As demand for sustainable travel continues to grow, what can we do to ensure our vacations don’t cost the earth?

Sustainable travel is big business, and it’s getting bigger by the year. Analysis from Technavio, published in May 2022, shows that the global sustainable tourism market is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.72%, and is on course to generate an additional $235.21 billion during the period 2020 to 2025.

Indeed, environmental considerations have become a more prominent fixture on the international travel agenda during recent years. A June 2022 study conducted by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) revealed that almost 90% of the 762 industry professionals surveyed said sustainability was a priority for their companies.

Nevertheless, you might not be altogether surprised to learn that prioritisation does not necessarily translate into tangible action. The GBTA researchers found that despite 88% of respondents agreeing on the need to address climate change, just 56% of companies have introduced sustainable travel elements into their businesses, and less than half (42%) have incorporated sustainability within their governance.

What can we learn from these numbers? Well, the good news is that travel professionals are certainly aware of the importance of sustainability, and research would suggest that they have good intentions in this regard. However, it seems that there is still a significant gap to be bridged between talking the talk and walking the walk.

Demanding positive change

We can all take heart from the fact that consumer demand for greener tourism is on the rise. A survey conducted in the wake of Covid-19 found that 61% of holidaymakers stated the pandemic had made them want to travel more sustainably in the future. What’s more, research cited by Earth Changers’ ‘Sustainable Travel Trends 2022’ report shows that 91% of the public wish to see brands lead by example and demonstrate the actions they are taking to support the planet. Moreover, 59% of consumers are prepared to force change by boycotting businesses that are failing to prioritise the environment.

If consumers are indeed willing to vote with their wallets, companies that are already walking the walk are far more likely to succeed over the longer term.

The UAE: a global ‘green spot’?

Here in the Emirates, policymakers and entrepreneurs alike have been quick to capitalise on the green travel trend. Dubai Sustainable Tourism (DST), for example – part of the emirate’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) – shone a spotlight on sustainable practices across the city to mark the 50th World Environment Day earlier this year. Fifty examples of sustainable best practice were highlighted by the initiative, from desert conservation reserves to eco-tourism attractions.

The fact that DST was able to highlight 50 such examples is proof that Dubai and the wider Emirates are home to a thriving green tourism community. Take for example UAE-based Sand Sherpa, the only camping experience available within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR). This company enables guests to holiday in an ancient ghaf tree forest and experience our local ecosystems first-hand. Or perhaps you’d prefer a visit to Jubail Island in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, where visitors can enjoy a stunning mangrove park while learning more about the area’s rich biodiversity.

There are also plenty more developments on the horizon, and not just in the UAE. From NEOM, the Red Sea Project and Riyadh Green in Saudi Arabia to Oman’s multibillion-dollar sustainable tourism city, Yiti, Middle East residents and visitors will soon have a wealth of green travel options to choose from.

Individual action

Selecting destinations based on their environmental credentials is obviously a sensible starting point when it comes to sustainable travel, but what more can we do as individuals to ensure our vacations don’t cost the earth?

From planning your itinerary in advance to embracing public transport, there are a number of easy-to-remember steps we can all take to help minimise our travel-related footprints. Even something as simple as reducing the number of belongings we pack in our cases – and selecting eco-friendly travel products to accompany us on our adventures – can make a significant difference. If you’re interested in getting some more tips, check out this informative article from Global Citizen.

And as I mentioned earlier, we all have the power to vote with our wallets. While we might need to spend a little more time researching our vacations, consumers can drive positive change by patronising the companies that are doing most to mitigate their environmental impact. Relevant activities may include offsetting carbon emissions on behalf of holidaymakers, or giving back to local communities. There are plenty of innovative players in the market doing their bit to build a greener travel sector.

The important thing to remember is that, when it comes to sustainable travel, there is no perfect way of doing things. The vast majority of human activity – whether in our own communities or farther afield – has some level of environmental impact. The goal of travellers and tourism companies should therefore be to take reasonable measures to mitigate this impact.

Ultimately, the more pressure we put on the travel industry to ensure its operations are environmentally responsible, the better our chance of shaping a truly sustainable tourism sector for future generations.

But whatever direction we choose to take, the most important thing is for us do something.