Survey: No green travel leaders

By Bill Poling

The travel industry apparently has a long way to go to convince green travelers that it is environmentally friendly. According to a new survey, no supplier brands have firmly established themselves as industry leaders, and most industry segments got poor grades when green travelers were asked to rate them.

greenlogoThe findings were published in the inaugural Green Traveler Survey Report, produced by Community Marketing in San Francisco. (Travel Weekly was one of several industry sponsors.)

The 1,736 participants, all of whom were self-styled eco-conscious travelers, were surveyed between May and July last year.

As a group, the report said, they tended to "walk the walk." More than 90% had maintained or increased their green practices at home despite the recession. One in four had biked to work during the previous week, and an equal number had engaged in voluntourism during a vacation trip.

But more than 60% were unable to name a single hotel brand that they saw as a stalwart in eco-friendliness. Only one brand, Kimpton, attracted more than 4% of the votes.

Likewise, two-thirds could not name a single airline that they regarded as an environmental leader, though Southwest garnered 4% of the votes. Among cruise lines, the leading response was "none," with 73% of the vote.

And among destinations, only Costa Rica moved the needle, being cited by 6.8% of the respondents.

When asked to rate individual industry segments on their green practices and their effectiveness in communicating them, the respondents handed out higher grades, but not by much. The most common response was "needs work."

No segment earned the top grade of Excellent from more than 5% of those surveyed, but 28% gave the second-best grade, Fair, to the hotel industry.

The lowest grade, Terrible, was most often handed out to airlines (27%), cruise lines (24%) and car rental companies (19%). Only 7%, by contrast, gave a Terrible grade to hotels.

But there is a ray of good news for retailers. While only 22% of the survey respondents used an agent in the previous 12 months, a solid majority said they would be more likely to use an agent, or to select a particular agent, if that agent had green travel credentials.

The survey report said these data suggest that "the idea of ‘green travel agents’ does hold appeal" for this group of travelers.

A big challenge, however, might be getting the word out about the existence of certification programs or rating services for agents and suppliers alike.

Despite their credentials as green travelers, 90% of survey respondents could not name any green travel or hospitality certification system. The most well known was the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, but it was mentioned by only 2%.

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