Why it matters:

  • 97% of travelers said it’s important to have a positive impact on the communities they visit, according to Kind Traveler.
  • 81% of travelers said sustainable travel is important to them, according to Booking.com.
  • 59% of travelers want to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived, Booking.com reports.

Providing educational, immersive experiences and opportunities to support local conservation efforts are among the key ways that travel companies are promoting environmentally conscious tourism.

More than four in five travelers — 81%— said sustainable travel is important to them, according to a survey by Booking.com, and 50% said recent news about climate change has influenced them to make more sustainable travel choices. In addition, 59%of travelers said they want to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived.

“With increasing awareness of the climate crisis, people are traveling more thoughtfully, more creatively and more intentionally,” said Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking.com in the company’s 2022 Sustainable Travel Report.

Many consumers may think of “sustainable travel” as an oxymoron because of the carbon footprint created by airplanes and by local ground travel. But companies that promote eco-travel said they seek to help their customers counter those impacts, either directly through the use of offsetting carbon credits (when a consumer or business buys a carbon credit to counteract their carbon emissions via a public benefit firm like Native Energy), or by making their trips more sustainable in other ways, such as by booking sustainable hotels or providing support to local environmental efforts.

Discover Corps, Natural Habitat Adventures, and Kind Traveler are among the travel-booking companies that are seeking to provide more eco-conscious travel opportunities and facilitate so-called “impact tourism” in other ways.

 A group of people on an immersive vacation experience with elephants offered by Discover Corps.
From helping build schools to going on safaris, Discover Corps aims to provide experiences for people seeking to learn by "going beneath the surface" of their travel destinations. — Discover Corps

Discover Corps: ‘Our trips are a combination of cultural tourism and doing good in the places that we go to’

Discover Corps offers two types of vacation packages for customers, both of which incorporate immersive learning experiences with local cultures in destinations that are outside of the typical tourist’s travel experiences.

“Our trips are a combination of cultural tourism and meeting with really interesting organizations and individuals doing good in the places that we go to,” said Alex DuBois, Executive Director, Discover Corps. “The idea is that it allows you to go beneath the surface and discover the country through its people and all of the different organizations that are trying to do good in the world and address some of the problems that a lot of the places that we go to face.”

Discover Corps currently books about 150 tours a year across 17 destinations in five continents. The company was founded in 2012 as an offshoot of Terra Education, which provides opportunities for teens to travel to placed around the world to perform service activities and learn about the local communities they visit. Unlike Terra, Discover Corps caters to whole families and others seeking to learn more about local cultures around the world and, in some cases, participate in volunteer environmental work projects.

Even before the pandemic, momentum had been building among travelers to have a positive impact on the places they visit, DuBois said. Then the pandemic shut down all types of travel, but the industry has since rebounded, and consumers have an even deeper appreciation for the environmental and economic challenges facing the places they visit.

“I think there's a renewed appreciation for the world and for travel,” he said. “I don't think people take things for granted as much. Time spent with family in a unique place on vacation is not taken lightly anymore. It's an experience that you have earned through the pandemic, in a way.”

Discover Corps relies on its network relationships and third-party certifications to ensure that its partners, such as the hotels it books for its customers, meet the company’s standards around environmental impact.

The trips that Discover Corps offers fall into two different categories. One set of vacation packages is called Grassroots Expeditions, which DuBois describes as similar to service travel, where customers participate in activities at the site, such as building schools or medical clinics in impoverished areas or working with local groups on activities with local wildlife sanctuaries.

That segment accounts for about a third of Discover Corps’ business, DuBois estimated, while the other two-thirds of its trips are higher-end cultural tours, which offer what he described as “meaningful components infused into them.”

“It varies with every trip, but there's a sense of purpose that is created during each of these trips,” he said.

For example, a trip to Kenya includes a day spent with an organization that helps women create their own businesses through micro-financing.

The trip also includes traditional vacation activities such as photo safaris, and a stay in a five-star luxury tent camp.

“In general, the consumer who is looking for something like this wants a deeper experience that sticks with them and their children,” DuBois said.

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 Back view of two tourists observing and taking pictures of a bear in an Alaska Bear Camp tour offered by Natural Habitat Adventures.
A bear camp tour is one of the offerings provided by Natural Habitat Adventures, also known as Nat Hab. — Natural Habitat Adventures

Natural Habitat Adventures: Carbon-neutral travel that supports wildlife and local communities

Natural Habitat Adventures, which is a partner of the World Wildlife Fund, bills itself as the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company.

