Consumers ‘more cognisant’ of environmental impact, but ‘key barriers’ remain for sustainable travel

24 December, 2021

The travel industry as a whole is seen as being responsible for achieving sustainable travel by consumers, whether they are travelling for business or leisure, recent research from international research data and analytics group YouGov has revealed. Positively for the industry, the research from audiences across the US, UK, Australia, Germany, South Korea and Japan indicates that consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable travel.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly boosted the sustainability agenda and made many consumers "more cognisant of their impact on the environment," says YouGov. The organisation's research shows that consumers across the globe want to live more sustainably and carry through on that desire when it comes to travel. But, it also indicates there are still some key barriers to choosing sustainable travel options around price, ease of information and accessibility.

The importance of sustainability to consumers and businesses

In this research YouGov surveyed consumers to measure which environmental and social issues are most important to them. More than half of those surveyed said caring for the environment is important to them (55%). What's more, approaching half (48%) believe increasing sustainability to tackle climate change is a critical issue.

To put this into perspective, these two issues seem just as important to respondents as the issue of improving access to healthcare (50%). Furthermore, they occupy a higher degree of importance in the minds of consumers than other topics such as ensuring access to fair justice for all (40%), improving social equality (40%) and animal welfare (40%), reports YouGov on the findings.

But, consumer concern for environmental issues isn't equal across the world stage - consumers in the UK (63%), Germany (60%) and Australia (59%) were found to be significantly more likely than the overall sample to say caring for the environment is an important issue. South Koreans (56%) and Germans (53%) were found to be significantly more likely than Americans (44%) to believe working on sustainability to tackle climate change is an important issue.

The pandemic has shifted consumption and lifestyle behaviours

YouGov's sustainability study reveals a third of global respondents say they are making more sustainable choices in their lifestyle than they were 12 months ago (34%). The growth of sustainable practices during the pandemic is highest among Australians (46%) though Brits (40%) and Americans (39%) also stand out. German (27%) and Japanese (15%) consumers rank lowest in their propensity to say they have been making more sustainable choices during the last 12 months.

The findings also observe that sustainability appears to be more than just a trend; more than two in five (44%) global respondents say they are making the same sustainable choices as 12 months ago suggesting that, at the very least, they are maintaining their sustainable practices. This seems especially true of Germans, more than half of whom say they are keeping up with the same sustainable choices over the last 12 months.

The opportunities and challenges in sustainable tourism and hospitality

The YouGov study indicates that, as part of their concerns about the planet, consumers want travel to be "greener". Roughly two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed say it's vital that travel be more sustainable but who do consumers believe should play a role in achieving this?

Half of consumers hold that individuals such as themselves should be responsible for making travel more sustainable (53%). They're even willing to place their wallets behind making their travel purchases more sustainable; at least one in three say they would pay more for an environmentally friendly flight (35%). Australians and South Koreans express the highest rate of willingness to pay more for sustainable flights (41% in both markets).

Travel industry most responsible for facilitating sustainable travel

It is the travel industry that consumers point to as being most responsible for achieving sustainable travel. While travel helps people connect with one another and explore the world, the travel industry as a whole is now expected to play a role in addressing sustainability in travel by nearly three in five global consumers (59%).

When asked who should be most responsible, 21% of global consumers identified the travel industry, followed by citizens (19%) and national governments (19%). Brits (70%) and Australians (65%) are especially likely to say that travel brands must play a role, according to the YouGov research.

The industry is adapting and adopting new sustainability strategies

A growing number of travel companies are responding to this consumer expectation and taking a stand to reduce their carbon footprints. As it stands though, YouGov's research shows a quarter of global consumers believe there aren't enough sustainable travel options (26%), rising to 32% among Brits. A similar share of global consumers say they would like to travel more sustainably but don't know how to (23%).

While there appears a clear demand for sustainable travel options and even a willingness to pay more for them, Eva Stewart, global sector head of travel and tourism at YouGov, says, the research highlights that costs associated with sustainability "will have to be balanced carefully, especially with consumers proving sensitive to travel prices". The study reveals that a quarter of consumers say price is still more important than sustainability considerations when it comes to selecting their flights (24%).