CMIGreen 2nd Annual Green Traveler Survey Report
Community Marketing & Insights
Consumer preferences and behaviors have demonstrated to the tourism and hospitality industries that sustainability presents a range of new opportunities, as public awareness and demand rises. The fundamental question today is not whether sustainability will influence consumer choice and your bottom line — but how.
In the 1st Annual CMIGreen Traveler Survey (2009) we asked, what is green travel? The absence of consistent environmental standards has left it to suppliers to define sustainable practices. What we have found in our 2nd Annual CMIGreen Traveler Survey, however, is that it is ultimately up to the consumer to decide what green travel is. Hotels, restaurants, airlines, cruise lines and rental car companies are all implementing new products, services, systems and brands that they think will satisfy the green (aka sustainable, socially responsible) traveler.
In the year between our first and second survey, we can see that some of those initiatives have borne fruit, while others are dying on the vine. But this year’s respondents strongly suggest that it is easier for individual travelers to seek out more environmentally friendly products and services than it is for travel suppliers and large corporations to implement them.
Some travel companies and industries are doing a commendable job at greening their operations, of course; green travelers recognize that, and award them their business. And since environmental and resource realities virtually guarantee that green travel is anything but a passing fad, every segment of the travel industry is moving towards a goal of more sustainable products and services — if slowly.
At this early, transitional stage, the variety of “green” travel brands, claims, messages and environmental tourism certifications can be confusing. Green travelers, too, come in every shade, from business travelers looking for airport hotels that let them recycle to voluntourists eager to help scientists in the rainforest.
Caveat emptor is the saying, however — buyer beware. Whatever their definition of sustainable travel, green travelers seem to understand that they must be as informed and proactive as the companies they travel with — if not more so.
Who is the Green Traveler?
Research experts at CMIGreen have conducted their second annual comprehensive Green Traveler Study. The study pulls together detailed information and insights about the environmentally-aware travelers who make up the emerging green travel market, providing sustainable travel leaders with the knowledge they need to anticipate challenges and convert opportunities as the industry continues to evolve.
In 2010, the Green Traveler Study asked over 950 “eco-conscious” travelers
- How do they travel, and how much?
- What does “sustainable” or “green” travel mean to them?
- How environmentally conscious are their purchasing decisions when not traveling?
- What drives their interest in green travel options and destinations?
- Will they pay a premium for sustainable choices?
- Is there a gap between their intentions and their behavior?
- What do they expect from green travel brands? How do they view green branding and messaging? What gives them trust — or makes them skeptical?
- How deep is their commitment to green travel, and how far will they take it?
We analyzed their responses in light of changes from our 2009 survey and report to shed light on the apparent trends: how green travel “niche market” preferences might be changing.
By leveraging these insights into who their customers are and what they want, brands that can communicate a clear, green identity and back it up with solid environmental practices will emerge as winners in the increasingly important sustainable travel market.
The CMIGreen Traveler Report is the first comprehensive study on green travelers. 2,768 adults from across the USA were surveyed on sustainable travel by Community Marketing, Inc. from July 15 through August 31, 2010. This report focuses the 951 respondents who consider themselves to be “extremely” or “very” eco-conscious and who took at least one overnight vacation in the past year. The study marks and measures key trends in sustainable, responsible, eco and green travel: considering greener travelers as a viable and increasingly important niche market. The survey panel is not intended to reflect national census data or distribution.
This year’s panel of 2,768 consists of subscribers derived from last year’s survey (which was derived through partnerships with more than 20 tourism, hospitality and sustainability companies and organizations), supplemented with new partner organization members, as well as panelist contributions recruited from Travelocity, RCI, Gap Adventures, and others.
We conducted our first CMIGreen Traveler Survey in 2009 to help establish a baseline from which we could measure the growth of this market segment, and to track trends. While the past year has not brought any great clarity on what terms like green and sustainable mean to travel providers, this year respondents were more discriminating—and more skeptical.
Respondents relied more on their peers to get the story rather than worrying about the validity of claims by suppliers. Web 2.0 and social media were more important sources of information this year, mirroring larger online trends. Respondents this year were both more environmentally aware and more proactive about it —in terms of more green purchases, sustainable lifestyle practices and travel. This year’s group traveled 5-8% more than last year’s.
