I was recently asked about the luxury travel market and whether luxury travelers could or would ever embrace sustainable travel. It was a curious question, because in my mind, the luxury market is the best target for a sustainable travel offering — maybe it just needs to be marketed differently.
Consumer studies show that the “greenest” consumers not only have higher household incomes than their “less green” counterparts but also a propensity for luxury items. In fact, in a 2011 survey called “All about the super greenies,” the “super green” consumer, or those that engaged in the highest amount of environmentally friendly activities, were shown to be top earners with a taste for luxury goods.
Similarly, in a recent Conde Nast Traveler reader survey, 75 percent of respondents said they thought it was important for hotels near impoverished areas to help local people obtain education, clean water, food and healthcare. And in the publication’s 12th annual “Green List,” where businesses are awarded for their achievements in social and environmental responsibility, conservation and health, it is clear that the winning hotels, resorts and tour operators are anything but targeted to the economy traveler. So, if the word “eco-tourism” still evokes images of straw huts and compost toilets, maybe the real question is, how do we best market a responsible and sustainable travel offering to the luxury traveler?
Luxury brands such as Selfridges, Net-A-Porter, Lexus and Rolls-Royce have already played into the eco-friendly trend with green products, so why not travel? High-end hotels and resorts, in fact, are increasingly implementing responsible and sustainable practices. For example, luxury tour operators specialize in combining the authenticity of the exotic and luxurious vacation with deep philanthropic efforts. Take Abercrombie & Kent’s philanthropic arm that flanks its vacations with dedication to preserving natural habitats, protecting wildlife and supporting indigenous peoples. Or Micato Safaris’ “one for one” program where they match every safari package with payment of all school fees for a child in need … a child who would otherwise stay home due to extreme poverty. One safari, one child. And finally, the Ritz Carlton luxury hotel brand offers “Give Back Getaways,” where guests can search for the hotel based upon the kind of volunteer experience they are looking for, be it social, environmental or cultural.
So will the luxury traveler embrace sustainable travel? Yes. And they do, because to them it’s all about “better”; a better and more authentic experience, and better social and environmental impact. When luxury travel brands promote sustainable and responsible offerings in a way that speaks to their customers’ expectations of service and excellence at every point of their travel experience — that in itself, is luxury. And responsible.