Between supplier marketing and consumer headlines, sustainable travel is becoming a larger issue each and every day. According to Travel Market Report’s most recent “Outlook on Sustainable Travel,” advisors haven’t yet fully embraced the trend — only 33% of the respondents said the subject of sustainability “ever” comes up in client discussions, although 57% said they “would consider discussing sustainable and meaningful travel with my clients in the future.”
For some advisors, it is personal experience that gives them an entry into the world of sustainable tourism. That’s what happened for Liz Dominguez, Dream Vacations Franchise owner and vacation specialist in Fernandina Beach, Florida, who found her passion in the water.
Travel Market Report: What makes you passionate about sustainable travel? What experiences from your personal life have shaped your passion?
Liz Dominguez: My husband and I are scuba divers. We’ve seen firsthand how the treatment of our planet has become something that we all should pay attention to. I understand that change comes slowly, but if people adopted small habits one at a time, we could make a bigger impact. Every time I dive, I always pick up trash that I see and bring it up onboard the boat. Usually the divemaster smiles as he/she empties their pockets, too.
I personally recycle as much as I know will be recycled. I use canvas bags to grocery shop. I started a composter this year, I drive a Prius. I’m probably the tree hugger you’ve been warned about. But I’m not perfect. I still print paper documents to mail to clients and have a paper file for them. I still use the plastic fruit and veggie bags at the grocery store. I take small steps each year to get better because I believe my son deserves a planet with a future.
I applaud our travel suppliers who use their platforms to encourage change, like getting rid of disposable straws, plastic bottles, going to refillable containers in their showers, or becoming accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (or similar).
TMR: Do you believe the travel industry, in general, needs to commit to aiding in sustainability?
LD: I do. Many of our travel suppliers and vacation destinations have visibility and some level of trust from the public, more so than just your neighbor next door. When companies use their visibility to inflict positive change, we all win.
TMR: What role do you think travel advisors have in the process? Do you feel they have a responsibility to give travelers information about sustainability?
LD: I’ve never been asked by a client for a vacation that has anything to do with sustainability or being green or even ecotourism. However, that does not mean that I am not part of helping to make change. I still advocate by educating – offering the client information about something new and why it is important. Maybe they don’t care about a buzzword, but they do care about their experience. For example, it caused waves in the industry when Norwegian Cruise Line removed drinking straws from some drinks onboard their ships and the removal of single-use toiletries at Marriott properties. Travel advisors should educate our clients on the “why” for such moves. I think if we consistently came back to the “why,” we would be more gracious about change to ingrained habits.
TMR: Are there things that advisors can do, no matter how large or small, to work towards a more sustainable travel environment?
LD: When we tour a property or ship or stay there ourselves, we should be noticing that there are sustainable initiatives in place. Not every resort or cruise ship makes it a point to advertise that they’re being green; Norwegian’s recent decision to remove plastic water bottles comes to mind. Sometimes it’s the card on the bed saying they’ll only change sheets if requested during your stay or noticing that there’s no printed programs of activities — it’s all app-based or on television.
Absent of a client asking to find a vacation that has sustainable aspects to it, travel advisors can make a point of sending a client to that resort or cruise ship with sustainable practices – if it meets all their other desires – and know that you’re still making a difference, however small.
TMR: Are you doing anything now or are you planning on doing anything in the future to help shape sustainable practices with your clients?
LD: I still like to take note of companies that are making strides toward sustainability. If anyone ever asks me for a sustainable trip, I want to try and accommodate their request to the best of my ability. Do I think I’m ready to say I’m a specialist – or that there’s really enough out there to declare such a specialty? Not quite. Will we get to that point? I hope so.
TMR: What do you think the traveling public needs to be aware of in terms of sustainable travel?
LD: I think the traveling public needs to step back and look toward the “why.” Ask themselves when they get bent about no disposable straw, is it really necessary? And if something is so necessary, is there a reusable item that can replace the disposable one to be more environmentally conscious? We don’t need to be perfect. We just need to do our part when we can, so small changes add up to bigger impacts.