Key Finding #1: Eco-Travelers Become Greener
Overall, respondents in this year’s survey were more committed to sustainability both at home and on the road. This year's sample of travelers was more significantly more eco-conscious, shopping locally, recycling more at home and at work, buying recycled products, and avoiding unnecessary purchases. More respondents who took more active steps towards a sustainable lifestyle increased in this year’s survey over last year’s — composting, going vegetarian, bicycling or taking public transportation to work. Their overall behavior and spending was 5-17 % more environmentally friendly than our 2009 respondents.
As travelers, 5% more of our respondents acted on their environmental concerns while traveling. Specific green travel practices were up across the board over the previous survey — 85% say they had turned off the lights when they left the room, and over 75% say they had recycled and used their towels and sheets more than once. More significant changes in green behavior were seen more substantive, proactive environmental measures: there was a 7.5% increase in the number who said they “researched and booked greener accommodations” and almost 4% more offset the impact of their travel. When in a new location they ate local cuisine and traveled by train and other local transportation (+4-5%). There was a similar increase of 5% in the number of travelers whose environmental concerns impacted their discretionary travel style. There was a more than 8% increase in the number of travelers saying they would most likely go on a greener vacation within the next year.
Insight: The responses show that that eco-travel is not just a fad. While there are many degrees of environmental commitment—and price, convenience and location continue to be primary criteria in travel—green travelers took even more proactive measures, on the whole, in 2010. Reaching the average “green” traveler means making sustainable travel more readily available. Green travel brands must do a better job of marketing to convenience-oriented, price-sensitive travelers, matching products, services and messaging to their customers’ lifestyles and business travel requirements, without levying added costs to do so.
Key Finding #2: Low Tolerance for High Premiums – The Green Price Point
62% of respondents said that they did not pay extra to stay at a “greener hotel” in the last 12 months. And 87.3% of travelers paid between 0 and 5%, which represents more than a 13% increase over 2009. Is green getting cheaper? Are green practices something customers don’t know they’re paying for? Are economic conditions keeping travelers from acting on their green intentions? Green is still not something customers will actually pay extra for today; they won’t pay a “green tax.”
One thing is certain — price remains a central concern among travelers. Price was ranked as the #1 criterion for choosing a hotel by more travelers than any other factor, including the hotel’s environmental programs.
Insight: Make green concrete. For most people, environmental sustainability is still a relatively abstract concept — especially when compared to practical issues like price and convenience. LEED certification, carbon offsets and sustainable materials do not have the visceral appeal of an ocean view or an Olympic-sized pool. Flipping those product attributes into consumer benefits will let travel providers create visceral product and brand appeal, driving sales and justifying price premiums. Instead of talking about LEED certification, a green hotel operator can mention the healthy, comfortable and luxurious benefits the hotel offers the customer. Pure air, natural, non-toxic carpeting and healthy, organic linens are creature comforts that could compel customers would to pay a premium for sustainability.
That said, numerous case studies across all tourism and hospitality segments show enormous cost-saving benefits to green initiatives, and CMIGreen has identified operations as the place to find the ROI in green, not extra charges to consumers.
Key Finding #3: Travel Industry’s Sustainability Practices Improved, Still “Need Work”
How green is travel in 2010? Slightly better than 2009, according to our respondents. This welltraveled and eco-conscious group gave slightly better grades to almost every hospitality segment (except that all-inclusive resorts and tour operators received more “terrible” and fewer airline and conventions/corporate events segments a “needs work” rating. Car rental companies, cruise lines, airlines and meetings/conventions still received a substantial number of “terrible” votes. Hotels and trains faired best — while most respondents still said they need work, they were the only industry segments receiving “fair” votes over 45%.
Too many travel companies are doing little or nothing to minimize their environmental impact; other businesses’ highly-touted recycling and conservation efforts were often viewed as superficial “greenwashing.”
Insight: Now that the first green blush of eco-friendly marketing has faded, the travel industry’s sustainability efforts must be broader and deeper to earn the trust — and the business — of savvy, green travelers. Emerging environmental standards like GSTC will certify thorough, systemic sustainability, not just a spot approach. And to compete for business travelers, winning brands will have to offer products and services that help other businesses meet their strategic goals and fulfill corporate social responsibility missions at a competitive price point.
