan to take a leisure trip - domestic and/or international - in the next 12 months. This article examines the attitudes of these leisure travelers towards sustainable travel accommodations and unravels the dynamics between their expectations and actual practices implemented by hotels.

More than half of five leisure travelers in the US say that green issues are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ important to them when choosing a hotel or travel accommodation (56%) compared to just two-fifths of their transatlantic neighbors in Britain (42%).

However, data from the survey reveals that the importance placed on green issues drops the older respondents get. While more than two-thirds of our 18-34-year-old respondents (71%) say green issues are important when picking a hotel, this proportion falls to two out of five amongst those aged 55 and above (41%).

Clearly, sustainability is an important consideration for prospective leisure travelers in the US. But do these travelers spend any time learning about a travel accommodation’s green policies and, if so, where do they usually gather such information?

While a fifth of all leisure travelers say they have never learnt about a hotel’s environmental practices (20%), less than a twentieth of leisure travellers who think green issues are an important factor in their choice of hotels, say the same (4%).

Nearly six out of ten leisure travelers for whom green issues are important say that they usually learn about a travel accommodation’s green efforts through the provider’s website (59%), followed by more than half who do so using social media (52%) and three-eighths who rely on word of mouth (37%).

A closer look at the data also tells us that a hotel or travel accommodation’s green claims are substantially likelier to influence leisure travelers who think green issues are important (42%) compared to an average of all prospective leisure travelers in the US (28%).

Notably, when asked about exaggerated green claims, more than two-fifths of Americans intending to take a domestic and/or international leisure trip in the next 12 months (42%) revealed that they have, at some point, come across such misleading claims.

Amongst these American leisure travelers who have, at some point, come across false green claims by travel accommodations, three out of eight say hotels mislead in their claims about reducing waste and pollution (38%). This is followed by more than a third of respondents who say hotels have exaggerated their policies and practices about energy consumption (34%), recycling programs (34%), and reducing water consumption (34%) and carbon emissions (33%).

A quarter of respondents indicate that they have been misled about a hotel’s commitment to preserving natural habitats (25%) and efforts to support local communities (24%) while nearly one in five have come across misleading or spurious green certifications (18%).

However, misinformation is only a part of the problem. “Token sustainability efforts” - small steps towards sustainability presented as significant environmental initiatives but do not adequately address larger sustainability concerns – are also a major cause for worry.

An insight into the perspective of American leisure travelers reveals that more than a third of respondents (35%) consider the practice of paperless check-in a ‘token sustainability effort’ followed by 31% who feel the same way about towel reuse programs.

While a quarter of the respondents think carbon offset programs (24%) are token sustainability efforts too, a little more than a fifth feel the same way about sustainable décor (22%) and reusable guest water bottles (21%).

Interestingly, female leisure travelers in the US are more skeptical of most sustainability efforts by travel accommodations compared to their male counterparts – especially when it comes to the towel reuse program (36% vs. 27%).

On the other hand, men are substantially more critical of carbon offset programs than women (26% vs. 23% respectively).

Evidently, greenwashing is a prevalent problem in the world of sustainable tourism. There is also a clear gap between the expectations of the eco-traveler and the green practices hotels implement or claim to implement. Given the rising awareness and consciousness amongst consumers about the actual implementation of green practices, commitment to their green claims can be a key factor for hotels and travel accommodations to gain long-term consumer loyalty and prosperity.

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Methodology: YouGov Surveys: Serviced provide quick survey results from nationally representative or targeted audiences in multiple markets. This study was conducted online from March 30 – April 3, 2023, with a nationally representative sample of 2,452 adults in the US (aged 18+ years), using a questionnaire designed by YouGov. Data figures have been weighted to be nationally representative. Learn more about YouGov Surveys: Serviced.

Photo by Pille R. Priske on Unsplash