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Vihra Shopova
March 16, 2018

Ask an Expert: The Secrets of Sustainability with bookitgreen

With low-cost flights and all-inclusive hotels, traveling in 21st century is no longer a luxury. Tourism is booming and there are more people traveling than ever before, which leaves us wondering: what impact does all of this have on the environment?

There's no denying that traveling is resource intensive, but we're seeing more and more green operators entering the travel industry with big ideas about how to make travel more eco-friendly. bookitgreen is one such company. The Berlin-based online booking platform strives to make searching for, finding, and booking sustainable accommodations easy, and they're making waves in the travel industry. We caught up with them after the Green Movie Night at betahaus to ask them for insight into how the travel industry is evolving, the sharing economy, and the impacts of sustainable tourism. Here's what they had to say.

Okay, so let's start with the most obvious question: what exactly is sustainable travel?

“Sustainable travel goes beyond environmental sustainability and ensures the protection and conservation of both local ecosystems and local communities. The social impact comes from environment preservation in the areas where our accommodations are located. We've found that the average impact in a sustainable accommodation is 90L of fresh water and 6kg CO2 per night! These savings not only improve the quality of life of those in the region, but protect the environment on which local, sustainable tourism depends. This also allow hosts to save in operational costs and reinvest in their businesses. We should all be able to travel without exploiting the planet or the people living on it; a sustainable tourist is a responsible tourist!"

In your opinion, how has the travel industry evolved over the last several years? What are the long-term impacts if tourism doesn't become more sustainable?

"The biggest change in the travel industry over the last several years has been the impact of technology. With booking done online rather than through guidebooks and travel agencies, travellers are now doing their own research and independently making choices about where to go, how to get there, and where to stay. Platforms for home sharing, ride sharing, and other parts of the sharing economy have found a home online, making travel more widely accessible and affordable. The world has become much smaller, thanks to social media and other forms of digital communication technology. 

Platforms for home sharing, ride sharing, and other parts of the sharing economy have found a home online, making travel more widely accessible and affordable.

Because of this increased accessibility and affordability, more people than ever are travelling today, which means the effects of tourism are magnified. Sustainable tourism serves to conserve and protect the environment and promote environmental awareness and respect for wildlife, biodiversity, and ecosystems. It also supports cultural diversity and improves the welfare and livelihoods of local communities, serving as a driver for job creation and the promotion of local culture and products. The long-term impact of unsustainable tourism would be the depletion and loss of these ecological and cultural resources."

Sustainable Accomodation by Sunset bookitgreen

And what are the impacts of the sharing economy on sustainable tourism?

"The sharing economy is completely revolutionizing the travel industry and changing the way that tourists interact with the places they visit. One impact of the growing popularity of home sharing is that tourists are no longer confined to the city center; many are staying in diverse neighborhoods throughout cities, or visiting other destinations that are not typically popular. These types of tourists will spend longer in one place, supporting local businesses, taking the time to educate themselves about their environment, and therefore interacting with their destinations in a way that is more culturally and economically sustainable in the long-term.

The sharing economy also has a positive impact on environmental sustainability. Participating in ride-sharing, of course, minimizes an individual's carbon footprint. Bike- and motorbike-sharing gives tourists less environmentally-harmful transportation options to explore their surroundings. Staying in someone’s home has less of an environmental impact than staying in a large hotel that expends huge amounts of energy and unnecessary waste through practices like laundering linens daily, using harmful chemical cleaning products, and providing individually-packaged toiletries."

We love how bookitgreen collaborated with Eden Project to plant a tree for every overnight stay booked. On an individual level, can you give some examples of how we can reduce energy consumption when we travel?

"Take a train rather than a plane to your destination if possible. If you have to fly, book a non-stop flight; the most energy is expended during plane takeoff and landing. Get around via public transportation, bike, or on foot. If you have to rent a car, take the smallest car available or a hybrid or electric car. Bring your own reusable water bottle and shopping bag. Turn off lights and unplug electronics before going out. Bring your own eco-friendly toiletries without microplastics and other harmful chemicals. If you stay at a hotel, ask to reuse your sheets and towels, rather than having them laundered daily. Visit the local farmers market and eat local. All of these small actions can really add up!"

bookitgreen Team pitching Sustainable Travel

Sustainability has become a marketing buzzword, but truly sustainable projects are hard to come by. Which are the most important things you are searching for when partnering with sustainable accommodations?

"bookitgreen has developed 15 sustainability criteria that we use to evaluate the sustainability of our properties, ranging from practicing sustainable building practices and generating renewable energy onsite, to regionally sourcing food and having a recycling rate of over 80 percent. These criteria focus primarily on the environmental impact and carbon footprint of the accommodation and the guests staying there. Guests also have the chance to review and rate the sustainability of an accommodation after staying there."

On the topic of social impact, what are some of the ways that sustainability can give small businesses an advantage over larger hotel chains?

"It is always more sustainable, socially and environmentally, to eat, drink, and stay local. As mentioned before, staying in a home produces less waste and energy expenditure than staying in a large chain hotel that doesn't have green practices. Aside from minimizing environmental impact, staying at a smaller, independently-owned, sustainable accommodation gives tourists a more personalized and authentic travel experience, one that doesn’t hold a candle to the anonymous, superficial experience of staying in an chain hotel in the tourist district of a city. At the end of the day, travel is about learning something new and connecting with people, which is something that using small and independently-owned businesses supports."

Sustainable Travel Goals Sunset

Finally, You describe your target group as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), which is a very niche market. Can you tell us more about what type of people they ARE and what theY value? What's some advice you can share to other startups targeting this market?

"LOHAS refers to a group of people who prioritize a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Often proponents of social justice and consumers of products and services that are local, natural, and low-impact, LOHAS tend to research before buying. They look for honesty and authenticity, which is why bookitgreen strives to be as transparent as possible. We offer a selection of the highest-quality, truly sustainable accommodations out there. LOHAS want to know the people behind the product, which is one of the benefits of supporting independently-owned businesses. LOHAS are known to be early adopters and enthusiastic social media consumers, so aside from providing a personal experience booking an environmentally sustainable accommodation, bookitgreen is working on growing our online presence via various social media channels and digital outposts. We have a bookitgreen ambassador program through which we partner with bloggers and digital educators who actively practice sustainable lifestyles. All of us at bookitgreen fall into the “LOHAS” category ourselves, which makes it easy to understand our target audience.

Over 15% of Germans are considered to be part if the core group of LOHAS; looking at recent developments in the consumption of organically sourced products, it’s clear that an interest in products that represent LOHAS values is growing more and more. We think about the sustainable travel community on a global scale: if you add the network and community impact into the equation, the niche is not a real niche anymore.

bookitgreen Team Online Platform Sustainable Travel Booking

Thanks to bookitgreen for their insights on sustainable travel and reducing environmental impact! Don't forget to check out their sustainable accommodation next time you plan a trip.

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