Key Finding #4: The Green Leadership Vacuum: Room for Differentiation
Between 2009 and 2010, the only brand that managed to maintain a clear, green identity was Costa Rica, whose national parks and biological diversity have made it a perennial favorite with eco-travelers. Most travel brands failed to make a “green impression” on eco-travelers over 4%. More than a few actually slipped in their overall green brand recognition. The cruise line that received the most votes from respondents was “none.”
While many of the brands that received few votes (i.e. almost all of them) trumpeted strong environmental programs, experienced green travelers tend to be “green skeptics” when brands fail to “walk the walk,” backing up clear green messaging with meaningful sustainability practices. Two brands that did emerge as clear green leaders in their category were Hertz and Enterprise rental cars. Both companies have made substantial additions of hybrids and even electric vehicles to their fleets and have done extensive work to make many of their global facilities more environmental sustainable. The investment seems to be paying off among respondents, who said Hertz and Enterprise had done twice or three times as good a job and projecting an environmentally friendly image as their competitors.
Like Costa Rica, Hertz and Enterprise show that backing up your claims with real investment in sustainability can provide differentiation. In most segments of the travel industry, however, a vacuum in green leadership remains. Very few brands have succeeded in establishing top-ofmind, green travel awareness among the broad range of these travel consumers.
Insight: With the green travel segment still emerging, this is a good time for travel and hospitality providers to grab market share. Consistent, sustained sustainability programs with “teeth,” and targeted, accurate, compelling and benefit-oriented messaging will enable leading firms to differentiate themselves from competitors and gain “mind share” among green travel consumers.
Key Finding #5: Green Skepticism: The Need for Certification
This year’s respondents presented us with contradictory findings. While on the one hand more trusting of the claims made by green travel suppliers — perhaps armed with peer verification gleaned from peer review travel sites — they were also savvy and possibly jaded when it came to green advertising. Words like “green” and “bio” don’t mean much to them, in fact, compared to concrete programs like local sourcing and social responsibility. Consumer skepticism towards “greenwashing,” combined with disagreement over what green travel means, have created a need to establish standards for environmentally-friendly, sustainable travel —and trusted certification.
Over 40% of respondents looked for 3 rd party certification to verify that a travel supplier is truly “environmentally friendly.” And 91.6% of respondents said that a hotel’s environmental rating is an influence.
Yet there are presently over 350 “green” travel or hospitality certifications — and 97% of respondents could not name any that they were aware of. Our responses indicate that at this stage in the greening of the travel business, travelers are relying on verification from 3 party sites and social media to verify certifications before trusting them.
Some industry leaders are questioning whether the profusion of green certification systems is good for green travel.
“With all the different systems, it’s actually harder to find an environmentally friendly hotel,” said one builder, “because without a set standard one could end up at a hotel that’s rated green by more superficial standards (points for bamboo sheets or recycled menus, for instance) instead of a hotel that features sustainable systems such as a gray water system or geothermal heating… Until a universal system is recognized, be careful when choosing a green hotel. It could easily be less environmentally friendly than you think.”
Insight: The green travel industry, analysts and green travel advocacy groups must come together to
- establish workable standards for green travel throughout the industry
- award certification for meeting those standards — an industry “seal of approval” on par with UL or ADA
- proactively brand that certification to gain wide recognition and trust among travelers
Hotels, tour operators, airlines and restaurants have different sustainability criteria; each segment of the travel industry may have to develop its own certification. Most travelers and travel industry professionals seem to understand that developing a universal certification or certifications as universally recognized as Michelin, Zagat, AAA or Energy Star will take time. However, operating under an overarching, recognized certification brand will help consumers travel more sustainably, give teeth to corporate social responsibility initiatives and drive new business for leading travel brands.
Key Finding #6: Business Travel: a step backwards — for now.
Business travel actually increased this year among respondents, outperforming the larger economy, and a new question found that most respondents worked for companies that did not have an environmentally friendly business travel policy. There was also a 15% drop in the number of employers who recommended green hotels. While the poor performance of the overall economy is likely to be holding back green business travel initiatives, industry reports do show that more leading firms like Oracle and KPMG are in fact instituting green travel policies.
What businesses should pay attention to is the 80% majority of respondents who said that they would support business travel policies by their employers — as well as the 90% who indicated that green business travel policies would very likely result in their making personal travel more sustainable, as well.
