Sustainability in travel isn’t a new thing and — perhaps for that very reason — it’s easy to see the concept only as a series of overworked ideas. But beyond the refillable water bottles, the sharp prickle of flight shame, the banning of single-use plastics, and the virtuous signs and slogans that urge us to leave nothing behind but footprints — it seems as if there’s nothing else to know ... but there is. Because far from being a well-worn trope, sustainable travel is a concept that is now being considered from a different perspective by both travellers and destinations alike. 

This is a concept that has now become truly comprehensive, with more and more inside the industry — including travellers themselves — caring not just about how a journey is made, but how thoughtful, caring visitors act within their chosen destination. So ahead of World Earth Day on April 22 — this first installment of our two-part series on sustainability takes a look at how this change in the very concept of sustainability has become a new reality for many destination marketing organizations (DMOs). Alongside this, we’ll be exploring how some of our clients are making tangible strides in helping visitors to shift their behaviours and offer up some concrete takeaways for other destinations that want to replicate or even build on these kinds of endeavours. 


Supply & Demand: How Travellers & Destinations Grapple with Sustainability Over Time

Pick a year, pick a moment. As this piece from CN Traveller illustrates, sustainable travel has been around for a long time, with the passing of the years eliciting ever more complex thoughts, ideas, and even fads concerning what it means to be sustainable in relation to the world of travel. While today’s travellers and destinations are now fully aware of the concept of sustainability, it could be argued that the execution of sustainable practices isn’t split equally between these two cohorts, with the immediate demands made by travellers often outstripping the industry’s ability to quickly accommodate their needs. But if the results of this whitepaper are any kind of indicator, travellers are now more than ever demanding that the brands and companies from which they purchase goods and services are sustainable in their operations and practices. 

The demands of travellers are certainly a driving force behind sustainability, but what about destinations themselves? While many visitors have been quick to express what they need and want from sustainability as consumers over the years, with the passing of time, destinations have voiced with ever-increasing confidence how shifts in visitor behaviour can, should, and must play a key role in reinforcing sustainability within a place and — most importantly — in actually preserving that place.

Think, for example, of the concerns voiced for decades by the likes of Venice and Amsterdam. Simple acts like encouraging the use of public transport, supporting the local economy and businesses, and promoting sustainable activities along with positive behaviours (i.e., recycling) within any given destination go far in ensuring that the concept of sustainability becomes part of the fabric of any given place. 


From Concept to Concrete: Destinations Empowering Visitors to Make Sustainable Choices

Among our European clients, Go New Forest — which received the "Best Showcase of Sustainability" award at Simpleview EMEA Summit in 2023 — is notable for its comprehensive approach to sustainability and, as a destination, actively incorporates and encourages incoming visitors to make a true and tangible impact to this unique destination. Its long-running Green Leaf scheme is aimed at ensuring that local businesses deliver responsible and sustainable visitor experiences. As part of this initiative, participating organisations must complete a checklist of present and future actions that are aimed at improving their sustainability performance.

This checklist covers eight distinct and wide-ranging categories, including Responsible Travel, Responsible Visiting, Food & Local Produce, Energy Efficiency, Waste, Water & Recycling, Land Use & Nature Conservation, Visitor Stewardship (i.e, following the New Forest Code), and Supporting Local Business.

From a visitor perspective, organisations taking part in the Green Leaf scheme are then awarded either a bronze, silver, or gold accreditation, with travellers able to easily verify what individual businesses are doing — from installing EV charging points, utilising rainwater harvesting techniques, or even generating solar power — to create a more sustainable experience. This enables visitors to make the kind of choices that help them to create a positive impact.

For Visit Bristol — a former European Green Capital — a round-up of sustainable initiatives can be found on the Green Bristol pages of its website. From cycle paths and sustainable food eateries to water refill stations and city farms, this DMO has put together a whole host of suggestions for those who want to ensure that they make their time in Bristol a positive one.


Setting the Bar High & the Carbon Emissions Low

Finally, it would be remiss of us not to mention Visit Norway. After all, this is a nation that has committed itself to reducing its carbon emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and the nation’s travel industry, of course, plays a key role in this worthy endeavour. With its new website, Visit Norway is now serving up endless ideas, possibilities, and itineraries for travellers who want to ensure that both their journey to and time in the country is as low-impact as possible. From skiing and saunas to surfing and bee highways (yes, really), Visit Norway has every possible angle covered, ensuring that there’s absolutely no reason for travellers not to make the best possible choices every time they come to the country.

In 2024, sustainable travel isn’t a new idea, but time and change have seen the industry flip the concept on its head, making it easier than ever for both travellers and destinations alike to take sustainability from concept to reality in any given place.