Industries worldwide have changed significantly over the last year as the COVID-19 pandemic pressed pause on the rhythms of day-to-day life. The hospitality industry, fitness industry and arts and culture industries were some of the hardest hit. Hotels operated at diminished capacity, gyms completely closed and theaters were forced to either adapt or disappear. Just as these industries changed during the global health crisis, so have consumers. Many consumers have since restructured their priorities, expectations and desires. In the coming spring and summer months of 2021, resorts and hotels that survived pandemic will reopen, calling out to new and old clientele. However, many will be met by an evolved population -- one that more deeply understands and advocates for sustainability, environmental activism and social responsibility. As such, brands will have to battle for the attention and respect of a more conscious consumer. Innovators in the hospitality industry have jumped to the front of the line by placing an emphasis on regenerative tourism. For all of us at Living Deep, lessening our impact on the natural world is a primary goal. Furthermore, many of our vendors -- from Ronel Jordaan Textiles to Wiwiurka -- are deeply influenced by their local environments and their travels. As such, supporting regenerative travel initiatives is very much in line with our vision. In this post, we will discuss anticipated changes to the leisure and travel industries post-COVID. We will also delve into the differences between sustainable tourism and regenerative tourism. To learn more about this year's travel trends and how to engage in regenerative travel as a tourist, follow below.
Post-COVID Travel Trends in 2021
#1 Road Trips
The pandemic grounded interstate and international flights in nearly every country worldwide. Many resorts shut down and thousands of hotels significantly reduced their capacity. During the summer of 2020, reporters across the US remarked upon how popular the road trip had become in light of such closures. However, what Forbes writer Suzanne Rowan Kelleher dubs “the Great American Road Trip” was on an upward trend long before COVID-19. In her July 2019 article “Survey Says: The Great American Road Trip Is Having A Moment,” Kelleher explains. She notes that MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers survey has recorded an intense uptick over the last several years. Kelleher wrote that “since 2015, the survey has tracked a 64% increase in respondents reporting they have taken a road trip.” “Wings and wheels” trips were most popular over the last five years -- though the pandemic removed the “wings” half of this hybrid model.
No matter how travelers embark on their road trip, the trend does not appear poised to slow. In her article “Travelers are opting for road trips this summer” for Las Vegas Review-Journal, Bailey Schulz explains. She writes that “the majority of traveling Americans are expected to hit the road for their summer vacations.” According to a survey from TripIt, “most Americans are opting to drive instead of fly for three popular summer travel dates." These include "Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.” The survey also found that 83% of respondents would be prepared for a road trip by June. However, only “52 percent said they’d be ready for a domestic flight by June." Additionally, only 25 percent said they "would be ready for an international flight.”
#2 Other Types of Domestic Travel
With many international travel restrictions still in place, Americans are likely to embrace domestic travel well into 2021. Ivan Baidin supports this in his article “Three Post-Pandemic Travel Trends To Watch This Year” for Forbes. Baidan identifies domestic tourism as one of three trends to watch. He notes that “the biggest anticipated travel trend for 2021 is a surge of domestic and ‘staycation’ travel.” He notes that in late 2020, state and national parks across the US experienced major surges in visitation. Baidan anticipates this trend to spill over into the final quarters of 2021. In fact -- writes Baidan -- “in January of this year, nearly 70% of visitors searching for hotels on Tripadvisor were booking future domestic trips.” Most of these were scheduled between May and August of 2021. According to Alison Fox of Travel + Leisure, Americans are searching for “destinations that are inspiring and attainable” rather than expensive and inflexible international trips.
#3 Wellness Tourism
Not to be confused with medical tourism, wellness tourism refers to travel focused on mental or physical health well-being. An increasing number of people worldwide has become interested in wellness tourism. In a February 2020 article “How the wellness industry is taking over travel” for The BBC, Peter Rubinstein explained. He noted that “from 2015 to 2017 the wellness tourism market grew from $563bn to $639bn, or 6.5% annually.” This means that the wellness tourism market grew “more than twice as fast as the growth of tourism overall.” By next year, US-based non-profit Global Wellness Institute predicts the wellness tourism market will represent “18% of all global tourism.”
Recent surveys support this. The “Global Think Tank Consumer Wellness Travel Trends” survey from July 2020 asked more than 2,000 participants about their travel plans. The survey found that 87% of respondents planned to take a pleasure trip in the next twelve months. Of those who responded yes, 76% said they planned to include a wellness component to their travels. The majority would incorporate wellness as a secondary focus of their trip. 22% of respondents were from North America.