Convenience may what’s missing in the lagging transition to sustainable business travel. In a new question this year, a substantial number of respondents indicated that if their companies’ business travel reservation systems made it possible to choose environmentally-friendly options, they would be much more likely to do so. Travel procurement solutions provider GetThere is the first to fill the gap with GetThere Green, a new product that integrates green choices and messaging into business travel procurement systems.
Despite the uptick in business travel this year, however, improving video conferencing technology is going to continue to make managers question the necessity of much of today’s business travel — particularly as the cost of video conferencing drops.
Insight: Given the results of our study, however, it is taking time for sustainable business philosophy to translate into dollars spent on green hotels and carbon offsets for jet travel. As the economy improves and becomes increasingly green, will business travel become greener? Or will less expensive and more environmentally friendly alternatives like videoconferencing continue to take the place of business travel?
Key Finding #7: Meeting and event planning: a promising sector stalls
Last year’s results showed that most companies in the event-planning industry were working to incorporate “green meeting” options into events. This year, however, there was a nearly 20% drop in sustainable event planning (e.g. local venues with teleconferencing options) from 2009, and 6% rise in the number of companies that did not plan any Green Meeting options.
While those numbers could reflect the number of respondents who did not know if their company had a green meetings policy, sustainable business is, on the whole, still a work in progress. The majority of respondents among event planners said that suppliers were only able to meet their sustainability requests some of the time, while a smaller percentage said that suppliers were consistently able to meet requests, and more suppliers could not help them with green events.
Yet as more of society and business “goes green,” so do the expectations of event attendees. More than 86% of respondents this year said that it was at least somewhat important to them that organizers of business events utilize environmentally friendly practices. It seems as if market demand over the long term will keep greening the meeting and event business — especially once the economy recovers.
Insight: Respondents had the perception that green event practices were too expensive, and that suppliers would not be able to help meet their sustainable goals. However, sustainable measures save resources and save money, according to leading green meeting planners. And as one specialist said, “It’s definitely a planner’s market right now…most suppliers are being very supportive of all endeavors — including green.”
Most respondents said again this year that more information would help motivate them to implement sustainable event strategies — a clear message to green meetings advocates and suppliers that better marketing and communications are needed. A new question also indicated that financial incentives (to planners) for green events would accelerate the sustainability of the event and convention industry.
Key Finding #8: Disaster = Opportunity for Voluntourism
In the past two years, voluntourism has emerged as the “hot” new form of travel. More than a few media outlets have identified the combination of volunteering with travel as one the fastest growing segments in the travel industry. While there is more interest and expectation than participation, a spate of disasters — whether natural, like the Haiti earthquake, or industrial, like the Gulf oil spill — are bringing people to volunteer in regions previously only thought of as tourist destinations, such as the Caribbean islands.
Insight: Voluntourism presents great potential to businesses across the travel industry. Florida presents a textbook example of how even in vacation destinations visited by disaster, hospitality for tourists can be converted to a resource for disaster relief. Beyond voluntourism organizers and aggregators, tour operators, hotels, resorts, airlines and even cruise lines can take advantage of this fast-emerging trend to engage new travelers, generate new revenue streams, and expand their own corporate social responsibility missions.
Key Finding #9: Travelers Influenced by Each Other — Not Advertising
This year’s survey again demonstrated unequivocally that peer influence has the greatest influence on eco-conscious consumers when planning a vacation. Peer review travel sites continued to be a dominant influence on travel decisions, and social media was twice as important a source of information as advertising for eco-travelers. The influence of traditional media appears to be waning. Only 5% said they got information from TV and radio advertising, and less than 1.5% used information seen on billboards. In fact, only 21.4% of respondents used traditional media (print and broadcast) to gather information about green travel — a drop of 5% from 2009.
At the same time, there was a nearly 5% jump in the number of respondents saying that peer reviews on travel websites and blogs were very influential in their vacation decisions this year. Nearly half of all respondents used peer reviews on LonelyPlanet.com, TripAdvisor.com and other Web 2.0 travel sites to validate claims of environmentally friendly travel services. 29% of respondents cited peer-review-powered third-party travel websites when evaluating a hotel’s green “cred” this year, a 7% jump over last year’s study. Eco-travelers looked first to each other, rather than travel providers themselves, as a resource in their travel decisions.
