A New Era of Sustainable Travel

COVID has impacted nearly every industry in our economy, with travel and recreation on the top of the list of sectors that have been transformed by shifting consumer preferences—much to the benefit of sustainable tourism, nature-based experiences, and adventure travel.

The long arm of COVID has turned many sectors of the economy upside down, leaving industries like travel and tourism reeling. At the onset of the pandemic, the travel industry was abruptly suspended as people across the globe were advised to shelter in place.  

Last summer, the tide abruptly turned again, and while the sector experienced a welcome resurrection, it was clear that the rules of engagement had changed. Rather than flying to popular destinations like New York, Las Vegas, London, and Paris, people packed up their cars and escaped to remote areas to connect with nature and play outside.  

Adventure Travel

Today, while many people still have trepidation about traveling, as indicated by negative language used on social media, traveler sentiment is improving. In fact, Destination Analysts reports that over 87 percent of American travelers are planning to take a vacation this summer.     

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Consumer sentiment about travel, while improving, remains negative.

As with most areas of our lives, the pandemic irreparably transformed travelers’ attitudes and behaviors, and the types of trips being planned today are fundamentally different than before COVID. 

According to Destination Analysts, not only are travelers more budget and safety conscious, they are also more interested in outdoor adventures and nature travel than ever.  

Recent research commissioned by Exodus Travels found that 78 percent of Americans consider themselves to be more ethically conscious travelers than they were a year ago.

ethical trips

According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, sustainable tourism is on the rise. 

Gone, at least for now, are the days of jet setting to big cities for weekends of revelry.  Instead, today’s travelers are looking for:

  1. Sustainable Tourism. Increased awareness about our collective environmental impact and the fragility of our most precious natural places is driving interest in sustainable travel. Ecolodges have long been a curiosity to sustainability-minded travelers, but according to the ATTA, “Climate change has changed the tourism game. Sustainable travel is likely to recover 3 to 4 years earlier than mass travel. In fact, tourism ministers over the world have been quoted as saying that they will focus on ecotourism, adventure tourism, and nature tourism. It’s obvious that adventure travel has an unfair (and excellent) advantage for the future based on small groups, more remote places, healthy living, and its myriad other benefits.” 
  2. Quiet Retreats. People are seeking quiet destinations to retreat from the anxieties of the new normal, avoid crowds, and enjoy the serenity of nature. The Washington Post predicts a continued increase in nature travel and a shift away from cities, crowded attractions like amusement parks, and noisy locations.  Travel to tranquil countryside, mountain, and beach destinations are currently on the rise, offering sojourners a welcomed sense of serenity, as well as access to human-powered activities like hiking, fishing, kayaking, biking, surfing, and backcountry adventures.
  3. Rural Getaways. According to Forbes, over 90 percent of travel searches in the last year were for trips to rural areas, and cabin rentals have skyrocketed by 143 percent since 2019.
  4. Spiritual Revitalization. Longing to escape the confines of their homes, people are planning trips for a welcome dose of spiritual healing, engaging in activities like yoga, meditation, “forest bathing”, and “ecotherapy.”  According to the video series #TourismStrong, which documents sustainable tourism stories during COVID, "A growing demand for transformational travel, where people seek to regroup or recalibrate in peaceful destinations when the pandemic passes, is going to be a sector to watch."
  5. Increased Cleanliness. For obvious reasons, travelers are demanding enhanced hygiene protocols to protect themselves and their families.  Vacation destinations have responded by ramping up their cleaning practices to help visitors feel safe.

While COVID has brought much heartache and suffering, its systemic impact may have a net positive effect on industries like travel, reducing the sector’s environmental footprint while satisfying today’s travelers evolved set of expectations and preferences.

Samantha Carlin contributed to this article.