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Consumers overestimate how much they will make sustainable decisions, finds Phocuswright study

Venice (Photo: Tatiana Rokou)

Phocuswright study shows gap between travelers’ sustainable intentions and actions, highlighting the influence of social media on destination choices and overtourism.

A new study by Phocuswright reveals a concerning disconnect between travelers’ stated desire for sustainable travel and their actual vacation choices. Presented by Madeline List, Senior Research Analyst at Phocuswright at the 1st day of Phocuswright Europe 2024 (10-12 June, Barcelona), the research sheds light on the complex issue of overtourism and dispersal strategies.

“We designed a survey in a way that consumers weren’t aware they were taking a sustainability survey,” explained List. “The results showed a clear worry about overtourism, but worry doesn’t always translate into action.”

While 45% of respondents reported seeking out destinations off the beaten path, indicating some interest in exploring lesser-known locations, the research also revealed a significant number actively avoiding overcrowded and over-commercialized destinations.

“24-40% have decided against visiting a destination due to overcrowding or excessive commercialization,” List noted. “This trend extends to lodging and attractions, with 32% avoiding overly developed accommodations and 34% shying away from crowded tours and activities.”

The study also examines the role of social media fame in driving overtourism. List highlights that fame, on its own, doesn’t necessarily dictate destination choice.  However, in the face of overwhelming travel options, a destination’s top-of-mind awareness can significantly influence decision-making.

“Social media fame can be a powerful tool for narrowing down choices,” List explains. “This insight can be leveraged to promote lesser-known destinations and encourage travel dispersal.”

A key finding of the research is the gap between expressed intentions and actual behavior. While many travelers report a desire for sustainable travel practices, only 28% opted to stay in less-frequented areas on their recent trips.

“There’s a disconnect between what people say they’ll do and what they actually do,” acknowledges List. “One contributing factor might be a lack of understanding about what sustainability means in the context of travel. For instance, only 10-12% of respondents identified booking time slots at attractions as a sustainable action.”

The research concludes with a clear call to action for various stakeholders in the travel industry.  List outlines a five-point approach to tackle overtourism:

  • Calculated limits: Implement carefully designed visitor caps to protect destinations without crippling local economies.
  • Shifting focus: Move away from marketing that fuels FOMO (fear of missing out) and promote interest-based travel that celebrates diverse experiences.
  • Transparency is key: Provide clear information about visitor levels at popular destinations, going beyond curated and edited visuals.
  • Dispersal strategies: Equip travelers with knowledge about alternative destinations to consider when seeking less crowded options.
  • Infrastructure matters: Invest in transportation infrastructure that encourages travel to less-visited regions,making them more accessible.
  • Education is essential: Educate travelers about the connection between overtourism and broader sustainability concepts.

By implementing these strategies collaboratively, the travel industry can work towards a more balanced and sustainable future for tourism.

Vicky Karantzavelou
Co-Founder & Chief Editor - TravelDailyNews Media Network | Website

Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.

She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.