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Silt: Sustainability

The Luxury Travel Industry’s Slow Yet Steady March To Sustainability

According to Grand View Research, luxury travel is one of the most lucrative recreational industries, valued at just over $1.2 trillion. However, this immense market size is borne on the backs of the environment and the communities that receive luxury travelers. As a whole, the industry is responsible for a troubling chunk of waste generation and pollution, and this has been, by and large, concealed from its patrons, who, in all likelihood, might not have even cared. But their clientele is undergoing a rapid change, brought on by younger generations maturing and society becoming more ecologically concerned.

Only a select few companies employ socially conscious features, such as notifying travelers how much they reduced their carbon footprint by taking the bus. As such, the luxury travel industry must update its methods to maintain relevance. Here are some ways luxury travel companies are progressing towards sustainable business practices.

The Rise of Conscious Luxury 

The luxury travel market has been rushing to retool itself in recent years as sustainability has become an ever-increasing requirement in the eyes of many consumers. One thing that’s been coming up is the term “conscious luxury.” Industry leaders have defined it as awareness of the environmental impact of luxury travel and the industry taking steps to mitigate it. 

Industry veterans have realized that their niche has been providing extravagant and excessive service for the longest time. Considering the scarcity of resources and the environmental cost of producing enough to meet such demands, it has started to weigh heavily on the consciences of many in their client base. Some have even gone so far as to try to distance themselves from the word “luxury” altogether. This doesn’t change the fact that they are still effectively that, but it’s a good step towards finding a compromise between providing a fully accommodated getaway and sustainable consumption.

Most luxury travel executives who believe in “conscious luxury” rightly think they are unlikely to become paragons of sustainability despite their best efforts because of the very nature of their trade. But their new stance has produced good things, such as significantly reducing their plastic consumption, setting up amenities that double as small wildlife reserves, and minimizing their environmental impact on the places they pass through. 

Alternative Modes of Luxury Travel

It’s a well-known fact that air travel is one of the most significant contributors to emissions, not just among vehicles but all manmade processes. As such, the number of vacationers shying away from taking planes increases daily. But people don’t stop taking the plane, so this shift’s impact will likely be minimal. Hence, those looking for more eco-conscious travel modes have to look elsewhere.

The most significant emissions contributors, in terms of luxury vacations at least, are cruises, and the cruise ship industry has also been concentrating more effort into making their industry less destructive. They intend to do so primarily by employing alternative fuels such as methanol and liquified natural gas. Alternative modes of propulsion are also being looked into. For example, environmentalists have been pushing for sail technology to make a comeback for a while now, in the form of novel designs such as giant kites to tried-and-true ones such as sails. Others put an innovative spin on classic designs, such as an inflatable sail that could reduce the fuel consumption of something as big as a cargo ship by as much as 20 percent.

It would still be a while before cruise ships would be anywhere, even approaching carbon neutrality. But other means of luxury transport are taking the stage to fill the gaps for now. Foremost among these are luxury rails. Thanks to the recent clamor for better mass transport, the luxury rails sector has been seeing remarkable gains in the past few months, especially in the younger market. While the industry isn’t quite as advanced as something that has existed as long as luxury cruises, rail travel is still established enough for progress to be smooth, provided that demand keeps rising. 

Giving a Luxury Touch to Ecotourism

On paper, the added demands of sustainability are a burden to businesses. But many travel agencies are working around this by leaning into the “luxury ecotourism” angle. This is built upon bringing tourists closer to nature and wildlife. Having the experience center on this aspect gives travel companies a relatively lower-cost way to enhance the “luxury” feel. This frees up more resources for them to raise the sustainability of their service even further.

Already we’re beginning to see things like a safari with electric vehicles finding footing in the premium travel space. With further advancements in eco-friendly transport on the horizon, rising industries such as luxury road trip planners will also be able to go green. They’ll be able to rent out cars that can recharge at public charging stations, providing a more environmentally responsible way to take a weekend getaway on the open road. This offers luxury travel companies that already provide a more sustainable mode of road travel, such as going by bus, a way to further reduce their carbon footprint.

Bridging the Generational Gap 

As antithetical as it may sound, the luxury travel industry may need to make its services more accessible to customers from lower income brackets to survive. The amount of wealth held by the average individual has declined steeply with each generation, and nowhere is this more palpable than with Generation Z. While some experts have projected a much greater income potential for the generation than previous ones, the vast majority of its members still report that they live paycheck to paycheck. Considering that Gen Y and Z will be their primary client base in a few decades, sweeping changes ensure that the industry will be able to cater to them and that they will even want to be catered to by the industry in the first place. 

One edge that luxury travel has is the ability to invest in technology. Most companies have the resources to upgrade technological amenities to a level that makes the experience as convenient and pleasant as possible for the younger generation. This resonates well with Gen Y and Z, with the latter frequently referred to as the first “digital natives,” being highly attuned to technology. Gen Z is also considered to be the most socially concerned generation yet. These luxury travel companies must align themselves with these sensibilities to avoid alienating themselves from this demographic. Another strong point to focus on is normalizing sustainability practices and social responsibility.

Despite the immense collective resources of the luxury travel industry, there are still many obstacles to hurdle before they can be considered indeed on the way to carbon neutrality. Supply chain and infrastructure are the biggest ones and aren’t so easily worked around. Going green is a much more monumental undertaking for the luxury travel sector, as they need to consider not only their own logistical systems but that of the world at large as well, by nature of their service. But as long as demand keeps nudging the industry towards sustainability, it will be achieved.