In 2018, Nat Hab, as the company bills itself, began partnering with South Pole, a sustainability firm that works with businesses and governments to reduce carbon impacts by offsetting greenhouse gas emissions via third-party verified projects around the world. Beginning in 2019, Nat Hab also began offsetting all of its travelers’ flights to and from its global adventure destinations.

“A big part of what we do here at Nat Hab is conservation travel — travel that directly supports wildlife and local communities in order to save our planet together,” said Court Whelan, Nat Hab's Chief Sustainability Officer, in a recent video.

In outlining the company’s top recommended destinations for 2023, Whelan said educating consumers is the backbone of Nat Hab’s efforts to encourage environmental action.

“It goes back to that saying, ‘You cannot save what you do not love, and you cannot love what you not know,’” he said, in describing a Nat Hab trip to view polar bears. “Our business is getting people to know and to love polar bears in order to save them, and 2023 is the year we want to elevate polar bear tours and get more people to get to know and fall in love with these animals, to become serious advocates for climate change research, climate change awareness, and saving the polar bear and the arctic environment.”

Other bear-viewing trips available through Nat Hab include an Alaskan grizzly bear excursion via an eco-friendly converted crab-fishing boat, and the Alaska Bear Camp, “a highly sustainable, highly eco-conscious, highly remote, self-sustaining camp,” Whelan said.

Other tours include an African safari in Botswana, where visitors can take dugout canoe trips and other eco-friendly travel excursions to view elephants, hippos, and other wildlife, and a visit to Mexico to view the monarch butterfly migration.

[Read: Hospitality Execs from Airbnb and Google to Marriott Reveal Key Growth Strategies]

 Close up view of a tortoise under the sea with two people scuba diving in the background, on an excursion by Kind Traveler.
Kind Traveler facilitates its customers’ support for local charities through its “Give + Get” platform, where customers can receive travel perks by donating to charities. — Kind Traveler

Kind Traveler connects consumers with nonprofits

Hotel-booking service Kind Traveler facilitates its customers’ support for local charities through its “Give + Get” platform. The company has partnerships with 150 destination-specific charities in 22 countries. Customers who donate $10 or more to one of these charities can receive perks from Kind Traveler’s partner hotels.

One hundred percent of each donation goes to the charity, and all charities must be aligned with at least one UN Global Goal for Sustainable Development.

Kind Traveler also shares information about the charities to show customers exactly how their travel dollars are supporting the local community, along with local neighborhood guides to inspire conscious travel and tree-planting opportunities. The company also shares details about how its partner hotels are advancing environmental sustainability, community impact, and individual wellness.

“While decarbonizing efforts are vitally important in creating a sustainable tourism industry, equally important is mobilizing travel dollars to support local communities in addressing poverty, advancing education and equality, and much more,” said Jessica Blotter, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Kind Traveler.

She cited data from the Kind Traveler 2022 Impact Tourism Report, which found that while more than 97% of travelers believe it’s important for their travel dollars to positively impact the communities they visit, 35% don’t know how.

While decarbonizing efforts are vitally important in creating a sustainable tourism industry, equally important is mobilizing travel dollars to support local communities in addressing poverty, advancing education and equality, and much more.

Jessica Blotter, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Kind Traveler

“Kind Traveler’s mission is to harness the next generation of travelers into a financial force that addresses some of the world’s greatest challenges and provides a positive impact to support local communities, the environment, and animals,” said Blotter.

For example, a $10 donation to Santa MoniCARES will provide equipment and funding for clean beaches, rivers, and watersheds. Other donations support a range of other programs designed to alleviate hunger, improve education, or other community initiatives.

Additionally, Kind Traveler last October launched a pilot program with 14 global hotels for a new community impact certification called Every Stay Gives Back (ESGB). The certification enables hotels to direct donations to local nonprofits that seek to solve community or environmental challenges with every guest stay. Kind Traveler certifies monthly donations to local nonprofits, and provides hotels a QR code, a landing page, and impact reports.

“We are very excited about the growth of our Kind Destination program that creates a holistic sustainable and regenerative travel initiative for tourism boards looking to advance ESG [environmental, social, and governance] agendas and goals,” said Blotter.

Kind also recently launched a statewide regenerative tourism initiative with Visit California, which seeks to incentivize positive community and environmental impact.

Blotter said Kind Traveler is the only hotel-booking platform that also acts as a fundraising tool for local charities in destinations, allowing travelers to positively impact the communities they visit.

“Supporting nonprofits connected to community and environmental well-being in destinations is a key driver to advancing sustainable and regenerative tourism principles,” she said.

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