Geo-whiz: Pro-environment policies pay

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WASHINGTON -- Consumers want to do their share to improve the environment when they travel, and some say they're willing to pay more to make a meaningful difference, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by National Geographic in cooperation with the Travel Industry Association, suggests that hotels, tour operators, cruise lines and other travel suppliers could bolster their business if they institute policies to preserve and lessen the impact of tourism on the environment.

National Geographic Traveler editor Dawn Drew said consumers would be willing to spend "up to 10% to 15% more per night to stay in a hotel that is taking real steps [such as] using solar panels to conserve electricity" as opposed to a hotel that was cutting back on daily laundry to reduce the use of energy, water and detergents.

"In terms of customer perception, it is something they feel the hotel should be doing anyway," Drew said. "They are looking for bigger steps."

The survey report, "Geo-tourism: The New Trend in Travel," identified such conscientious travelers as "geo-tourists."

The study, which canvassed 5,000 consumers, found that geotourists tend to value properties that save energy by, for example, wiring the rooms in such a way that the lights and air conditioning are activated when the guest uses an electronic key to enter the room.

Additionally, 28% of consumers, or 43 million people, said they generally buy products and services from specific companies that make an effort to preserve the environment.

The study, which is the second in a series focusing on tourism and the environment, found that 73% of travelers place "a high importance on a clean, unpolluted environment when they take a leisure trip," while 61% said they believed their leisure experience is better when the destination preserves its natural, historical and cultural sites.

"A lot of consumers are willing to pay more to stay in a hotel that actually reflects the local culture," Drew said.

The study also found:

• 59% of consumers support controlling access to and/or more careful regulation of national parks and public lands to help preserve and protect them.

• 40% would be willing to help preserve the environment if such efforts could fit conveniently into their daily lives.

• 37% would do more for the environment if they knew specific actions to take.

• 30% said they would buy from specific companies that donate a part of their proceeds to charities.

Drew said the study underscores the fact that traveler sensitivity to the environment and local cultures is becoming a global trend.

"This study has been done in many different ways around the world," Drew said. "There is a similar study in the U.K."

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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