Sarah Gibbens of National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel, noted that a global environmental movement dubbed as “flight shaming” encouraged travelers to veer away from air travel in 2019. With the on-going pandemic, it has forced travelers not to travel by air. With people showing their concern to the environmental impact of flights’ carbon emissions, a growing group of travelers is trying to change their ways for a greener, more sustainable travel. Those who support green travel are positive that the COVID-19 will not change it.
Perceptions of Sustainable Travel Among Indian Travelers
Booking.com, an online travel agency for lodging reservations, found that 96% of Indian travelers considered sustainable travel as important to them whereas only 76% said they were more determined to make sustainable choices when planning to travel again in the future. This has prompted 73% of travelers to make more eco-friendly choices in their everyday life.
20% of respondents associated the term “sustainable travel and tourism” with reducing waste/recycling plastic. 51% also said they have brought their own reusable water bottle rather than purchasing plastic bottles when visiting a destination in the last year. In the future, accommodations going plastic-free and introducing measures to slash single-use plastic might be a key objective for travelers all over the globe.
However, 39% said they do not know how or where to find sustainable travel options while 54% said there are not much sustainable travel options available. In fact, 44% said they would be more encouraged to make sustainable travel choices if firms recommended alternative destinations to minimize overcrowding. 47% of Indian travelers preferred to travel by train rather than by car for longer distances to reduce their carbon footprint. Booking.com explained that travelers might want to make considerate choices by going to less-visited destinations and choosing alternative modes of transportation.
97% said they plan to stay in an eco-accommodation in 2020 and of those who previously stayed in an eco-accommodation (74%), 46% stayed in one to reduce their impact on the environment. To convince the 3% of travelers who have not expressed their interest in staying at an “eco-friendly accommodation,” having a universal eco-labeling system could help inspire other travelers to travel sustainably. In fact, 77% said they would be reassured about staying in an accommodation if it had an “eco-label.”
The Flight Shaming Movement and The Need for Alternative Travel Options
“Flight shame” or flygskam in Swedish is an anti-flying movement that incites guilt among people taking flights at a time when the globe needs to slash its greenhouse gas emissions, explained Joceyln Timperley of BBC, a British news channel. The flight shaming movement has led to the resistance of aviation, thereby reigniting people’s interest in rail travel. In fact, some are rediscovering their attraction of night trains, pressuring political figures to address the aviation industry’s impact on the climate. Timperley acknowledged that “shame” is a negative term, but it is beneficial for the proponents of this movement, as well as for the environment.
The movement is less about “shaming” other travelers who choose air travel than changing their own travel patterns. The flight shaming movement does not stop travelers from going to adventures across the world either. Anna Hughes, who runs the Flight Free 2020 campaign in the UK, reminded, “Not flying doesn’t mean not traveling.” The movement is more on enjoying the “slow, deliberate” journey of reaching a destination, particularly journeys that are possible without resorting to air travel. Hughes commented, “There are so many places that we can access by other means.”
More Travelers Are Becoming Aware of Aviation-Produced Carbon Emissions
Clare Farrell, co-founder Extinction Rebellion and a prominent proponent of limiting air travel, and several other activists went on hunger strike to oppose the expansion of the Heathrow Airport in London. The flight shaming movement gained more traction in the US last September when Greta Thunberg, a youth climate activists crossed the Atlantic via sea to attend a UN Climate Action Summit in New York City.
However, Scott Mayerowitz, executive editorial director of travel website The Points Guy, said that its readers and travelers are being mindful of their carbon footprint, but environmental impacts alone won’t be a deciding factor on whether a person would take a trip or not. He added, “No one wants to hurt the climate, [but] it was never at the center of most travelers’ agenda[s].” Aalia Udalawa, a consultant at PKG HotelExperts, said she wants to go green, but the “cost is a bigger factor.” As an avid traveler, she estimated that she would spend 20% more on sustainable travel. She observed that many of the more sustainable travel options do not align with her budget.
Addressing Environmental Issues With Sustainable Options
As more travelers are becoming interested in sustainable travel and tourism, so do the options available to them. According to Shannon McMahon, editor at online travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, “ We’ve seen a great many travelers weigh alternatives to flights.” She observed that travelers appear to be approaching travel more holistically, as they estimate how much carbon emissions they contribute during their travels now than they did the past year.
Rail travel is another option, albeit the journey is longer and costlier. On the bright side, the carbon footprint is much lower compared to air travel. Carbon offsets are also an option for sustainable travelers. However, the effectivity of this measure is a subject of debate. Farrell argued, “It’s a flawed way to deal with climate change because the most emissions are coming from people with the most money—and those who’d do well to change systems and habits. In her opinion, carbon offsets promote the idea that the problem can be passed to the next generation.
Sustainable Travel and the Pandemic
“Sustainable travel has been on the rise for years now,” McMahon said. The COVID-19 pandemic may not change the rising trend of green travel, but it could make it more significant than ever before. Founder and executive director of Impact Travel Alliance Kelley Louise perceived the sustainable travel movement to keep up its pace. Mass tourism is correlated with overtourism, conventional travel experiences, and climate change, she said. However, sustainable tourism offers travelers a greener alternative for communities, as well as the planet.
The flight shaming movement does not mean people are discouraged from traveling. In fact, this movement is to promote other modes of transportation that produce less emissions. Sustainable travel may be a trend, but travelers are encouraged to weigh their options before embarking on their next journey.