Convenience or dolphins? What are travellers prepared to sacrifice in the name of sustainability?

By Jon Young

During the pandemic, the residents of Venice found they were happier looking out on dolphins in the Lagoon than cruise ships when the sudden reduction in travel had an immediate impact on the environment around them.

Venice had been one of several global focal points for concerns about over-tourism, and this summer, the city submitted plans to control the number of visitors, in particular day trippers. The proposals were intended to encourage more permanent residents, limit the stock of private apartment rentals and bring in a reservation system with an access fee to manage day visitors. In July, it banned all cruise ships from sailing through the city centre. Good news for the dolphins.

Prior to the pandemic, proposals for charges to visit destinations such as Venice were met with objections over elitism - surely, it’s everyone’s right to visit St Mark’s Square? - but has the pandemic shifted that mindset?

We live in an age where there are more causes than room for badges on a jacket, but our upcoming report* has found that messaging on environmental issues has broader support than other causes and much less distinction across demographic groups. Political issues may polarise us, but we’re united in our concerns for the environment.

That doesn’t mean that it is without its issues. Consumers have fears over greenwashing and whether brands are selling a message they’re not backing up with action.

And while concern for the environment is high, we have found* that it is not the main motivator of leisure travel choices with the weather and price ranking at one and two, respectively. Sustainability trails far behind at 25.

While sustainable standards are not a key motivator of leisure choices, they are becoming a hygiene factor. If sustainable standards are clearly not being met at a leisure organisation, people may start to avoid it – now or in the future.

The good news is that people are happy to undertake a range of different sustainable practices, from recycling their rubbish to flying with lighter luggage. They also showed a willingness to make small sacrifices, such as limited access to conservation areas and a day without meat on the menu - small changes which have been shown to make a difference. Sacrifices should be re-framed as positive actions, empowering visitors to perceive they are helping, not losing out.

The urge to travel is strong and dreams of far-away places mean that long-haul flights will not fall foul of flight-shaming trends. But we have found that, when framed positively, behaviours can be changed to benefit all.

You can learn more about how attitudes toward sustainability affect consumer choice in our webinar on 14 October.

*Findings are taken from our report on Sustainable Leisure during COVID-19 and our upcoming report on Brand Purpose. Both are available for free to ClearSight® subscribers, if you haven't already, sign up here - bva-bdrc.com/clearsight/

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