Eco-Friendly Travel — How Hotels Need to Adapt in 2020 and Beyond

At the start of 2020, sustainable travel seems to be entering a new epoch. Climate change dominates conversations on news networks and social media, and the issue of traveling responsibly has reached new levels. In Sweden, the concept of “flygskam (“flight shame”) entered the lexicon as citizens began to seek alternative ways to travel than air.

In a previous post, we discussed some of the remarkable ways hotels are innovating in environmental and social responsibility — including investments in green technologies and locally-led tours that allow guests to help with ecological projects.

Now, notable changes in travel habits (from accommodation choices to modes of transport) mean that all hotels may need to reevaluate their business through the lens of climate change.

A shift in how people travel

Female traveler on train

The environmental impact of flying is changing how people travel. A survey of German and US citizens by Swiss bank UBS found 22% of respondents had reduced their air travel due to the environmental impact. While air travel is forecast to grow annually at around 4-5%, UBS believes this growth could be halved if the trends it found are borne out.

Europe is certainly seeing these trends play out. Last year in Sweden, there was a 9% year-on-year drop in domestic airline passengers. In Germany, the number of passengers flying domestically fell 12% in November from a year earlier. Yet the airline industry’s loss may prove the rail networks gain.

Sweden’s national railway (SJ) announced the number of business travelers rose by 12% in the first three months of 2019, and German rail firm Deutsche Bahn AG reported record passenger numbers in 2018.

In Austria, the country’s state-owned federal railway (ÖBB) has overhauled its night train service into the Nightjet brand, which includes private sleeper cabins with their own bathrooms. Since launching in 2016, Nightjet passenger numbers have doubled.

All of this brings to light a key point: as European travel habits and attitudes begin to change (and potentially spread further), hotels may need to reconsider not only their target market, but the very nature of the travel experience their guests want.

Target local markets

As travelers become more reluctant to fly domestically, hotels may need to invest in more focused geo-targeted campaigns. Specifically, aiming at those in a certain geographical area where traveling by road or rail is a viable option.

To incentivize bookings from eco-conscious travelers, you could partner with train lines and provide rail package deals and/or special offers. The same geo-targeted strategy could be applied to corporate clients, focusing on companies with an expressed desire to reduce their travel carbon footprint.

Just like the OTAs, providing users with real-time availability and pricing is crucial to incentivize them to book.

Rethink perks

Traditional perks and extras may also need to be reevaluated as guests seek more sustainable ways to travel. For example, instead of free breakfast or WiFi, some guests might be incentivized to book if a hotel pledges to offset their carbon emissions.

Radisson Hotels is leading the charge on this front. It recently became the first international hotel group to automatically offset the carbon footprint for all meetings and events. This kind of initiative may spur similar action from other chains aiming to attract corporate businesses with their own sustainability targets.

Promoting different amenities and in-room perks is another option to attract green-minded travelers. For example, guests might be enticed by hotels that utilize wind or solar energy, have a zero single-use plastics policy, or source materials and products from ethical producers. The hotel website may become a place where these kinds of eco-friendly practices are positioned as prominent headlines to instantly capture attention.

While promoting traditional pleasures and comforts shouldn’t take a back seat, informing guests about your hotel’s sustainability credentials will almost certainly become a more compelling selling point in the coming years.

Adapt to F&B tastes

Chef cooking in modern kitchen

Many hotels are now more conscious about the provenance of the produce on their menus. Foraged ingredients and locally sourced products have become all the rage, while the boom in plant-based diets has led many hotels to expand their vegan options. A growing number of vegan hotels further reflects a need to cater to changing ethical attitudes.

Some hotels are also partnering with companies that help reduce food waste. AccorHotels UK & Ireland has linked up with “Too Good To Go” — an app that enables unsold food to be bought at a reduced price from local shops and restaurants. So far, the Accor group has saved over 28,000 meals from being wasted by selling unsold meals from its hotels to local communities.

With the much-documented impact of food waste on the environment, guests may lose their appetite for extravagant all-you-can-eat hotel buffets. Working with partners such as Too Good To Go is one way to counter this, ensuring the hotel dining experience remains an attractive option while also securing an additional revenue stream.

Greener in-destination travel

According to the global Sustainable Travel Report by Booking.com, 52% of travelers enjoy being adventurous and using public transport instead of a taxi. So once guests reach your destination, it makes sense to facilitate their aspirations for eco-friendly travel.

Where possible, point guests in the direction of taxi or ride-hailing firms that use hybrid vehicles. Or partner with public transport operators and provide discounted tickets to guests who use the bus to explore local sights.

While highly dependent on the destination, you could also email guests prior to arrival with walking or cycling routes of your local area, highlighting a few lesser-known attractions within your vicinity. This may encourage guests to explore your neighborhood by foot or bike, instead of immediately seeking the big attractions that necessitate longer (and less environmentally friendly) modes of transport.

While not on the radar of most hotels right now, the next two decades will also see more and more guests arriving in electrical vehicles. The likes of Marriott and Hilton have already invested in EV charging stations — not a hasty move given that over half of all new cars are predicted to be electric by 2040.

The impact of climate change on travel

The impact of climate change on the travel industry will become a major topic of discussion in the year ahead. As more travelers consider the carbon footprint of their trips, hotels must be willing to rethink everything they do, from marketing and F&B decisions to empowering guests to choose environmentally friendly ways to experience the destination.

Nancy Huang

Nancy Huang

Nancy is the Senior Marketing Director at Pegasus and expert in strategic communication, brand development, and content marketing. She is an admitted travel junkie and loves finding amazing hotel deals when booking direct. Contact her at nancy.huang@pegs.com.

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