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Sustainable Tourism Statistics: 2021 Ultimate List Statistics and Trends

As cities reopen, and we gradually return to pre-pandemic normalcy, sustainable tourism statistics show that an environmental and ethical revolution that’s been brewing for over a decade is coming to the fore. 

This change in mindset comes at a time when responsible travel is urgently needed. Whether that means reducing your energy consumption or preserving the culture of a local community, sustainability is no longer a choice, but an imperative that will impact our society and the vacation rental industry in the years to come. 

In this article, we’ve put together some of the most important sustainable tourism statistics and trends to help professional property managers to be at the forefront of the hospitality industry.

Distributing your listings is a strategy, not a task. Take our free 5-day email course for property managers who want new, creative strategies for distributing their vacation rentals. 

Key Sustainable Tourism Trends in 2021 and beyond 

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) describes sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”. This type of responsible tourism, also known as ecotourism, has become increasingly popular in the past few years, with reports showing that 83% of travelers worldwide believe that sustainable travel is important. [1] 

According to the 2021 Sustainable Development Report, the countries with the highest overall performance on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were: 

  1. Finland 
  2. Sweden
  3. Denmark
  4. Germany
  5. Belgium

While these results are mainly due to proactive governments that develop protective policies and regulations against climate change, they can still be used as inspiration by countries whose decision-making representatives have failed to take action. 

In Finland, for example, people have a deep appreciation for nature and connect with it at a very early age. This mindset is intensified in their adult life and results in a population that fights to protect their environment and preserve natural resources. 

01_image of Finland

In 2021, Finland was considered the country with the highest sustainable development. Credit: Olivier Darny from Pexels

As stakeholders of global tourism, property managers can take small steps towards promoting this mentality to guests by starting a garden or recommending a variety of nature escapes that focus on the biodiversity of the area. 

Statistics in Sustainable Tourism Shaping the Travel Industry 

We’ve gathered relevant statistics and trends that are quickly shaping the vacation rental industry and tourism sector. 

Professional property managers around the world can use this knowledge to boost their vacation rental business.  That’s because, aside from taking care of your surrounding environment, economy, and society, sustainable actions also increase your vacation rental profitability by targeting an emerging group of conscious global travelers.  

02_image of traveler enjoying nature

Credit: Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

1. People are more concerned about the environment after the pandemic

Back in 2020, people were asked about the number of holidays they planned to take after the COVID-19 pandemic compared to before the outbreak. 26% responded that they planned to take fewer holidays, with 25% of them adding that their reason for wanting to travel less was due to their concerns over their impact on the environment. [2]

Another report shows that the pandemic has made 61% of travelers want to travel more sustainably. In 2021, 83% of travelers want to decrease their energy consumption, 79% want to use more environmentally friendly transportation, 76% would like to lower their water usage, and 69% want to reduce the carbon footprint of their vacation. [3]

03_preview of booking.com's sustainable travel report

Credit: Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report 2021

To minimize these concerns and successfully attract green travelers, property managers can:

  • Make eco-friendly changes such as using energy-efficient appliances
  • Invest in smart home technology
  • Provide bicycles and other sustainable transportation options (a big plus for any luxury vacation rental

For more tips on how to go green, check out our article on how to guarantee a sustainable vacation rental

2. …and they’re looking for more eco-friendly accommodation 

Out of the ten pledges that travelers have made to be more sustainable, the third most important is to always look for eco-friendly accommodation. [4] 

Studies show that 73% of travelers are more likely to choose accommodation that has implemented sustainability practices over those that haven’t [3]. In fact, Operto’s 2021 white paper states that hotel guests are willing to pay up to 75% more per night for an eco-friendly stay.

04_preview of agoda's sustainable travel trends survey

Credit: Agoda Sustainable Travel Trends Survey 2021

Communicating what steps have been made to make a property eco-friendly will help your vacation rental business stand out from competitors and increase bookings. Whether that be on your website or in listing descriptions, be sure to clearly highlight what efforts have gone into this sustainable experience. 

3. Here’s what they expect from you:  

According to Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report, travelers await far more from accommodation providers and property managers than ever before: 

  • 35% believe that air conditioners and heaters should be controlled by keycards or energy-saving sensors 
  • 32% think that accommodation providers should offer information on local ecosystems, heritage, culture, and visitor etiquette 
  • 27% want to be able to opt out of daily room cleaning to reduce water usage
  • 27% would only like to use reusable plates and cutlery for meals and room service [3]

While some of these adaptations can be applied immediately, such as cutting out single-use products, others may require more time, effort, and money. For the best results, work on changes that are feasible at the moment and create a long-term sustainability plan for improvements that you’d like to achieve in the future. 

