CMIGreen Traveler Study
Rising public awareness of sustainability issues and understanding consumer preferences and behaviors presents new opportunities for the tourism and hospitality industries. The fundamental question today is not “whether” sustainability will influence consumer choice and your bottom line, but “how.” The CMIGreen Traveler Study is designed to provide insights on understanding and leveraging the opportunities of the sustainable travel marketplace.
Travel and hospitality consumers are rapidly and enthusiastically becoming educated on the issues, and demanding greater social and environmental engagement from destinations and suppliers. There is a shift in consumer consciousness that is resulting in a rethinking of consumption patterns toward more responsible, earth-friendly alternatives. Tourism and hospitality industry leaders are similarly embracing sustainability to establish competitive advantage, enhance brand value and drive sales. This is moving market share for those taking initial steps.
The travel industry is entering a transition as profound as any since the dawn of the jet age. As the planet warms and resources diminish, consumers are demanding sustainable business practices from travel providers. Travel and tourism and hospitality suppliers across the industry are scrambling to make their operations more environmentally responsible — and their brands more green.
But what is green travel? Without a consistent set of environmental standards for the travel and tourism industry, defining sustainable practices has been left to the market. To varying degrees, hotels, restaurants, airlines, cruise lines, and tour operators are implementing systems they think will satisfy their customers’ expectations. Consequently, travelers must navigate a staggering variety of “green” travel brands, claims and messages, and judge the merits of over 350 different environmental tourism certifications.
If consumers are driving the “environmentally friendly” practices of the travel and tourism industry, from energy-saving thermostats to carbon offsets and voluntourism expeditions, then the more important question to ask is: who is the green travel consumer? What does green travel mean to him or her? Aside from surveys of travelers from the general population or very limited, focused questionnaires, little has been known about the green travel consumer’s expectations, values, attitudes and behavior.
Creating a profile of Green Travelers
Travel research experts at CMIGreen have created the first-ever 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 2009, the Green Traveler Study asked nearly 1800 “eco-conscious” travelers:
- How do they travel, how much and where? • What does “sustainable” or “green” travel mean to them?
- 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? By leveraging these insights into who their customers really are, 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 Green Traveler Report is the first comprehensive study on green travelers. 4,109 adults from across the nation were surveyed on sustainable travel by Community Marketing, Inc. from May 22 to July 8, 2009.
This is not a general study of USA consumers. The study focuses exclusively on the 1,736 respondents who consider themselves to be “extremely” or “very” eco-conscious and who took at least one overnight vacation in the past year.
Respondents were selected from CMI’s proprietary survey panel and from the email lists of participating travel and tourism partners (see logos on cover). The study marks and measures key trends in sustainable, eco and green travel, but the survey panel is not intended to reflect national census data or demographic distribution.
The emergence of green travel has been a sea of change for the travel industry. Customer demand has only driven a serious, industry-wide response within the last five years. Travel and tourism businesses have now jumped on a wide range of practices and a wider range of messaging, all without a clear understanding of who the green traveler is.
The findings below summarize the results of the 2009 CMIGreen Green Traveler Survey. The industry’s first in-depth investigation of the expectations, behavior and views of eco-friendly travelers, the Green Traveler Survey identified key findings that can help innovative companies implement practices that go beyond greenwashing.
Key Finding #1: The Many Shades of Green Travel
The sustainable travel market is not a solid block of green, but a spectrum. Respondents to this survey include business travelers who reuse towels in a hotel room, and voluntourists who collect garbage on the slopes of Mount Everest. Sustainable travelers come with a wide range of motivations. Leading sustainable travel providers must know who their customers are, what drives them, and how to tune their products and messaging accordingly, in anticipation of a groundswell of green travel demand.
