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Rise of the Sustainable SEA Traveller

Blackbox Research surveyed more than 4,600 travellers across six Southeast Asian countries—Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—to learn more about their sustainable travel behaviour post-pandemic. The ensuing content provides an overview of our detailed study ‘Rise of the Sustainable Southeast Asian (SEA) Traveller’.

COVID-19 pandemic has made citizens across the globe more aware of the deepening climate crisis and a greater need to adopt greener practices. The various social-distancing measures adopted amid the pandemic taught us that everythingfrom travelling to shoppingcan be done differently, in a more reasonable and responsible manner.

In a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey of more than 3,000 people across eight countries, 70% of the participants said that the pandemic has made them more aware of the fact that human action can further degrade the environment, and to reduce the impact, at least 40% of them intend to embrace sustainable practices in the near future.

While travellers need to be more aware of their choices, to avoid harming ecosystems and local communities, sustainability also needs to be a top concern for businesses and global economies in the post-pandemic era.

The following five findings should serve as valuable insights to providers and players in the travel industry as they gear up for a new normal amidst the pandemic.  

1. Southeast Asian travellers are willing to go the extra mile to embrace sustainability

Our findings highlight that almost 7 in 10 (67%) Southeast Asian consumers say they would have gone out of their way to choose a travel option that was more environment-friendly or sustainable. Here’s how other SEA countries compare to the regional average:

Overall, 9 out of 10 (90%) of Southeast Asians feel it is important to preserve the cultural and natural environment of a destination, so that it can be preserved for the future.

These findings are especially relevant for the Southeast Asian region, where sustainable travel is still a relatively new concept. With its culturally and ethnically rich and hyper-connected population that has a penchant for travel and its immense trove of natural sites, historical landmarks and rich cultures, the region has a vast potential to develop its sustainable travel sector.

While understanding the rising trend of sustainable travel in Southeast Asia, our key findings also shed light on the major drivers and barriers that push or keep travellers from making greener choices, as well as the different areas that industry players can focus on to effectively grow the sector in the region.

2. Praise and recognition from social circles are amongst the key motivators for SEA travellers to make sustainable choices

In our attempt to understand what sustainable travel means to Southeast Asian travellers and what encourages them to make sustainable travel choices, we gathered the following:

Overall, a sense of self-responsibility towards choosing such options occupies the highest spot for almost 1 out of 2 (46%) Southeast Asians with the moral and intellectual reward of doing something selfless being a runner-up. Interestingly though, it isn’t limited to a personal sense of satisfaction for doing something right. Peer pressure and social signalling are among the top motivators for travellers to choose sustainable travel options. In fact, behavioural economists and psychologists have also been trying to understand the power of peer pressure and social signalling in addressing environmental issues. “People don’t just want to conserve energy,” one psychologist says, “they want to be acknowledged for conserving energy.”

Thus, travel providers should bear in mind that the choices of Southeast Asian consumers are highly motivated by praise and recognition from others, and promote their packages, offers and discounts in a way that leverages their social circles and encourages them to share their eco-awareness with their peers.

3. Older travellers in SEA are driven by a moral imperative to choose greener travel options

While trying to take a closer look at the top motivators across age groups, our survey revealed that contrary to the popular perception that the younger generation leads the sustainability movement, the older population (40-64yrs) in the Southeast Asia region are likelier to choose a sustainable holiday option.

While 1 out of 2 (51%) respondents in the 40-60 years age group felt it is the social and moral responsibility to choose a greener travel option, 43% wanted to make a sustainable choice as they wanted to share their eco-awareness with their peers and 41% found it morally/intellectually rewarding to do something selfless/responsible for the environment.

Conversely, younger travellers (18-39yrs) are likelier to be swayed by friends and family members (21%), rewards and discounts (20%), or celebrities or influencers (13%) to make a sustainable choice.

These findings suggest that while providing sustainable options, travel and tourism professionals need to present and market their choices differently for different age groups, keeping the socio-demographic factors in mind.

4. Cost, inadequate information, and lack of transparency are key barriers to choosing sustainable travel options

While there is awareness, willingness, and motivation to make sustainable choices, a number of barriers can keep them from making green choices. A majority of Southeast Asians cited lack of access and information as the primary hindrances that discourage them from making sustainable travel choices.

5. Southeast Asian consumers are willing to put their money where their mouth is

With over 65.6% of the global population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the easing of restrictions and bottled-up travel demand, tourists are returning with a vengeance. Capitalising on this, global economies are encouraging tourism professionals to brace for a travel boom, a possible outcome of what is coined as ‘revenge travel’. As travellers look to venture out and explore new destinations, it could be the right opportunity to push for sustainable travel and ecotourism.

As per our survey, when asked about the maximum amount of money they would be willing to pay for a more sustainable holiday, 28% of Southeast Asians say they would spend at least half a month’s salary, which is a reasonable amount for any individual or a household, regardless of income level.

At 30%, Thais stand out as being the most willing to shell out at least half of a month’s salary on a sustainable holiday. Likewise, 30% of Vietnamese and 25% of Filipinos are the most willing to pay the equivalent of an entire month’s salary for such an experience.