#4 Longer Trips and Greater Spending
Americans also plan to take longer trips in 2021, writes Cailey Rizzo in her article for Travel + Leisure. According to Rizzo, 82% of respondents to a recent Expedia survey “say that they value vacation now more than ever." This number also plans "to take an extra week of vacation this year.” The survey determined that US employees took the fewest vacation days compared to those of other nations in 2020. This left US employees severely deprived in 2021. Of those who did take vacation days, 47% used at least one of these days to care for family members.
American travelers also plan to spend more on their trips in 2021. According to a survey conducted by consumer spending company ValuePenguin, the average American plans to spend $2,400 this year on summer trips. In 2019, the average amount Americans spent only $1,979 on summer vacations -- according to Erin McDowell of Business Insider. Most will likely spend time with family during their trips. The Expedia survey found that 64% of respondents described vacation time as “more valuable when spending quality time with family.”
#5 Focus on Local Culture and Environmental Impact
2020 was a travel drought for most Americans. With minds filled with perfect photos from Instagram influencers, one would hardly be surprised if American travelers were focused solely on bragging rights. However, in her article for The Washington Post, Bailey Berg says the opposite. She writes that “after the events of 2020, a growing number...are instead seeking opportunities that help them be better stewards of the Earth.” Referencing a recent global survey conducted by Booking.com, Berg reports that “53 percent of global travelers [want] to travel more sustainably in the future.”
This is because the COVID-19 pandemic has “‘opened their eyes to humans’ impact on the environment.’” Berg writes that an additional “69 percent of respondents said they expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options.” COVID is not the only thing that has reminded travelers of the horrific impacts of global climate change. Quoting Intrepid's Susanne Etti, Berg writes that “‘tourism has a front-row seat for the effects of climate change.’” Tourists can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that “some...tourism opportunities...have been diminished by the planet warming.”
Millennials Push US Towards Sustainable Travel
The shift towards conscious consumerism in travel is here to stay -- particularly among Millennials. Andy Wang explains in his article “From Tourists to Travelers” for the Harvard Political Review. Wang writes that young Americans “travel in a markedly different way from their older peers.” Millennial travelers are more likely to “spend time away from major destinations and focus on immersing themselves in the local culture.” According to the UN, Millennials “‘tend to stay longer and interact more closely with the communities they visit than the average tourist.’” Staying longer helps Millennial travelers get to know the local culture better while saving money per night. However, it also reduces carbon emissions related to travel.
What is Regenerative Travel?
Regenerative tourism meshes well with many of this year’s travel trends -- from wellness tourism to road tripping. For those unfamiliar with the term, Lauren Mowery explains regenerative travel in her recent article for Forbes. Lauren Mowery writes that the purpose of regenerative travel is to “repair and replenish the damage we have done to our environment and communities.” Quoting Amanda Ho of Regenerative Travel, Mowery describes Ho’s goal. Ho aims to shift from “over-tourism to intentional tourism." Regenerative Travel's primary objective is to "create positive contributions to the quality of life” for residents of each tourist destination. Ho notes that a growing number of brands are committing to this philosophy -- providing immersive experiences where a traveler’s “‘vacation meets their values.’” Regenerative tourism aims to genuinely improve an area through travel rather than stripping it of its resources, damaging its landscape or destroying its heritage.
Understanding the Difference Between Sustainable Tourism, Slow Travel and Regenerative Tourism
One of the primary differences between regenerative, sustainable and slow tourism is that the latter focus solely on limiting the impacts of travel. Quoted in the November 2020 Travel Weekly article “Regenerative Tourism: Beyond Sustainable Tourism,” Sven Lindblad -- CEO of Lindblad Expeditions -- explains. Lindblad explains that “‘sustainable tourism was largely defined on the concept of doing no harm.’” Slow and sustainable tourism aimed to “‘ensure that when we go someplace, we don’t damage it.'" It was supposed to ensure such spaces are "available for future generations to also enjoy.’”
Another primary difference between sustainable tourism and regenerative tourism is that the responsibility has been shifted from the tourist to the accommodation provider. Elaine Glusac explains this transition -- and the need for travelers to remain engaged -- in her article “Move Over, Sustainable Travel.” for The NYT. Glusac writes that “regenerative travel is a supply-side concept that asks operators to do more for the environment and community than they take.” However, “travelers play a key role in demand." As such, there are plenty of ways in which tourists and travelers can engage in regenerative tourism too.
How to Engage in Regenerative Tourism this Summer
#1 Avoid Overcrowded Areas
In her article for The NYT, Elaine Glusac writes that “the threat of returning to overtourism” is implicit in all discussions about travel. Sadly, overtourism has “accounted for excessive numbers of visitors” and undue stress on popular landmarks. Claudio Milano, Joseph M. Cheer and Marina Novelli explain its negative in their article “Overtourism: a growing global problem” for The Conversation. Milano, Cheer and Novelli write that overtourism “is harming the landscape [and] damaging beaches." It is also "putting infrastructure under enormous strain and pricing residents out of the property market.”
