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New ETC report investigates impact of COVID-19 on tourists’ sustainable travel attitudes

New ETC report investigates impact of COVID-19 on tourists’ sustainable travel attitudes

Although consumers’ adoption of sustainable behaviour in tourism has been growing in the past years, research has shown that the global pandemic has driven more sustainable travel trends. Generally, travellers seem to be adopting greener options and paying closer attention to their impact on the environment and local communities. However, the willingness to adopt a more sustainable travel behaviour expressed by consumers does not always materialise. Recognising this, the European Travel Commission (ETC) has released a report: “Sustainable Travel in an Era of Disruption: Impact of Covid-19 on Sustainable Tourism Attitudes”.

Understanding travellers’ behavioural trends and expectations in a pandemic world is paramount to improving customer experiences. This study aims to help European destinations better understand consumers’ attitudes in the pandemic era, and more specifically, the extent to which tourists are ready to make concessions and adopt more sustainable approaches while travelling. By exploring this ‘value-action gap’ ETC supports destinations and the wider tourism sector in the transition towards a more sustainable tourism ecosystem.

The findings proved that pre-pandemic, current and projected travel behaviour of the respondents align, indicating little to no impact of the pandemic on the likelihood of adopting more sustainable travel behaviours in the future. However, the value orientation, belief and norm patterns of the respondents proved to be good predictors of travel behaviour – both pre-COVID-19 and in the projected travel behaviour.

Respondents with stronger value orientations have higher levels of awareness of the consequences of their actions and ascription of responsibility and thereby feel more obliged to act in a responsible manner. The analysis revealed four distinct clusters:

  • Frontrunners: Low-footprint travellers with the highest likelihood of adopting sustainable travel behaviour in the future. The cluster with the strongest biospheric and altruistic value orientation.
  • Comfortable Crowd: Habitual low-footprint travellers with interest in alternative destinations in ones’ proximity and in travelling in low season.
  • Entitled Stewards: Medium-footprint travellers who are less likely to compromise on location and time of travel but willing to adjust otherwise.
  • Laggards: Habitual high-footprint travellers with the lowest level of likelihood for considering sustainable alternatives in the future. The cluster with the weakest biospheric and altruistic value orientation.

Overall, the study shows that travellers are most likely to adopt sustainable practices in the behavioural category of interacting with the local community and immersing in local life, learning about the local traditions and trades, buying local products and choosing locally owned restaurants while in the destination.

On the other hand, travellers are least likely to opt for alternative transportation modes and consider booking with eco-certified service providers. Money and time are constraints that were found to have a significant impact on the likelihood of adopting more sustainable travel practices in the future.

The report also provides recommendations on strategic actions for European DMOs and NTOs to focus on stimulating sustainable travel behaviour among each of the four identified clusters.

The report can be downloaded here

This research was co-financed by the Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism and HospitalityBreda University of Applied Sciences and the European Tourism Futures Institute.