Three in five travel consumers seek out responsible tourism operators as ethical travel goes mainstream: global poll

More than three in five international leisure travellers (62%) are now actively seeking out tourism operators that adhere to responsible standards when they go on vacation, a new global survey for tourism brand consultancy Twenty31 has revealed.

The survey findings, based on 11,073 online interviews with international travellers aged 18+ across 11 countries[1] conducted in June 2021, illustrate how responsible tourism has made its way into the mainstream, particularly in the wake of the economic crisis of recent years and increased traveller awareness of over-tourism at key destinations. They suggest that, even with significant pent-up demand for international travel having built up in the past 18 months due to COVID-19 restrictions, travellers are continuing to attach importance to factors beyond price and product quality.

Within the 62% who say they seek out responsible tourism operators, there is a significant segment who say they ‘always’ do so (19%). The findings also indicate that the greatest enthusiasm for responsible travel is outside of the North American and Western European markets that have traditionally been the driver of responsible/ethical tourism: nearly four in five Saudi Arabians (79%) and Chinese (78%) report that they seek out responsible tourism operators.

Germans (53%) and Ukrainians (39%) emerge as the nationalities least likely of those surveyed to actively seek out responsible tourism operators.

Enthusiasm for responsible travel is higher among younger age groups, but the difference is not dramatic. It peaks in the 25-34-year-old age group, 66% of whom say they seek out responsible tourism operators and is lowest among those aged 65+, where only 50% say the same. It is also much higher among those with children at home (70%) than those without (54%).

Most also want to support local communities when they travel

Enthusiasm for supporting local tourism operators is just as high as for responsible tourism. A total of 63% across the 11 countries surveyed report that they like to support local communities and operators when they travel, with Americans (76%) among the most focused on backing operators with local roots, alongside Chinese (75%), Saudi (74%) and British travellers (67%).

However, there remain some countries where enthusiasm for locally rooted tourism is less pronounced. 53% of Ukrainians say they are not interested in supporting local communities and operators, and over a third of Russians (36%).

Limited willingness to pay an ethical premium – except among the young

Despite travellers’ wish to see more responsible and locally-based tourism, cost continues to be a potential stumbling block, with most international travellers prepared to pay only a modest premium, if any.

Asked how much they would be prepared to pay to ensure a responsible tourism experience, certified by an independent third party, 40% say they would be prepared to pay 5%, with over a quarter (27%) saying they would not be prepared to pay any premium. However, there is a significant segment willing to pay a more significant premium – 28% say they would pay 10%, while 5% say they would pay as much as 20%. Saudis (49%), Americans (41%) and Ukrainians (36%) are the most likely to say they would pay a premium of at least 10%. At the other end of the scale, Russian travellers are among the most sceptical, with 40% unwilling to pay any premium at all.

Here, however, there is significant evidence that younger travellers are willing to pay more for a responsible tourism experience. Nearly two in five (39%) of those aged 18-24 say they would be willing to spend at least 10% more for it. This willingness then declines steadily with age, and only 23% of those aged 65+ say they would be willing to pay a 10% premium to ensure their operator has been certified as responsible.

Reacting to the generational shift the survey findings illustrate, Twenty31 Partner Greg Klassen commented: “These findings show how far responsible travel has come in a short space of time. We have an emerging generation who don’t want to have to compromise on their values when they travel, and some who recognise that this comes at a price. But greenwashing and vague commitments won’t do – if travellers are to pay extra for responsibility, operators need to expect to be held to account.” 

Expert reactions to the survey findings

EarthCheck CEO, Stewart Moore said: “One of the most pleasing findings in the new research is the recognition of the need to support local communities when people travel. COVID has connected people across the planet and one of the outcomes has been a recognition of the need to actively give back and contribute to the community that you are visiting.”

Destination Vancouver President and CEO, Royce Chwin said: “As a 119-year-old organization, Destination Vancouver believes that tourism needs to deliver real benefits to communities and visitors while respecting our planet. We are pleased to see from the work Twenty31 has done that the demand for responsible tourism from visitors aligns with what we’ve been hearing from communities: ethical travel is a priority. As we emerge from this pandemic, all stakeholders in our industry need to join us in working hard to rebuild our sector in a way that is culturally, socially and economically sustainable.”

Pacific Asia Travel Association CEO Liz Ortiguera said: " As we look to restart and rebuild our industry, this is an opportunity for tourism to lead by example. Travellers are becoming more socially and environmentally conscious, and tourism stakeholders from both the public and private sectors need to recognise that responsible business practices must embrace practical measures to offset the potentially irreversible damage to our planet caused by climate change. The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is committed to sustainable development across the entire spectrum of the travel and tourism industry."


Methodological note:

These findings are based on the results of a survey conducted by Twenty31 in June 2021, among 11,073 travellers aged 18+ across 11 countries (UK, USA, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, KSA, Spain, Ukraine and Poland). International travellers were defined as those who had taken an overnight leisure trip in the last three years, or were likely to do so in the next three years. Results are subject to sampling tolerances, and are accurate within each country to ±3%, 19 times out of 20.

For further details or comments please contact Sam Mountford at Twenty31 at +44 7970 039530 or at

[1] The countries surveyed were the UK, USA, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Spain, Ukraine and Poland