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A sustainable model for experiential travel

Discovering pristine locations is a growing trend, particularly among millennial travellers. How do hotels deliver on growing demand while keeping the approach sustainable?

Female traveler entering a hotel room

About 100,000 planes take off each day and millions of guest rooms are booked every year. The travel and tourism industry is one of the biggest contributors to the global economy. In 2018, it generated 10.4 percent of the global GDP and 319 million jobs and is set to grow further in the coming years. 

This growth success story is the result of an increased number of travelers willing to spend more on their holidays. Millennials alone represent a spending power of more than $200 billion each year and travel 35 days annually on average. They make traveling a priority and are looking for experience-rich destinations that drive them to explore the unknown and discover themselves in the process.

Looking to unravel the demands of the next generation of travelers and to satisfy their growth ambition, I met with business leaders and decision makers representing some of the biggest travel and tourism organizations such as the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Hilton, Expedia and Carnival Corporation in Seville earlier in the year. Discussions with travel experts revealed that the future expansion of industry is simply not yet on the map. Indeed, consumers are searching for the next untouched and unique destination, hoping to avoid the crowds at popular getaways like Thailand or Paris, France. 

Millennials and Gen Z are looking for experiential travel, from a rafting adventure in Canada to touring ice caves in Iceland. They favor exploring pristine locations and immersing themselves in local culture. A study by Airbnb found that over 80% of millennials say that the best way to learn about a place is to live like the locals do. From cooking classes to music festivals, this generation is happy to pay for activities as long as they deliver an authentic experience. But in this digital era of online reviews and social media, uncovering new destinations means that they will not stay hidden for very long. As quickly as Instagrammers @eljackson and @alexstrohl can collect thousands of likes for their travel pictures, the industry must find the most sustainable way to grow and encourage visitors to explore new territories, while preserving the uniqueness of these locations. 

Recent events and headlines across the world have revealed how mass tourism can damage the environment and local communities if not managed properly. Several European cities took to the streets last summer to protest in Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik, Amsterdam and elsewhere in Europe against the invasion of visitors. On the other side of the world, the government closed the Philippine island of Boracay to tourists for six months following concerns of damage to its once pristine shores. 

As the industry looks to bring travelers to newly uncovered destinations, can the sector both better position itself to generate financial profits and preserve local resources at the same time? The impact a hotel, cruise or restaurant and their guests have on resources like water and energy is greater than the local communities and can develop into a barrier to business growth. In my role, I have been asked time and time again by customers to help them expand their operations in water scarce areas, such as Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. And the travel destinations of tomorrow, while pristine, are also most likely to be in countries that face fresh water challenges. Leaders of today’s industry should map the future water risk at a local level and develop actions to mitigate it and build resilience. 

Ecolab has spent the past decades developing that expertise, doing more, better business with less water. In India, a 5-star Hyatt hotel was facing a water shortage when the supply was suddenly cut off. Thanks to Ecolab’s 3D TRASAR™ technology, the hotel was able to maintain heating and cooling for its guests, while saving 6.8 million liters of fresh water. We have shared our water management expertise for free online thanks to tools like the Water Risk Monetizer and the Ecolab Smart Water Navigator to enable travel and tourism businesses to plan for smart and inclusive growth and contribute to the long-term availability of water.

Attracting travelers to hidden gems such as the city of Samarkand on the Silk Road or the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean means that the industry must invest in technologies and initiatives that can help preserve those destinations. A global survey carried out by TUI Group found that 66 percent of travelers rely on the industry to build a greener travel experience and inform them about available choices. This is a unique opportunity for hotels, airlines, cruise companies and travel agencies around the world to raise the bar. Bold action on sustainability can be a business opportunity and not just an economic cost but it requires real leadership and a willingness to change.

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About the Author

Portrait of Geoff Townsend, Industry Fellow for Ecolab

Geoff Townsend

Industry Fellow for Ecolab

Dr Geoff Townsend is an Industry Fellow for Ecolab. He engages in the strategic direction of Ecolab’s water and energy related innovation with a particular emphasis on enabling our customers to meet the challenges associated with water scarcity and water quality constraints while minimizing the financial and environmental impact.

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