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Phocuswright 2023: Gap in sustainability ambitions revealed by new research

Phocuswright 2023: Gap in sustainability ambitions revealed by new research

A new sustainability report presented at the Phocuswright Conference has revealed a considerable gap between what people say and what they do when it comes to green travel.

The results were presented by Madeline List, Phocuswright senior research analyst, and shone a light on the preferences of thousands of travellers from across the US and Europe.

In the US and EU, around half of the respondents said they were more likely to choose transport based on carbon footprint rather than convenience. 

But, when asked why they chose certain transport options during recent travels, a much smaller number cited environmental factors as a reason.

Respondents said they were more likely to choose a hotel for its sustainability credentials than price. 

But of those that had booked, only 6-13 per cent said environmental reasons were among their top five considerations.

“People are more likely to follow through on what they say if they will directly feel the burn from not doing so,” said List. 

“For example, around half would rather stay somewhere less famous and less crowded – and many people actually follow through on this, as they are more directly affected by not doing so. 


“With environmental decisions, people care, but they do not directly feel the consequences of not following through on sustainable choices.

“Likewise, travellers want their money to benefit the communities they visit. 

“But when asked if they ever checked to see if what they bought was locally sourced, only one-in-four said they did. 

“Emotionally, people care, but they’re not taking the practical steps needed make those decisions.”

Travelers find sustainability confusing

Do travellers know what it actually means to travel sustainably? 

The majority of respondents said that they find the standards for environmentally conscious travel confusing – and the ones that are sustainability-orientated already are the ones that are more confused than the people that don’t care. 

Some 19-26 per cent also believe that they don’t travel frequently enough to have a significant impact on the environment. 

Event those that take two trips a year don’t think they have much of an impact, but they are a sizeable part of travel.

Travelers were split over who should take responsibility for sustainability – many believe it’s the role of government, whereas others think it’s travel providers, destination organisations, or travellers themselves.

Travelers think it should be the responsibility of destination organizations to keep tourism money within the local community, which would explain why they’re not asking where their money goes after they spend it.

Some 36-47 per cent of travellers also think sustainable travel options are more expensive. 

And the more someone think about sustainability at home, the more likely they are to believe it presents more expensive travel options. 

Some ten-15 per cent more was the accepted premium people said they would pay for greener travel.

“I don’t think this belief-behaviour gap is coming from a bad place,” said List. 

“They want to believe that they will make the right decision, but it’s important [for travel providers] to understand that this is not always the reality.” 

List finished by giving her practical suggestions for the travel industry: 

  • Increase sustainable options – make them more available and viable to begin with – they have to be appealing to travellers as a whole, and shouldn’t just be about sustainability.
  • Green options need to be easy to find and prominent.
  • Show that sustainable is accessible and affordable – push sustainable options at various price points.
  • Help travellers understand that sustainability goes beyond the environment – it extends to many other areas too.
  • Educate, educate, educate – inspire travellers to aspire for collective change; speak to the why not just the what, build understanding from the ground up.

More Information

More than 1,300 attendees are currently at The Phocuswright Conference, which is taking place this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Find out more here.