Luxury hotels and cruise ships on one of many stops around the world “deliver thousands of passengers” and tourists to their destinations. However, “comparatively little is returned to communities" that are inundated. Encouraging tourists to choose less populated areas -- engaging with local attractions rather than major resorts and blogged-about locales -- could help. More tourist dollars would go directly to local businesses rather than global brands while giving the land some time to breathe.
#2 Travel Slowly
One way to enjoy your travels more fully while limiting your contribution to over tourism is to travel slowly. In her article “How to Avoid Contributing to Overtourism” for Pina Travels, Erin Hynes recommends slowing down and enjoying each stop along the way. Instead of rushing through your itinerary, Hynes suggests spending “a few extra days at every stop." This way, travelers can "properly engage with the communities that [they] visit." Instead of walking the beaten path, they can "explore more of a place rather than just it’s well-trodden highlights." Best of all, "they can invest more tourism dollars into local businesses.” While slowly traveling from destination to destination, try to take in “second cities.” Second city tourism refers to visiting a secondary city outside your primary destination. Visiting this second city spreads your travel dollars across the map, “reduce[s] your impact and also bring[s] attention to lesser known places.”
#3 Offset Your Travel Emissions
Katie Skelly writes about responsible travel in her article “‘Regenerative Travel’ Is the Post-Pandemic Solution the Planet Needs” for The Latch. She writes that “one easy way...involves offsetting your emissions while on the road (through companies like Greenfleet) or in the sky.” The post “Carbon Offsets” from Sustainable Travel International elaborates. It notes that “tourism is responsible for roughly 8% of the world’s carbon emissions." This makes travel by train, plane, bus or car "a significant contributor to climate change.”
Offsetting Emissions from Air Travel
Air travel is a major offender. For example, a "flight from San Francisco to Paris can produce...over a quarter [of the] carbon the average person produces per year.” If traveling by air, consider purchasing carbon offsets. Carbon offsetting allows tourists to “compensate for the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions you produce by reducing emissions somewhere else.” Travelers can purchase carbon offset credits “equivalent to the amount of emissions” created during their trip. Organizations like Sustainable Travel International then invest these credits in “certified carbon reduction projects” around the world.
Limiting Emissions from Car Travel
In their post “11 Eco-Friendly Tips for an Energy-Efficient Road Trip,” TerraPass offers a few tips for reducing emissions while traveling via car. First, replace dirty air filters, inflate any low tires and have your car checked out before hitting the road. The post explains that “a dirty air filter can reduce your car’s fuel efficiency by 20%." Furthermore, deflated tires can significantly “drop your miles per gallon rate.” If renting, consider an energy efficient or electric vehicle. Next, think about how much stuff you really need on your trip. Packing lightly and keeping as many bags within the interior of the vehicle can make a big difference. TerraPass notes that “a rooftop cargo box can reduce fuel efficiency of your car by up to 25%.” Finally, plan your route before leaving and avoid idling during your journey.
#4 Research Resorts Dedicated to Regenerative Practices
When booking your trip, research resorts dedicated to regenerative practices or find restoration projects you can join while in the area. Above, we quoted Amanda Ho of the eco-conscious booking agency Regenerative Travel. In her article “Can travel save the world? Regenerative travel and why it’s important” for EuroNews, Jessica Vincent also references the company. She writes that companies like Regenerative Travel offer travelers the opportunity to “actively work on improving the destinations [they] visit.” For instance, Amanda Ho's company promotes more than forty-five resorts and hotels around the world. These hotels “align with [the company's] commitment to the regenerative travel experience.”
Each of these “go above and beyond your average eco-resort." They protect "natural habitats and ancient monuments [and] invest in local education, health, and economic development.” Whenever possible, tourists should consider the impact each hotel or resort they stay in has on the environment -- both positive and negative. Seeking the help of travel consultancies like ConsciousTravel and booking agencies like Regenerative Travel can also help you avoid businesses that greenwash. You will also likely find “more meaningful, locally-driven experiences” for your trip.
#5 Spread the Word
Lastly, spread the word about regenerative tourism. Encourage friends and family to plan their own unique trips across the state, around the country or abroad. Promote companies and organizations in the sustainable travel industry like ConsciousTravel and Sustainable Travel International. Simply sharing photos and memories from your regenerative tourism experiences can inspire others to pursue similar experiences. This can partially reverse the damage tourism has done to our environment and to local communities.