4. 49% of travelers prioritize recycling in their everyday lives 

Understanding what guests prioritize in their everyday lives is essential to providing the right services and amenities in your vacation rental business. Travelers top priorities in 2021 are: 

  • Recycling (49%) 
  • Reducing food waste (42%)
  • Walking or cycling to avoid public transportation or cars (34%)
  • Avoiding single-use plastic (33%) [3] 

If you haven’t implemented a recycling program yet, now’s the time. Because recycling varies in most states or countries, you can avoid confusion by labeling bins and providing simple instructions in a digital welcome book. 

5. They want to reconnect with nature and local culture

As travelers begin to avoid mass tourism and the consequences that come with it, 80% are expressing their desire to learn about the local culture when on a holiday and 76% would like to reconnect with nature. [2] 

05_preview of Mintel's 2021 Ethical Traveler Report

Credit: Mintel 2021 Ethical Traveler Report

To meet these wishes, property managers can do the following: 

  • Provide a local area guide with insider tips and recommendations for authentic restaurants, hidden gems, cultural tours, and events 
  • Set up partnerships with local companies and tour operators that offer a variety of activities such as bike tours, cooking classes, and language exchanges
  • Prepare easy-to-follow routes and maps for nature trails that guests can use to explore the area on their own

6. Their biggest impact concern is excess waste

Excess waste is what 46% of travelers worry about. Aside from that, 38% are concerned about threats to wildlife and natural habitats, 30% are worried about overtourism, and 29% are anxious about CO2 emissions. [3] 

To reduce the amount of waste produced during a guest’s stay, consider installing a water filter to avoid plastic bottles, provide eco-friendly and reusable shopping bags, and create a list of farmer’s markets in the area that guests can visit for a plastic-free experience.

06_preview of Booking.com's Sustainable Travel Report 2021

Credit: Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report 2021

7. Guests want to know which vacation rentals are sustainable 

40% of travelers would like booking sites to label which properties are sustainable and 37% want a filter option to make the process even easier. [3] 

While property managers can’t control what online travel agencies like Airbnb and Booking.com do, what they can control is their direct bookings strategies and the content they put out on their vacation rental websites. 

Do your rentals use smart LED lighting that adjusts its brightness according to the natural light availability each day? Point out this wonderful feature and all of the environmental benefits that come with it on your website!

8. Partnering with local businesses is the way forward

During their travels, 42% of people shopped at small businesses to support the local economy. [3] 

To further encourage this trend, you can buy toiletries, kitchen essentials, bedding, and furniture from independent, local businesses instead of ordering online or opting for mass-producing chains. 

Drive extra revenue by upselling services and experiences like group yoga sessions or snorkeling tours. All it takes is a partnership with a local company to positively impact the economy and earn more money.

07_preview of Booking.com's Sustainable Travel Report 2021

Credit: Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report 2021

9. Travel companies are getting involved

When asked about who is accountable for making positive environmental changes regarding travel, 26% responded with the government, 23% said tourism authorities, and 20% mentioned themselves, 8% said accommodation providers, and 6% said online travel agents. [4] 

08_preview of Agoda's Sustainable Travel Trends Survey 2021

Credit: Agoda Sustainable Travel Trends Survey 2021

Travel companies have already started taking action, which can be seen through the Future of Tourism Coalition. This coalition was formed by six non-profit organizations to create a set of principles that will enforce sustainable growth within the international tourism industry. 

32% of travelers feel like they don’t know how to make their travel more sustainable and 48% say they find it harder to make sustainable choices while on vacation. [3] Property managers can alleviate some of this ethical pressure by making sustainable and energy-saving decisions that require no effort from guests. 

Main takeaways

Staying on top of the latest trends is a crucial part of any successful property manager’s job—especially when it comes to sustainable tourism. With the right information, you can implement conscious changes that help your business grow and also leave a positive impact on the environment, economy, and society.  

Curious to learn more? Head over to our article on vacation rental statistics to stay updated on the most recent trends. 

Distributing your listings is a strategy, not a task. Take our free 5-day email course for property managers who want new, creative strategies for distributing their vacation rentals. 

References

[1] Travel, tourism & hospitality – Statista 

[2] 2021 Ethical Traveler Report – Mintel

[3] Sustainable Travel Report 2021 – Booking.com

[4] 2021 Sustainable Travel Trends Survey – Agoda

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