Reality of 'Geotourism' Lacking

Opinions: When it comes to travel that's sensitive to the environment, it's often a whole lot of lip service.

By: M.J. Smith

Without question, the Travel Industry Association of America produces some of the industry’s most interesting and valuable research. But one report released last month just didn’t go far enough.

“Geotourism: The New Trend in Travel” reported that more than three-quarters of U.S. travelers said it’s important that their visits not damage the environment and a majority added that they’d pay 5 or 10 percent more for a travel company that makes such an effort.

Sixty-two percent said it’s important to learn about other cultures while traveling, and an equally large number praised authenticity in a destination.

U.S. travelers may voice respect for these values in a survey but, realistically, that’s about as far as it goes.

How many of your clients just expect that there will be a golf course in the desert?

Or would think twice about climbing on a centuries-old ruin to get a better view?

I don’t doubt that most of us travel professionals, agents and clients would like to think that we would pay more to help the environment. But what would happen if you proposed such a plan to your next client or if your business added a surcharge for electric tour vehicles? As for authenticity, I will remind us all that Orlando and Las Vegas are top U.S. destinations and leave it at that.

The association’s findings would have been much more powerful if the research had been put in context; if details on land use, pollution or loss of native species were overlaid on the public’s perceptions, creating some kind of realistic perspective.

The survey does show that most of us have absorbed the right lessons. At least we know what we should be doing even if we’re not doing it.