Report: Sustainable tourism just a buzzword

Valere Tjolle
Sustainable is buzzword and interesting market niche: holidaymakers will not pay says World Tourism Forum report

Holidaymakers generally favour the idea of sustainable travel, but are not willing to pay significantly more for a “sustainable” holiday. This finding was confirmed in a study conducted by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts in preparation for the World Tourism Forum Lucerne 2011.

The study is based on the responses of nearly 5,000 Swiss customers of tour operator Kuoni.

Says the WTF: “The buzzword ‘sustainability’ has been much discussed by the tourism industry of late and raises a number of questions.”

In preparation for the Forum which took place last week at the Swiss Museum of Transport, the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts conducted an extensive study.

In the first part – an online survey of over 6,000 tourists in eight countries – researchers looked at how travellers define sustainable tourism and whether the topic of sustainability plays a role when people select a holiday destination or book a trip. In the second part, Swiss Kuoni customers were asked how much more they would be willing to pay for “sustainable holidays”.

Nearly 30,000 customers of Kuoni and Helvetic Tours in Switzerland were sent an online questionnaire. Sixteen per cent or a good 4,800 customers participated in the survey. The researchers looked at how much more customers would spend on sustainability, specifically for a safari trip to South Africa and beach holidays in the Maldives. The findings were consistent in both cases.

The conclusion: Customers are inclined to book more sustainable offers but are not prepared to pay significantly more and would only consider doing so when all aspects of their holiday are perceived as sustainable.

In concrete terms, this means: the more sustainable the individual factors of the particular travel offer (local products, working conditions and an environmental approach), the greater the likelihood that the offer will be considered by prospective customers. Even in such cases, however, individuals are not prepared to pay the effective additional price, as shown by the example of CO2 compensation, for instance.

The precedence of cost consciousness over environmental awareness was already demonstrated by the first part of the empirical study in eight countries. The factors of weather/climate and price play a much greater role in the booking of leisure travel. “Sustainability is of little importance and comes second to last among the eight criteria there are to choose from”, wrote the authors. Nevertheless, tourism enterprises that emphasise sustainability in their product range can look toward a potential of around twenty per cent of travellers who ranked the topic of sustainability in third place or higher as a decision-making factor.

See for yourself. The complete study can be downloaded here

Valere Tjolle is editor of the Sustainable Tourism Report Suite