Will Sustainable Travel Become a Major Trend Post-COVID?

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Sustainable travel has become a much talked-about topic in recent years, but what does it actually mean? And, how will this change in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Already, it’s clear that travel’s going to look very different after the pandemic. There’s chatter that air travel won’t return to its pre-coronavirus peak over the next few years. When they’re ready to venture out, it’s likely that travelers will initially seek staycations, short-haul holidays, road trips, and destinations that offer no crowds and plenty of space. But what else might we see, and how far will sustainable travel and environmental impact factor into travel decisions?

 

WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL? 

When it comes to sustainable travel, the overarching idea is to reduce our impact on the environment and local communities. But, this manifests in different ways. For James Lohan, Founder of Mr and Mrs Smith, a curator of luxury boutique hotels, sustainable travel means booking the right hotels.

“Being thoughtful about the places you stay and only booking establishments that are proven to be having a positive impact on their community and the environment is a mindful first step,” says Lohan.

Amanda Ho, Co-Founder of Regenerative Travel, believes that there are many things to consider when it comes to being an eco-friendly traveler. “Sustainable travel is more than just offsetting your carbon footprint for flights, it’s about being a conscious consumer and understanding the impact your tourism dollar makes on the destination you’re traveling to.”

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Photo: Courtesy of Rolands Varsbergs

THE DEMAND FOR SUSTAINABLE LUXURY TRAVEL AFTER COVID-19

The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that our thirst for travel has created significant environmental damage and can negatively affect communities in our destinations. Venice is a prime example. Overtourism was polluting its canals, crowding its narrow streets, and driving locals to move to the city’s outer areas. Now, the canals run clear and are filled with wildlife, and residents can once more move easily through the city. So, will travelers be looking for more sustainable travel options after the pandemic?

Juliet Kinsman, Sustainability Editor of Condé Nast Traveller UK and Destination Deluxe Awards Judge, certainly hopes that travelers will be more conscious of the impact of their travel. “While we’re going to travel less, I really hope this time has highlighted the need for us to travel better…I hope everyone will think that bit deeper about how to enjoy more enriching, soul-uplifting experiences and adventures but through seeking more considerate, conscious travels.”

Less, but more enriching, travel seems to be a common expectation among industry experts. “I expect people to travel less frequently, but when they do, it’ll be on longer trips where you can really experience a region’s geographies, communities, and cultures, says Lohan.

“I believe that for the affluent, seeking out these types of sustainable, regenerative hotels and experiences will become a priority,” agrees Ho. “Luxury is no longer about the five-star resort and three-star Michelin meal, it’s about the transformative experience…travelers will look for locally-sourced food, authentic experiences, immersive activities…eco-luxury design that embodies the environment and destination.”

See also: Eco-Hotel of the Year 2020 Finalists

Sustainable Travel Nyamatusi Camp - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Nyamatusi Camp, a Regenerative Resort

WHAT WILL SUSTAINABLE LUXURY TRAVEL LOOK LIKE?

After the pandemic, most of us will probably be hankering to get outdoors, and luxury travel might enable us to do this in a more sustainable manner. There might be different variations of this – from low-impact remote locales and eco-friendly private islands – but it all comes down to reducing exposure to other people and getting outdoors, all while choosing to support sustainable businesses.

“Travelers will seek out nature immersions after being in lockdown for months to reconnect with the earth and themselves,” believes Ho. “Secluded getaways will be sought after, from luxe private island destinations like Bawah Reserve in Indonesia to the remote Futangue Hotel & Spa in Chile, surrounded by mountain ranges and waterfalls.”

See also: 9 Sustainable Swimwear Brands

Sustainable Travel Bawah Reserve - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Bawah Reserve, a Regenerative Resort

Hotels will also be a major consideration for sustainable luxury travel going forward. Before the pandemic, savvy travelers were already beginning to prioritize hotels that demonstrated a strong commitment to environmental and social sustainability; now, this is going to be even more important.

“[Travelers will look for] hotels that really demonstrate a purpose beyond their stylish surrounds,” believes Lohan. “More and more, travelers are researching the origin story of a property: its staff, the architecture, and its commitment to sustainability.”

Travelers will also have a heightened expectation of transparency when they travel, whether that’s from their hotels, operators, or anyone else involved in their getaways. “We’ll be all the more judicious about who we give our money to, in the hope that our trips help communities heal after this hiatus,” says Kinsman. “Conservation has been in jeopardy without revenue from tourists. We’ll want to support hotels, which also provide revenue for much-needed cultural and environmental preservation.”

See also: Our Destination Deluxe Judges on the Future of Wellness & Travel

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Photo: Courtesy of Taylor Simpson

NEW TRAVEL TRENDS

Pre-pandemic, travelers were already looking for sustainable options that reduced the impact of their trips. Now, that the pandemic has highlighted how detrimental travel can be for the environment and local communities, it’s likely that sustainability will become a more pressing concern.

In many ways, luxury travel makes it easier to ensure sustainable trips – it gives travelers more freedom to choose eco-friendly hotels and operators – so it’s likely that there will be much more demand for this in the future.

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