On one end of the green travel spectrum is the business and leisure traveler seeking to minimize the environmental impact of the comfort and convenience of contemporary travel. To meet the expectations of the “traditional” green traveler, travel and hospitality businesses must provide an exceptional experience using best practices in sustainable operations and management. San Francisco’s Orchard Hotel has won plaudits as one of the top luxury hotels in the U.S. while at the same time becoming the country’s first hotel to win LEED environmental certification. Royal Caribbean offers luxury suites with whirlpool baths, balconies and separate bedrooms on the same ship that houses working laboratories that study water pollution and climate change. By visibly reducing environmental effects without compromising the fundamental pleasure of travel, both companies have been able to create differentiation and maintain market leadership.
On the other end of the scale are “ecotravelers” interested in “responsible travel to nature areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Ecotourism is at least as much about experiencing the destination as the way that experience is packaged and delivered.
Labels like “ecotraveler” don’t tell the whole story, however. There are travelers all along the green spectrum. Sleeping in luxury eco-tents while on safari at Kenya’s Campi Ya Kanzi is a very different experience from riding Responsible Travel’s five-day, 276km bike trek over 4400meter Himalayan passes in Ladakh. And “true blue green” sustainability activists may change their travel plans to stay at green hotel but never set foot in nature, while some voluntourists building Honduran schools don’t know what their carbon footprint is, and don’t care. Making uninformed decisions about the wants and needs of your customer leads to expensive mistakes.
So what shade of green is your customer?
Insight: Success in the green travel market requires understanding where on the green travel spectrum your customers are. By understanding their motivations — and how price, convenience, comfort, quality and experience shape their behavior — you can connect with travelers, offering a unique, sustainable service with a value proposition clearly articulated for them.
Key Finding #2: Do Green Travelers Walk the Walk?
Green travelers come with many types of motivations — and varying degrees of commitment. 54% of respondents report that they had taken a “greener” vacation in the last 12 months. When asked about the actions they had taken as green travelers, 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. However, when it came to more substantive, proactive environmental measures, only 19% say they “researched and booked greener accommodations.” Less than a quarter rented a more fuel-efficient car; only 12.6% offset the impact of their travel.
In a question about which top five motivators make them choose a hotel, respondents ranked “the hotel’s environmental program” eighth out of 15 total possible attributes. Practical benefits like price, location, quality and brand are still the primary influences in their travel purchasing decisions.
Every respondent in this survey identified him or herself as “eco-conscious,” However, only 19.1% identified themselves as “extremely” eco-conscious. Over and over again, it is this ±20% minority that makes the strongest, most committed environmental travel choices. The takeaway for travel-related businesses: Listen to what your green travel customers say they want, but watch what they really do.
Insight: The responses show that travelers are interested in sustainability. When it comes to their purchasing behavior, however, for all but the most committed of green travelers, green travel choices can be a secondary consideration compared to price, convenience and location.
As a recent Information Resources study suggested, “there are certain segments of the population that are environmentally sensitive, but that does not necessarily translate into their actual behavior. This inconsistency is the real challenge for marketers and retailers in order for them to fully understand the nuances of green consumers and how to market to them effectively.”
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.
Key Finding #3: Low Tolerance for High Premiums – The Green Price Point
43% of survey respondents say they would be willing to pay up to 5% more to decrease their “ecological footprint” on their next trip; almost as many say they would pay more than that. Yet in another question, 61% of respondents said that they did not pay anything more to stay at a “greener hotel” in the last 12 months. 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? Or is green not something customers will actually pay extra for?
Insight: Make green concrete. For most people, environmental sustainability is still a relatively abstract concept — LEED certification, carbon offsets and sustainable materials lack the impact of concrete, practical issues like price and convenience. Flipping 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 who would pay a premium for sustainability.
This is an excerpt from the full report; download it in pdf format here. Below are a few selected charts from the full report:
Thomas Roth is president of Community Marketing, Inc. The San Francisco-based company, founded in 1992, connects their tourism and hospitality clients with LGBT, green, and other trend-leading “niche” segments through consumer research, strategic planning and highly targeted communications channels. Visit their website at www.CommunityMarketingInc.com.