Sustainable travel searches on Google increased by 50% between Jan 2023-2024. A recent report by Euromonitor International found that almost 80% of travellers would pay up to 10% more for travel and tourism experiences that are sustainable.

The growth in ‘Eco-travel’ has seen the emergence of new ways to travel; as well as new experiences that provide immersive experiences for travellers while benefiting the community.

The WTM Global Travel Report highlighted sustainable travel as a major opportunity for the tourism industry. Existing companies will be able to innovate their product offerings while new companies will emerge that help provide solutions to travellers looking to be more sustainable.

Sustainable Tourism Trends 2024

Travellers concerned with sustainability still have a strong desire to get out and explore the world. However they are opting for solutions that are less impactful on the environment and communities.

Destination Swaps

‘Destination Swaps’ or ‘Dupes’ have become a popular solution to prevent over-tourism and crowding in popular destination hot spots. They can also be an effective way to reduce costs while still enjoying an immersive cultural experience.

So what are destination dupes? Travellers are searching for lesser-known destinations that still provide them with cultural and historical experiences. For example, instead of travelling to Nashville, customers may opt for Mempis, Chattanooga or Knoxville. All of these destinations will provide rich experiences but may not be as populated with tourists.

‘Destination dupe’ has over 1.2M views on TikTok with travellers looking for inspiration on lesser-known destinations. Expedia data found that searches for ‘dupe’ spots doubled internationally between August 2022-2023.

DMOs, Tourism Boards, NGOs and local communities are also focusing on Destination Stewardship ; ways to protect the environment and communities from the effects of over tourism. 2023 saw 42 new regions, from 11 different countries, join the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index) in a bid to learn and improve sustainable tourism measures.


Slow Travel

In a bid to reduce carbon footprints a number of travellers are opting for slow travel: going less often, but going for longer. Instead of taking 5 or 6 shorter trips in a year, slow travellers may only go once or twice but will stay for 2 weeks or more. An EHL insights report found that slow travel is predicted to see a 10% compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

Going slower allows travellers to spread out experiences to avoid jam-packed itineraries that can become exhausting; travellers want to prioritise rest and relaxation on their trips . Skift predicts that the slow travel trend is here to stay with travellers wanting to make stops along the way and see where the path leads them rather than speeding along the classic overpopulated tourism routes.

Part of slow travel is also about the journey to your destination. Many travellers opt for alternatives to flights including trains, boats, coaches and even cycling. Instead of being ‘ dropped ’ in your location; travelling becomes a part of the adventure where you can meet other travellers and get recommendations for experiences while also being more environmentally-friendly.

One of the main attractions of slow travel is the opportunity travellers have to immerse themselves in the culture and communities of their destination. It provides them with time to learn about the locals, traditions, history, music and cuisine.


Food for Thought

Trying out local cuisines is high on the list of traveller desires for 2024 and food tourism can play a major role in the sustainability of local agricultural and food systems. Viator, the tour platform, reports interest in its sustainable food tours is running high.

The Travel Foundation highlights that the abundance of food traditionally offered to tourists comes at a high price to the environment and local businesses. Sustainable food tourism was a major theme during Arival 360 last year with Kenneth Dunn from Eating Europe claiming that increasing numbers of tourists are expecting sustainable food tours, farm-to-table experiences and less single-use packaging.

A number of travellers are going one step further and participating in agritourism. Travellers stay on a farm, ranch or other agricultural business and help with operations in the hope of learning more about where their produce is coming from and how it is farmed. It is predicted that the global agritourism market will develop at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.4% from 2022 to 2030.


How Can Operators Become More Sustainable

So where do tour operators start when it comes to making sustainable changes?

Sustainability is not simply about reducing emissions. The World Tourism Organization defines 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”. While not all tour operators will be able to make sweeping changes to their business operations there are still smaller adjustments that can be made to become more sustainable.

Being aware of tourism leakage and attempting to become a support system for the local community is a great place to start. The UN Environment Programme claims that for every $100 a tourist from a developed country spends on vacation only around $5 actually stays in a developing country’s economy.

Hiring local staff to operator tours and activities can help to have a positive impact on the local economy and community. If food options are offered, making sure they are locally sourced and seasonal helps to support local farming and reduce carbon footprint. Also, with a third of the world’s food being wasted is it important to avoid surplus and only cater to expected traveller numbers.

Create an Energy Management Programme to help you keep track of your improvements and best practices. If you have a physical space making switches to energy-efficient appliances, motion sensor electricals and LED lighting can go a long way to reduce your carbon footprint as well as your energy bills!

Sustainable tourism poses a huge opportunity for established tour operators as well as emerging businesses. With travellers still desiring exploration, whilst being more mindful of overtourism, there is likely to be a number of economies and communities that benefit from increased footfall.


Quick Wins for Tour Operators

At Bókun we believe a little can go a long way. A few changes can start the ball rolling on becoming a more sustainable tour operator, as well as giving back to the local community.

  • Spotlight local merchants and businesses within your experiences
  • Provide travellers with information on the best way to reach your tour using public transportion
  • Reduce single-use plastic and packaging and encourage reusable alternatives
  • Avoid paper waste by switching printed documents, brochures and tour information to online
  • Circulate tourism revenue in communities by hiring local guides – they have the insider scoop anyway!
  • Create immersive experiences where travellers can get involved with the local community
  • Encourage low-season tourism – discounted packages for out of season travel to reduce overtourism