In their recently published white paper, “Conscious Comeback: Influencing a Sustainable and Regenerative Future for the Travel & Tourism Industry”, the luxury travel network Virtuoso outlines growing consumer demand for more responsible travel.

The travel industry is at an inflection point as it recovers from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The confluence of a shift in consumer mind-set, recognition of travel and tourism as an economic driver, and more robust acknowledgment on Wall Street of compatibility between profit and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards, creates the optimal time to focus on a more sustainable future. 

According to Jessica Hall Upchurch, Virtuoso Vice-Chair & Sustainability Strategist, “Like the root system of a tree, sustainability is foundational. Regenerative travel is the next evolution; adjusting practices and behaviours to lead to improvements. If we can root sustainable travel deeper, regenerative travel will gain momentum quicker.”

Virtuoso’s mission, announced in 2017, is to make sustainability a greater factor in consumer choice when planning travel, so that achievements in sustainable tourism best practices also translate to business success. Virtuoso defines sustainable travel as travel that celebrates and honours culture, supports local economies, and protects the planet. 

At Virtuoso, sustainable tourism is defined by its three pillars: 

  • 1 – SUPPORTING LOCAL ECONOMIES – Promoting livelihoods in destinations by creating jobs and contributing to local economies through local sourcing, spending, and community development and investment. 
  • 2 – CELEBRATING AND HONOURING CULTURES – Preserving the natural and cultural heritage of destinations through responsible and respectful exchanges of culture. 
  • 3 – PROTECTING THE PLANET – Preserving and protecting the environment by mitigating climate change, promoting environmentally friendly business practices, protecting animal welfare, and investing in conservation and biodiversification efforts.

In the white paper, it is stated that “Moving forward, Virtuoso will broaden and deepen that mission, leveraging its unique position of influence in the travel and tourism industry and with high-net-worth travellers, as a trusted leader in this space.”

Virtuoso has access to its global community and collaborative relationships with more than 20,000 travel advisors and 2,100 travel supplier partners, as well as strong relationships with governing bodies, industry leaders and business partners both within and outside of the travel industry. Virtuoso will draw on those relationships to work collaboratively toward deepening understanding and consumer adoption of sustainable travel practices and experiences. 

Virtuoso’s research and that of others supports the premise that travellers are more open to the idea of sustainable tourism than ever. Indeed, many are now seeking opportunities to travel in this way. In a poll taken in early 2021, 82% of Virtuoso travellers indicated the Covid-19 pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly in the future and 79% indicated that they believe it is either somewhat or very important to choose a hotel, cruise line, or travel company that has a strong sustainability policy. 

KwaZulu Natal – Photo R.Barnes / Cleverdis

From consumers’ perspective, sustainability has moved from a bonus element of their purchases to an important factor in their decision-making process. According to a report in Business Research, as public awareness of topics like corporate social responsibility and sustainability grows, luxury companies face mounting pressure to make their businesses more sustainable. Luxury brands often act as industry models that more mass-market companies emulate (Kunz, May, & Schmidt, 2020). This behavioural model indicates the great responsibility of luxury companies to be more sustainable. 

At a December 2020 Virtuoso Sustainability Council meeting, Luke Bailes, founder of luxury safari lodge operator Singita, commented: “There is a growing trend as customers are demanding sustainability. Purpose-led companies will prevail over companies that do not embark on this journey.” 

In April 2021, Virtuoso surveyed travellers about their beliefs in regard to sustainable tourism. Seventy percent of survey respondents agreed that traveling sustainably enhances their vacation experience and 50% of respondents indicated that it is “very important” to choose a hotel, cruise line, or travel company that has a strong sustainability policy. 

From a global industry perspective, Virtuoso says it will draw on its dedicated membership in WTTC, continuing to coordinate sustainability efforts with those of global leaders and working to amplify that organization’s work for the benefit of the entire industry. Virtuoso is also actively exploring opportunities to collaborate with luxury organizations outside of the travel space who are focused on sustainability, to expand the consumer base and strengthen their collective sphere of influence for perpetuating sustainability as an essential part of a purposeful lifestyle. 

The white paper concludes, “At this critical inflection point, Virtuoso invites its partners and advisors, the travel industry, and travellers at large to join them in supporting sustainable travel, as a force not only for preservation, but for regeneration.

“By focusing together on Virtuoso’s mission to make sustainability a greater factor in consumer choice when planning travel and building upon an evolving consumer mind-set, coupled with recognition of travel and tourism as an economic driver, achievements in sustainable tourism best practices will translate to business success, increasing the ability of those who do good to increasingly do well. 

“This aggregation of efforts from across the world has the potential to greatly improve human life, slow climate change, and preserve and regenerate our planet. The time for change is now and we ask our leaders and colleagues throughout the industry to join us in influencing a new way forward, to a more sustainable and regenerative future.” 


Photo – top of page – Sarawak Longhouse – copyright 2020 R.Barnes / Cleverdis

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