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Cost vs Conscience: the Dilemma Dividing Sustainable Travel in 2023

Just in time for Earth Day, Booking.com has released its most extensive sustainable travel research to date, spotlighting how economic uncertainty is informing meaningful sustainable travel decisions this year. Here are highlights from the 2023 Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report

  • 76% of travelers say they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months, while the same amount say the global energy crisis and rising cost of living is impacting their spending plans

  • Nearly half (49%) of travelers believe more sustainable travel options are too expensive, in contrast to 43% willing to pay extra for travel options with a sustainable certification

  • Taking conscious habits from home when traveling, 67% now turn off the air conditioning in accommodations when they aren't there (up 29% from 2022), while 60% re-use the same towel multiple times (up 25% from 2022)

  • 500,000+ accommodations globally are being recognized for their sustainability efforts with a Travel Sustainable badge on Booking.com

Booking.com's Sustainable Travel Report researched in February 2023 from more than 33,000 travelers across 35 countries and territories, highlights a dilemma where people feel potentially forced to choose between cutting costs and being more mindful about making more sustainable travel choices.

People feel forced to choose between cutting costs and being more mindful about making more sustainable travel choices.

At a time of general global uncertainty, traveling more sustainably continues to be front of mind for travelers, with three-quarters (74%) believing people need to act now and make more sustainable choices to save the planet for future generations. The news continues to be a key influence driver for 53%, who say the recent climate change news agenda has encouraged them to be more sustainable, and yet it also speaks to a quandary facing people when it comes to being more mindful about when, where, and how they travel. While nearly half (49%) think the environment will get worse in the next six months, 64% believe the cost of living crisis will also get worse, leaving people unsure of what to prioritize as they work to reconcile what is important to them with the demands of everyday life.

Sustainable Travel

A tale of two wallets in an unsteady global climate


According to Booking.com, the big topics at the front of people’s minds today are the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis. Over three-quarters (76%) of travelers say they want to travel more sustainably over the coming 12 months, while the same amount think the global energy crisis and the rising cost of living are impacting their spending plans. For some travelers, the two are mutually exclusive. With rising inflation, nearly half of travelers are stuck in the notion that they must make a choice between sustainability and spending, with 49% believing more sustainable travel options are too expensive (up 11% from Booking.com’s 2022 data). For these respondents, sustainability and travel combined can seem non-urgent when they are worried about affording bills and the energy crisis.

With rising inflation, nearly half of travelers are stuck in the notion that they must make a choice between sustainability and spending, with 49% believing more sustainable travel options are too expensive (up 11% from Booking.com’s 2022 data)

On the flip side, with travel well and truly back for others and a more urgent focus on conscious choices, 43% of today’s travelers would be willing to pay more for travel options with a sustainable certification, dialing up their spend to feel reassured they are driving impact.


As an increasing number of travelers feel the pinch, they are seeking more sustainable travel options rich in rewards, highlighting the perceived trade-off between making conscious choices and saving money and the need for incentivization. Nearly half (49%) want discounts and economic incentives in order to opt for eco-friendly options (up 12% from 2022) while 42% would be encouraged to travel more sustainably with reward points for making more sustainable choices that they could use for free extra perks or discounts through online travel booking sites.


Breaking through barriers to drive change


It’s not just cost that is a perceived hurdle to traveling more sustainably. From limited data to a perceived lack of options, barriers to traveling more sustainably appear higher than ever, with some telling shifts in the past 12 months. Over half (51%) of travelers believe there are not enough sustainable travel options, while 74% want travel companies to offer more sustainable travel choices (up from 66% in 2022). Despite good intentions, 44% of travelers don’t know where to find more sustainable options. For example, 75% seek authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture, yet in stark contrast 40% don’t know how or where to find these tours and activities that will ensure they give back to the local community.

Despite good intentions, 44% of travelers don’t know where to find more sustainable options.

Adopting sustainable micro-habits on vacation


Despite existing barriers and the tightening of purse strings, it’s clear there’s a huge appetite for solutions with four in five (80%) travelers confirming that traveling more sustainably is important to them. Travelers say they are converting intent into action by taking active small steps at home, and when traveling, to drive a more sustainable future. Encouragingly, today 68% use reusable shopping bags, 64% recycle waste and 58% carry their own reusable water bottle – and there’s been a significant uptake in travelers adopting everyday habits on vacation in the past year.

  • 67% turn the air conditioning off at accommodations when they aren’t there, up 29% from 2022

  • 60% re-use the same towel multiple times, up 25% from 2022

  • 55% use their own reusable water bottle, up 19% from 2022

More than three-quarters (77%) say they turn off the lights and appliances at accommodations when they aren’t there, while almost half (45%) now recycle their garbage when traveling. Even more promisingly, travelers are taking action to make conscious choices on vacation that go beyond these everyday micro-habits. When it comes to transportation, 43% now plan their sightseeing so that they can walk, bike or take public transport, while 43% travel outside of peak season in a bid to avoid overcrowding – both up 10% from 2022. There is also consensus amongst travelers on taking the ‘buy local’ mantra on vacation, with 43% favoring small, independent stores.


Trust, truth, and the travel industry


Unquestionably, amid rising climate anxiety, travelers are becoming more responsible consumers, from their accommodation to their transport choices. With two-thirds (66%) wanting to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived, today’s travelers are increasingly adopting a regenerative approach to travel and searching for vacations with maximum positive impact, while seeking credible assurance when booking across the entire travel experience. For example, travelers can now easily filter their rental car search results to quickly find fully electric and hybrid cars across 110 countries for their next trip. Or choose one of over 500,000 more sustainable options for their next stay, no matter the accommodation type. Nearly two thirds (65%) would feel better about staying in a particular accommodation if they knew it had a sustainable certification or label, while 59% want to filter their options for those with a sustainable certification next time they book.

The travel industry must adapt to meet the changing expectations of these more conscious consumers, to accommodate the third (30%) always on the lookout for brands that promote sustainability, as well as the 69% who are interested to learn more about why specific options are recognized as more sustainable

In response, the travel industry must adapt to meet the changing expectations of these more conscious consumers, to accommodate the third (30%) always on the lookout for brands that promote sustainability, as well as the 69% who are interested to learn more about why specific options are recognized as more sustainable, such as eco-friendly LED lighting and water-efficient toilets for a more sustainable stay. Still, with one in four (39%) travelers today not trusting that the sustainable travel options labeled are truly more sustainable, there are huge strides for the travel industry to make in gaining the trust of consumers.


Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report 2023

Booking.com is making more sustainable travel solutions easier for everyone


Since Booking.com celebrated one year of its Travel Sustainable program in November 2022, new features and developments include:

  • Travelers can now also find and book greener taxi options in 95 cities worldwide, simply by looking for the ‘100% Electric’ tagging in the search results.

  • For transparency on the impact of their flights, in addition to being able to compare the CO2 emissions for different options, customers will soon see tagging indicating when a certain route or carrier is offering a relatively lower emissions option.

  • Public transport ticketing options are available after making an accommodation booking in 47 cities worldwide, including London, Amsterdam, Bangkok, and Melbourne.

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