What Will Consumers Pay for a Green Vacation?

Mapping CSR Commitment in Tourism Industry image

Image: Adlwarth ppt, ITB
First CSR Day at International Tourism Convention in Berlin
The International Tourism Convention in Berlin, ITB, convenes yearly. In 2009, the "World's Leading Travel Trade Show" (as it is billed), introduced the first ever ITB Corporate Social Responsibility Day. It is overdue, judging by the reaction of most of the tour operators, location representatives, and marketers filling the convention center's halls -- where questions about "green tourism" opportunities usually end up in discussions about national parks. But change is afoot. ITB 2009 served up an excellent agenda with highly qualified speakers, including the presentation of an exclusive survey on consumer willingness to pay for Corporate Social Responsibility when making their vacation plans.

Read on to learn:

  • Who are the CSR-minded tourists?
  • Where are they going on vacation?
  • Just how much extra will the committed traveller pay?
  • What is the biggest obstacle to prioritizing CSR in the Tourism Industry?
The results of an exclusive survey were presented at ITB by Dr. Adlwarth, Managing Director of GfK Panel Services Deutschland, who conducted the survey of 20,000 German households and detailed study of the habits of a subset of "CSR interested" consumers.

Who are the CSR-interested tourists?
Thirty-three percent of travel-active households claim to be interested in environmental and humanitarian performance when making holiday choices. Of these, the survey identified two subclasses: a core group of CSR-committed travellers making up just under half of the CSR- interested people, and an extended group. Worthy of further study is the disturbing shift of priorities away from personal responsibility and neighborly help when emphasis on human rights and foreign aid increases (see graphics below).

GfK Tool Shows Commitment Levels for Various Vacation Priorities image

The CSR-oriented traveller puts higher priority on reduced replacement (and washing) of towels and bedding, energy efficiency measures in their accomondations and reduced waste from single-service packagings. They also tend towards culture or study trips over full pension plans and packaged tours.

Where are CSR-interested tourists going on vacation?
The map at the top of this article represents the preferences of the CSR-minded crowd when they select a European destination. (Germany is grey, because the study represents German households). One thing that is clear: CSR-minded people are not going to the beach. But surprisingly, Scandinavian countries, usually high in green reputation, earned only average or below average preference. The results of queries regarding mode of transportation suggests a possible explanation: the accessibility of a vacation destination by train or bus is more important than the commitments of the businesses at the destination.

Just how much extra will the committed traveller pay?
The CSR-interested tourist is willing to pay a little extra to ensure that social and humanitarian measures are practiced at their destination, that the local ecology is respected, and for environmentally friendly construction or emissions-reduced travel. Willingness to pay more for a certification of the Corporate Social Responsibility practices registered lower, but still scored 36% of CSR-interested tourists willing to open their pocketbook for the piece of paper (compared to 16% of the general travelling population). With all things considered, the GfK study suggests that an 8% upcost is the limit which a business can expect to realize for implementing CSR programs.

What is the biggest obstacle to prioritizing CSR in the Tourism Industry?
The tourism industry is at a unique vertex in the arena of sustainability and social responsibility. Billions of wealthy (or wealthier) tourists seeking the last undisturbed corner, a unique personal experience, or a glimpse of foreign culture have the potential to wreak havoc on natural environments, take advantage of disadvantaged peoples and sow dissension. On the other hand, the monies tourism bring in -- if managed responsibly -- can help protect unprotected treasures and can drive economic improvements. Travel can grow understanding between peoples.

So it is very welcome to see that CSR is beginning to establish itself in this important sector of the global economy. But one graph from the study suggest exactly where CSR may rise or fall. The graph below shows all issues rated according to the percent of people rating them as "very important" versus the top three priorities listed by the people surveyed. The location of the orange shadow over the CSR issues shows them to be very important to many people -- but nowhere near a top priority. Your holiday business partners will continue to serve you, that is what they do best. If CSR fails to take hold in the tourism industry, it will be for a simple reason: those with the time and money to seek nature, relaxation and culture don't put priority on the sustainability of that experience or putting enough balance in the world so that those serving vacationers' needs get a vacation themselves. Next time you go on holiday, put CSR on your itinerary.

This article marks the beginning of a series that will look at some of the options found at ITB for the CSR-minded traveler.

Tourist's top three priorities versus all very important issues image

More on Travel Industry Corporate Social Responsibility
International Tourism Convention, Berlin: Corporate Social Responsibility Day
ITB Exclusive Study: Consumers' Willingness-to-pay for Corporate Social Responsibility
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