This issue’s cover story, “Selling Green” (page 16), examines an interesting contradiction in the business of selling travel. According to a study by the research firm PhoCusWright, nearly half (44 percent) of U.S. travelers consider environmental impact to be “somewhat” or “very” important to them during travel planning. Yet, in a Travel Leaders poll conducted this month for TravelAge West, almost seven out of 10 agents said none of their clients express interest in green hotels or resorts.
So how are nearly half of all customers interested in green travel, yet virtually none of them mention it to their travel agents? Of course, a travel agent’s main responsibility is to service the needs of their clients, but what happens if a client has an interest that is not directly expressed to the agent?
It seems likely that just because a client doesn’t ask about green travel doesn’t mean he or she wouldn’t be interested in learning more about eco-friendly travel options. Realistically, in these tough economic times, financial considerations are often going to trump sustainability. But if agents can present green options — and show that there is little or no additional cost associated with them — research suggests that many clients will appreciate being educated on these choices.
In this case, travel agents have a great opportunity. First, to prove their value to their clients by bringing options to their attention that they might not have thought of themselves — environmentally responsible resorts, tours by eco-friendly operators or hybrid and electric car rentals, for example. Second, by sharing these ideas, agents can become advocates for more sustainable travel. In this way, we should view green travel as an opportunity to enhance relationships with clients as well as improve the future outlook for travel in general. Presenting these options is a win-win situation and one we can all feel good about as an industry and as individuals.