Significantly, internet search-based travel research dropped more than 25% among survey respondents from last year. This finding mirrors a larger trend away from traditional web searches and towards social media queries (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and the use of smartphone and iPad apps. 12.4% of respondents said they used Facebook and other social media, rather than traditional internet search, as a travel information resource this year. And the 39.7% of respondents who said they had gathered information about green travel via word of mouth, may be including the trusted networks of social media in that category. Increasingly, our “conversations” are in the forum of social media — particularly for Generation Y travelers.
Trusting peers is not only a very human response, it’s a Web 2.0/social media response. When so many leading sales sites offer peer reviews and discussion, customers look for that in their green travel choices as well. Facebook and Twitter are also prime influencers in this brave new world of brand awareness. In fact, the more easily green travelers can listen to peers, the less they listen to the green claims of advertisers. It’s a zero-sum game, driven by younger respondents in Generation Y. The “Millennium Generation” distrusts advertising, has mixed feelings about branding and hates the hard sell.
While customers will look to third party blogs, media outlets and articles, advertising, including banner ads and ads in mainstream and environmental publications, respondents ranked advertising dead last in terms of influence. Insight: The proof of the pudding is ever more in the tasting. In a world where a negative opinion can go viral overnight, giving the customer a positive, rewarding, unique, genuine, and thoroughly sustainable experience is every travel company’s first order of business.
Key Finding #10: The Return of the Travel Agent?
Conventional wisdom holds that the travel agent is a vanishing species in the Internet age. Our survey shows that when travelers have a green agenda, that’s not the case. 58.1% of respondents said that they would be inclined to use the services of a travel agent trained by a certification body like ASTA to offer sustainable travel choices, up slightly from last year. In fact, almost a third of respondents had made a travel purchase from a travel agent in the last 12 months — a jump of almost 6% from respondents in the 2009 survey.
According to a study by Forrester Research, the number of U.S. leisure travelers using the Internet to book travel actually declined from 53 percent in 2007 to 46 percent in 2009 — shifting planning and transactions away from self-service on the Internet and back to traditional travel agents.
Insight: By educating themselves in sustainable travel options and eco-travel destinations, travel agents can do well in this expanding market. But they must also know their customer — the green traveler can come in many shades, from the civilized tourist who wants a comfortable but green hotel to the self-sufficient eco-adventurer. They must know the greener travel products, and access the resources to locate them. And they must practice what they preach, by greening their own operations and implementing green office best practices (i.e. paper reduction, etc.).
As our global environmental challenges continue, this market will only continue to grow. Online technologies and price pressures make both traditional and home-based travel agent work a particularly viable option.
Below are selected charts from this report, click here to download the full pdf for complete analysis and insights from this study.
Interestingly, while fewer respondents identified themselves as extremely ecoconscious, more respondents reported practicing intensive eco-friendly measures that would be part of a more thoroughly eco-conscious lifestyle, like composting, bicycle commuting and a vegetarian diet. It suggests that “very eco-conscious” is becoming, if not extreme by selfassessment, “very, very eco-conscious.”
Cruises figured more prominently in respondents’ vacation planning this year than last. Over 50% said they were considering a cruise in the future — a jump of over 14%.
Significantly more respondents were traveling for business in this year’s survey over 2009. While last year 42% of respondents did not stay at hotels, inns or resorts while on business, only 27.6% did not stay in hotels while on business travel in this survey. About 45% stayed between 2-10 nights in hotels, inns and resort, also a significant increase.
Substantially more respondents “walked the walk” when it came to green travel this year, with 65.6% saying they had taken a vacation in the last 12 months that included some of the green components cited in LEISURE 10 — an increase of over 11%.
The eco-travelers who responded to this survey look to travel providers to not only offer green travel choices, but to help travel consumers make more environmentally conscious decisions. In response to this question — new to this year’s survey — more than ¾ of respondents wanted providers to help them tell which travel choices were really green.
Recent research by the European Commission studying the general population showed that twothirds of consumers find it difficult to understand which products are better for the environment. However, the same study showed that only 20% of Europeans believe companies are doing enough to promote environmentally friendly options, and 58% think that many companies are “pretending” to be green in order to charge higher prices. “Industry has a long way to go in helping consumers feel confident when making green choices,” wrote Meglena Kuneva, European Commissioner for Consumer Affairs.
This content was provided by Community Marketing, Inc.
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