Over the last decade sustainable travel has gone from a relative niche market to an industry-wide priority for many businesses and travellers alike. However, until recently the trend has been more one-sided with the traveller demanding that the hotel, airline or other business that is selling them a service implements sustainable policies and complies to corporate social responsibility initiatives. Travellers, for their part, have not been too willing to compromise their holidays or business trips if it meant making a sacrifice or accepting fewer amenities in order to reduce their carbon footprint, for example. But times are changing and a new generation of traveller, the Ethical Traveller, is now evolving. This new traveller demands responsibility both to those who provide services and to themselves through their own consumer habits.
“Ethical travel of the future will differ in important respects from that of the past”, says the 2015 report Future Travel Tribes 2030. “In the era of increased Corporate Social Responsibility, demands for greater behind-the-scenes access and accountability from big business, increased pressure to demonstrate tangible results of corporate ethical claims, and the consumer desire for some kind of reward for their ethical choices will come from some segments of the population, and will be particularly important in ensuring the goodwill of Ethical Travellers.”
Transparency on demand
The key to providing Ethical Travellers with a quality service or product is to not make them feel they must make a sacrifice for being ethical in their travel choices. Instead, there needs to be an element of reward attached to their choice. These rewards may not always be directed towards the environment but will likely take the shape of unique, life-changing experiences that give the traveller a sense of satisfaction for contributing to a sustainable future for the world.
Indeed, Ethical Travellers may also be equally conscientious to the impact of their tourism spending on local economies, or the potential to help boost developing markets instead of getting lost in the “big travel ecosystem”. With this in mind, they may even demand that the companies providing them their travel experience go beyond corporate social responsibility by ensuring that profits are truly being used to help the local people where a particular organization is operating.
Hotels and other localized tourism organizations will be able to provide their customers this confidence by validating brand claims and providing tangible proof that the money being spent is being reinvested in the communities they inhabit.
The Ethical Luxury Traveller
The Ethical Traveller does not fall outside of the expectations of those who seek luxury in their travel habits. In fact Ethical Travellers will be one of the most affluent traveller groups in the future and as mentioned above, they will expect rewards for their ethical decisions, not sacrifices.
For some of these luxury travellers the reward may come from an alternative experience. Take, for example, a unique concept developed by a group of innovative Dutch hoteliers called Sleeping Around. Opened in 2013, Sleeping Around is a temporary hotel that is continuously transformed by changing its location. The hotel’s transportable rooms and common spaces are made of old shipping containers and the furnishings are recycled and locally sourced sustainable materials. Guests only know the location of their stay in Antwerp when they finalize their reservation.
On the other end of the spectrum, the luxury boutique hotel, B3 Virrey in Bogota, Colombia features an eight-story living wall composed of more than 25,000 plants. The hotel prioritizes the combination of luxury comfort with a reduced carbon footprint.
Another flagship project to follow is Ethicaltraveler.org, a Chile based non-profit tour operator that has taken the lead on this concept by basing their unique services entirely on ethical choices. This firm works to ensure their operations limit their environmental impact; they hire locally, conserve resources, and buy local products.
A win-win opportunity
Hotels and other tourism brands will need to be innovative to capture the Ethical Traveller’s attention by facilitating not only novel alternatives, but also engaging their clients with a memorable and participatory “eco-experience”. This is an opportunity to capitalize on a win-win situation for both parties. To do so companies will need to recognize the benefit of empowering travellers with the ability to change the world. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of educational institutions like Les Roches Marbella to provide professionals with the tools and knowledge needed to develop these future opportunities, and this is one of the primary objectives of the Postgraduate in Marketing Management for Luxury Tourism.