In the travel industry, sustainability has been one of the biggest buzzwords of the last couple of years. Surveys from brands like Expedia and TripAdvisor have revealed a growing consumer demand for sustainability-minded travel options, which are now a priority for 81 percent of the public, according to Booking.com. However, there is still a very large gap between consumer expectations and behavior regarding this issue.
Partly this is due to the consumers themselves. Cost is almost always the most important factor for deciding on accommodation, whether it has eco-friendly amenities or not. And practicality will also generally outweigh sustainability; traveling by train rather than a plane just isn’t always possible in some corners of the world. But, partly, this gap is caused by the fact that we don’t yet have an agreed set of guidelines regarding sustainable practices.
Take eco-certification programs that assess hotels: There are over 200 of these worldwide, with no universal criteria or consistent level of involvement. This makes it really hard to know what you’ll get on check-in as a guest. There is currently no global program for the vacation rental sector, although some online travel agencies list properties with badges showing they are eco-friendly.
As our industry moves toward higher quality and higher regulation, I believe “green regulations” will emerge in the future that will help property managers understand what actions they should or shouldn’t take when it comes to energy, amenities, and protecting local communities. But, for now, we have had an opportunity to market vacation rentals to consumers as being inherently the most sustainable choice for travel accommodation over alternatives like hotels or cruises.
Hotels, by their nature, use more energy and other resources in their operations than vacation rentals. Keeping heating and lighting on 24/7 for a front desk, creating food waste at a breakfast buffet, or using water to change towels and sheets daily are just a few examples. Vacation rentals instead offer an environment that is much more easily controlled by the guest, where you can almost live as you would choose to do at home, like giving the ability to recycle and not providing individual-sized consumables and toiletries to guests.
Technology innovation in our industry has also enabled the rise of home automation solutions, such as smart thermostats, water management systems, and remote check-in. These can help reduce the overall footprint of a rental by preventing operating inefficiencies and lowering the carbon footprint of staff transport.
If any of your properties have been built using “local methods,” this is an important selling point to many guests looking for an authentic experience, but even more so when you consider that such care may not have been possible when building a hotel as part of a big international chain. And it’s much easier to update a single property to be more energy efficient than a cruise ship or hotel building with hundreds of rooms. Given the economic squeeze currently facing us, no doubt many homeowners will want to make such capital investments to protect their revenue stream, whether that be in preventive maintenance or replacing old appliances and lightbulbs for energy-efficient ones.
When Airbnb launched, it marketed itself as allowing guests to truly experience an area through the eyes of a host, but vacation rentals have always enabled this locally minded style of travel. A manager or owner sharing their unique recommendations for a trip can really help support local businesses and the local economy, which is a big part of sustainable tourism initiatives. An Airbnb study showed that 43 percent of guest spending occurred in the neighborhood of their listing and, in 2019, the Airbnb community generated an estimated $117 billion in direct economic impact in 30 countries.
Finally, unique homes are also now a draw for travelers in of themselves, rather than secondary to the convenience of the location. This can help reduce the impact of over-tourism in affected places by encouraging people to visit other, undiscovered gems.
There are many things property managers can do to make their property more eco-friendly and their business more sustainable. While I won’t provide an exhaustive list here, one thing that we collectively do (without greenwashing) is continue to talk positively outside of the industry about what vacation rentals can offer today’s eco-minded traveler.
Marcus Rader is the CEO and co-founder of Hostaway, the all-in-one vacation rental management platform.