Minimum impact on the environment, wildlife conservation support, and benefiting local communities from supporting a specific attraction or product.

This is the common description of ‘eco travel’ by numerous tourism players, and what they see as important factors considered by travellers interested in this type of travel.

The eco-traveller

“There are different variances of eco travellers,” says Victoria Rodenacker, Market Manager for Spain and South America at Tourvest DMC. “Some want to avoid any possible negative environmental impact – they would sacrifice luxury to rather stay at eco-friendly properties – while others just want more meaningful experiences while travelling. They all understand the importance of eco-tourism and responsible travel, and they want to make more of a positive difference while travelling. They want to volunteer for projects, they want to interact with different cultures, and empower local communities. The eco-travellers contribute to conservation; they want their experiences to benefit both them and their hosts.”

Chris Anagnostellis, CEO of An African Anthology, agrees. “The eco-traveller, in my view, is a person who is aware of the ecological challenges our environments face, and whilst it covers all ages, there certainly seems to be more awareness filtering through from the millennials as technology allows us to expose more and more of the challenges the environment faces.”

“Our Dutch market seems to react best to the eco-travel trend,” says Victoria Short, Marketing Manager of Springbok Atlas. “For them, eco-travel is about travelling with as little impact as possible on nature and wildlife yet still being able to contribute towards sustaining the social side of travelling. The trend is that eco-travellers are from the more mature age group, although it does depend on the origin of the business.”

Authenticity and purpose of travel

Authenticity is a major driver in eco-travel, as travellers seek ‘real’ experiences that have a purpose. “Authentic, exclusive and purposeful experiences are on the rise. Travellers want to know that by travelling to certain destinations they are directly helping to support communities and contributing towards conservation initiatives,” says Tracy Bamber, Wilderness Safaris Chief Sales Officer. “A luxury experience is still very important, but it is now more about the ‘luxury of purpose’ – an immersive, life-changing journey that makes a positive impact at the same time.”

Short seconds this sentiment, saying that the kind of experiences that are important to eco-travellers are authentic experiences – from wildlife to cultural – that will not exploit the environment or people.

Other important experiences for eco-travellers

“It is important for an eco-traveller to be made aware of what the product is doing to minimise impact on the environment by experiencing it and being shown the results – for example, a solar plant, waste recycling, the use of paper instead of plastic. It is important that any product that differentiates itself from another product is able to qualify this, and not merely use it as a marketing tool or gimmick,” says Anagnostellis.

Will travellers pay more for eco-travel?

Bamber says most travellers, eco-travellers included, are looking for an experience that surpasses their expectations, but the onus remains on the operator to ensure that operating responsibly is part of their remit. “Many guests don’t feel it is their responsibility to be charged extra for this service that should just be part of the offering.”

Anagnostellis believes that eco-travel covers a broad spectrum of affordability while Short says a small percentage of eco-travellers, those truly dedicated to sustainability, are willing to spend more to get the environmentally friendly experience.

Trends in eco-travel

“There is a growing trend toward more mindful and conscious travellers who want to feel that their journey has a direct, positive impact and is therefore purposeful,” says Bamber. “Our guests are definitely showing more and more interest in our sustainability credentials, and how the trip will enable them to personally make a difference. Not all of our guests express this interest prior to travelling with us, and are simply booking a luxury safari; however, after their trip, they are more educated and aware of our sustainability ethos and do often express their support through donations to our non-profit partners, as well as booking future travel to our camps.”

Esther Ruempol, Market Manager for Benelux at Tourvest DMC, sees the millennial generation tending to be more conscious of their footprint compared with older generations, but require more guidance when trying to build an itinerary that has eco-friendly product, within their budget.

“The eco-travel market is small but definitely growing. As a Fair Trade-approved tour operator, it is important to consistently break new ground and be at the forefront of developing product and experiences that improve the traveller experience whilst protecting the environment and social aspects,” concludes Short.