Searching for sustainability – around half travellers will travel further and pay more for a destination with better air quality

5 February, 2021

We have learnt a lot about ourselves and our world over the past 12 months, but perhaps nothing has become more obvious than the global importance of the travel and tourism industry economically, as well as its interconnectedness with other industries. Border restrictions, lockdowns and social distancing have impacted everyone in the industry, from small tour operators to multinational hotel chains and major airlines.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council baseline scenarios, COVID-19 impacted an estimated 121.1 million jobs, and more than USD3.4 trillion in GDP was estimated as being lost in 2020, a disturbance that will continue into 2021 and potentially onward.

But the industry had been fast approaching a tipping point – overcrowded destinations, restrictive airport infrastructure and growing emissions were just some of the more critical areas of concern. To return to that normal would be a crime against the environment and the very future of travel and tourism.

But while the negative repercussions of the crisis are uncountable, the World Econpmic Forum acknowledges there have been some side effects that can be harnessed for positive change in the future. Its Rebuilding Travel and Tourism panel, at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit last November, explored the intersection of consumer consciousness, technology acceleration and destination management; it found solutions that have the potential to reshape the way we market, manage and plan our future travel.

Sustainability is not new, but it was becoming an obvious topic as we entered the 2020s. Travellers were already becoming more impact-conscious and the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated as they reflect on their travel patterns and, most importantly, their impact. The pandemic has particularly forced public awareness around personal health safety and the virtue of physical distancing – those crowded popular travel spots will no longer have the same appeal

“People are asking themselves questions they haven’t before: Will I be a tourist or a visitor? How can I travel in a way that has a positive impact?” says the World Economic Forum in its ‘How we can prioritize sustainability in rebuilding tourism’ article, part of its ‘Race to Zero Dialogues’, global campaign of an alliance committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

There is obviously a way to build back better and reshape how we travel in the future. In an environment where travellers will be thinking health-first for some considerable time it is essential for the industry to stand up and provide answers. In the past, measuring claims of sustainable practices was a struggle for many travellers to understand. That is no longer an option and transparent commitments will be required as a pre-requisite for securing new business.

A new study from the hotel room offer platform Hoo suggests just how strongly travellers are now feeling about the matter. Questioning over 2,500 people on their feelings around air quality and its influence within the holiday booking process, it found 50% of people would opt for a destination with better air quality, even if it meant travelling for longer. More notable is the fact that a similar number (48%) stated that they would pay more money to travel to that destination.

When questioned on how important air quality is in the decision making process when booking, over two-thirds (67%) acknowledged its role, with just under one in four (23%) saying it was very important. At the other end of the spectrum around one in three respondents (32%) said it was not important at all in the travel choice.

With this in mind, Hoo also looked at which of the world’s top travel destinations currently offer the perfect holiday mix of affordable hotel rates and low levels of air pollution. It looked at the average cost of a hotel per night across 47 destinations around the world, as well as air quality pollution based on particulate concentration levels during the highest hour of the day on the worst air quality day of the year, measured in particulates per metre cubed (µg/m3).

Giving each destination a pollution-free hotel price score, the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro was found to offer the best metric. On average, a hotel in Rio de Janeiro was recorded as GBP49 per night while at 35 µg/m3, it was found to be home to the third-lowest level of city air pollution, with just Auckland and Toronto ranking better.

The Russian capital, Moscow, ranked second with Bogota, Colombia; Las Vegas, USA; Toronto, Canada; Chicago, USA; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Auckland, New Zealand; Vancouver, Canada; and Lisbon, Portugal making up the rest of the top ten offering the best ratio of affordable hotel rates and clean air.