These findings show that willingness and awareness are already there among most Southeast Asians; the real challenge is to highlight the actual benefits of sustainable travel in a clearer, more transparent, and engaging manner while ensuring that all major stakeholders within the travel/tourism sector are playing their part in pushing sustainability as the top concern among travellers.

Sneak peek at some notable country-wise findings

Our comprehensive findings provide a holistic overview of sustainable travel in SEA, along with country-specific insights for a complete picture of where things stand.  Below are some of the highlights of these country deep dives, with the full reports coming soon:

  • This stand out as some of the most aware in terms of sustainable travel and tourism: 43% of Thai travellers research all available sustainable travel options in advance, weighing the pros and cons before making a decision. This preference for transparency goes well with the finding that Thais are very likely (30%, same as Indonesia and Singapore) to dislike finding overpriced sustainable travel options, especially when it is not made clear how the additional cost is being used to minimise its impact on the environment.
  • The Philippines remains one of the region’s pioneers in terms of sustainable tourism:  The Philippines tops the survey when it comes to choosing environment-friendly modes of transport to minimise carbon emissions. Over 9 in 10 (92%) of Filipino respondents, as compared to 7 in 10 (76%) of Thais, prefer green modes of travel. The country once again leads our survey when it comes to being eco-conscious. A similarly high number (94%) of Filipinos are mindful of not harming the cultural and natural environments of a travel spot, so that it can be preserved for the generations to come, as compared to 87% of Malaysians and 84% of Singaporeans.
  • Vietnamese consumers consistently stand out as eco-conscious and aware in our study: A simple comparison of the numbers corroborates this. 71% of Vietnamese travellers avoid travel companies that offer no alternatives to cruises, flights, all-inclusive resorts, and over-tourism, as opposed to 65% of Singaporeans. 34% of Vietnamese felt it was important/responsible to choose a more sustainable option if one was available, as compared to 29% of Thais. Only 6% of Vietnamese say they do not know about sustainable travel options when purchasing a holiday, compared to 23% of Singaporeans. Vietnamese consumers are also quite discerning – with a regional high of 28% of consumers who want more transparency on the benefits of the sustainable travel options they purchase.
  • Indonesia is one of the top two countries in this study (77%) in terms of willingness to act on awareness of sustainable travel options: Among the six countries covered in our survey, social validation matters the most to Indonesians. More than half (56%) of Indonesians say they want to share their eco-consciousness with their social circles, in contrast to just 30% in Malaysia. This finding also gels well with the fact that Indonesia has one of the largest numbers of Facebook users in the world. 
  • Singaporeans are the least likely to act on their awareness of sustainable travel options: Our research suggests that despite high expectations within the SEA region to lead the way, Singapore seems to be an environmental laggard instead, with just 28% of Singaporeans considering it ‘very important’ to choose environment-friendly modes of transport for minimising carbon emissions. The number who feel that it is important to avoid travel companies that offer no alternatives to cruises, flights, all-inclusive resorts, and over-tourism is even lesser at 18%.
  • Malaysia is still catching up to the other Southeast Asian nations covered in this survey: Malaysia joins Singapore in the lower spectrum of the rankings, indicating that there’s more that needs to be done in terms of raising awareness toward sustainable travel. For example, 31% of Malaysians think it is very important to choose environment-friendly transport modes, in contrast to a significantly higher number in the Philippines (57%).

A SEA change for sustainable travel

Overall, our six-country survey reveals that ASEAN travellers are gradually warming up to the idea of sustainable travel and are open to trying greener alternatives. There is awareness and willingness among the consumers to learn more about sustainable travel practices and share their eco-consciousness with their social circles.

In fact, there is a critical need for stakeholders to take necessary action to capitalise on this and plan how sustainability can be used as a differentiator to attract consumer interest and drive growth. These insights can be useful to travel and tourism providers, who can help travellers understand the benefits of sustainable options in a clear and effective manner. While offering their travel packages, they can help them understand the benefits of opting for environment-friendly modes of transport and promote sustainable activities, like cycle tours, electric vehicles, and the like. While on a vacation, travellers can also be encouraged to reduce their waste and carry their trash with them and be mindful of their carbon footprint. Some heartening data for travel providers that emerged in our study is that there is overwhelming support across regions for incentivising tourism professionals, with most respondents ranking such an initiative as useful.

As per a November 2021 research, under a scenario with 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2030, almost half of the world’s population—approximately 5.0 billion people—could be exposed to a climate hazard related to heat stress, drought, flood, or water stress in the next decade, up from 43 percent (3.3 billion people) today. With the climate crisis deepening, embracing greener practices in our everyday lives is no longer a choice but an imperative, and the region can help in mitigating the hazards of climate change.

From a regional perspective, our survey indicates that Southeast Asia has a major source of untapped green potential. As the travel industry marches ahead on a road to recovery and as purchasing power grows in the region, sustainable travel may become a top priority in the future, with Southeast Asia possibly leading the world in this trend.

Do check out our country deep-dive articles on the ‘Rise of the Sustainable Southeast Asian (SEA) Traveller’ study, focussing on Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, respectively.

For more data and insights from this survey, including country-specific breakdowns of results, please reach out to Blackbox Research at

Author: Blackbox Research Team


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