From environmental initiatives to authentic cultural connections, today’s travelers seek meaningful experiences that make a positive difference for the places they visit. Are you prepared to guide them?
An ongoing focus on both sustainability and immersive experiences are converging into a new form of purpose-driven travel—one that considers both the effect travelers have on the destinations as well as the effect it ultimately has on them personally.
“For the long-term viability of travel itself, we have got to ensure we’re looking at what we can do today and beyond today,” says Gavin Tollman, CEO of Trafalgar. “Along with the privilege that comes with travel of discovering other people and places comes the responsibility of making choices that preserve those experiences for future generations.”
Enter sustainable tourism: travel that seeks to diminish environmental impacts, protect the earth, and benefit locals, while also encouraging travelers to make deep connections with the people and places they visit.
The good news? The vast majority of global travelers—87 percent—say they want to travel sustainably, according to a 2018 survey by Booking.com of more than 12,000 global travelers in 12 markets. The not so good news? Just under half (48 percent) say they never, rarely or only sometimes actually do manage to travel sustainably.
What does this mean for you? In short, huge opportunity to share options with travelers who want to travel with purpose, but just don’t know how to go about it. Luckily, there are suppliers leading the charge.
Walking the Walk
“When I talk with our agent partners, I note that it’s not just about where they’re recommending their clients go,” says Tollman, “but in what suppliers are doing in other endeavors—and how agents themselves are applying sustainability to their own business model. Are they reducing their own paper and plastic consumption in the office, for example? Ultimately both travelers and agents want to do business with companies that are doing the right thing, not just as a marketing move but because it’s part of the company’s DNA.”
Tollman encourages agents to work with suppliers who walk the walk, not just in the more visible areas of destination choices and immersive experience offerings, but in behind-the-scenes initiatives that companies engage in.
He also notes how one initiative can spiral off to have benefits in many ways. “One of our great stories is Marta, who is one of the last to do handweaving in Italy at Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti in Perugia,” Tollman recounts. “As part of TreadRight, a non-profit organization created and sustained by The Travel Corporation’s family of brands, we have helped the Laboratorio spread the tradition with educational tools, build e-commerce to increase sales and earn a stable income. Insight and Trafalgar both visit on programs, which allows our guests to experience something they won’t see anywhere else as well as contribute to ensuring the traditions survive. And just last year, we got the most extraordinary letter from Marta describing how the tradition was being passed on to the next generation, as her 14-year-old niece is learning to weave and continue the family business. Just this one initiative has touched countless people.”
“Purpose-driven travel is about much more than simply acquiring experiences,” says Adriana Matos, a travel expert with Cruise Planners in Orlando. “When clients practice mindful travel by savoring each experience and immersing themselves in those experiences, they will want to go back again and again. In a world hungry for meaningful experiences, clients are eager for opportunities to enhance the world around them.”
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Millennials Lead the Charge
Perhaps not surprising, younger generations are leading the charge when it comes to sustainable travel. According to travel advisors surveyed for the 2018 Virtuoso Luxe Report, millennials are currently those most likely to be asking about sustainable travel options—they are three times more likely to seek out and support travel companies that are committed to sustainable tourism than second-place Generation X. And the report predicts that as Gen Z (those born in the mid-90s through the early 2000s) continues to come of age and increase their purchasing power, they will likely mirror, or even surpass, millennials in their support of purpose-driven travel.
Stephanie Turner, president and CEO of St. Louis-based Brentwood Travel and a member of the Board of Directors for Ensemble Travel Group, says she is seeing an increase in clients interested in purpose-driven travel, especially among millennials. “They not only want to go and see, but they want to get to know the people, learn about and immerse themselves in the experience, and if there’s something they can do to help, they want to give back to the communities they are visiting,” she says.
“The new normal for travel incorporates the concept of engaging in service,” agrees Matos. “We’re seeing an increase in travel in pursuit of purpose—travel that mobilizes people for sustainable causes, is mindful and encompasses authentic experiences.”
According to the Virtuoso report, the factors of sustainable tourism that are most appealing to the clients include a wide range of initiatives, including reducing plastic waste, eco-friendly practices, protecting wildlife, eating local foods and supporting local farmers, giving back to communities and more.
Listening for Cues
For both travelers and travel advisors, the challenge is twofold: first defining what the experience is that clients are seeking and then matching those goals up with experiences that truly fulfill those desires. “As advisors, we are the ones responsible for qualifying clients to connect them with the most appropriate experience,” says Matos. “It’s important to understand a client’s background and what they’re really seeking in order to steer them to the right kinds of experience.”
To that end, she listens for certain key words and phrases in her conversations with clients. “They will say they want to make a change, they want to create an impact, they want to engage with the people they meet during their travel, that supporting others helps them improve their own lives—then I know that these are clients who are truly invested in this kind of travel,” she says.
Still, while such factors can help shape a travel experience, Turner, has found they may not be the primary driver. “They don’t necessarily say they want to help people first and then choose a place,” she says. “They typically start off talking about how they want to get to know people, see how people live, truly experience a destination…from there, we can talk about opportunities for what they can do while in different possible destinations.”
Andrew Harris, owner of Miami-based Harris Travel Service Inc., a Virtuoso agency, has also found that clients don’t specifically ask for purpose-driven travel, but that the concept becomes clear through qualifying conversations. “Purpose-driven travel is such a wide umbrella that can encompass so many different things,” he points out. “One example might be when clients talk about how they want to experience the culture of a destination and dine where locals dine. In a wine region, that might lead to a conversation about the chance to visit a vineyard to see how grapes are gown. From there, we can offer an option to home in on organic wine growing, for example.”
“In the end, it’s all about the people,” agrees Matos. “As travel advisors, we create experiences and have the opportunity to change a life every time we come in contact with clients.”