Engaging the purpose-driven traveller

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While sustainability and responsible travel have been hot industry topics for some time now, there is a growing emphasis on purpose as a priority for guests. Click. explores

Today, consumers actively seek out brands and experiences with purpose, favouring businesses with a strong mission and philanthropic intent over those that simply deliver material value. This is increasingly evident in the travel sector, with the rise of purpose-driven tourism.

According to a recent study from the Impact Travel Alliance, 63% of leisure travellers now say they have major responsibility in ensuring that travel doesn’t harm a destination. “With more people getting involved with activism in their daily lives or starting to implement sustainability day-to-day, this is translating to how we are exploring our world,” says Kelley Louise, Founder and Executive Director.

Intrepid Travel was established in 1989 with responsible tourism at the core, but Leigh Barnes, Chief Purpose Officer, has also observed a recent shift. “In the last three years we’ve really seen the market come towards us with a focus on purpose,” he says. “People want to get off the beaten track and have real experiences, and in that make sure that their money goes towards those local communities so they can have a positive impact when they travel.”

The conscious consumer

One of the key triggers for this change is Gen Z, bringing an era of what global trend forecaster WGSN calls “cause-driven consumerism”. According to its recent report, travel is a means for this socially engaged generation to get out of their comfort zone and gain a sense of purpose through, for example, gap years which have grown in popularity 43% Year-On-Year (YOY) since 2006. Meanwhile, 88% of luxury travel company Virtuoso’s advisors believe Gen Z hold sway over their families' holiday decisions. 

Photo: Intrepid Travel

Photo: Intrepid Travel

Similarly, Intrepid saw a significant response to its recently launched under 30s trips, showing a marked departure from the hedonistic days of Club 18-30. “Under 30s want to travel in a sustainable manner and have definitely changed from just wanting to go out and party,” says Barnes. “Purpose travel isn’t boring, it’s exactly the opposite.”

But interest is not limited to Gen Z and millennials. Louise adds: “Younger generations are very vocal about what they are searching for. But it’s also baby boomers and older generations - there is a real collective effort.”

Redefining purpose

One of the key challenges in purpose-driven tourism is redefining how it’s interpreted and moving away from problematic "voluntourism". The Center for Responsible Travel reported that despite the growing market, the industry lags behind in delivering relevant products, with over half of tourists that wish to travel sustainably not knowing how to do so.

“A lot of consumers are very interested in building impact into their trips but often they think that can only be done if they volunteer or visit an ecolodge in Costa Rica [for example] and they are not necessarily thinking about how they can have a sustainable urban experience in a destination like New York City or Amsterdam,” says Louise. “That’s so much more powerful because it can scale so much quicker.”

So, shaping your offering to appeal to this new breed of traveller need not require a huge overhaul. “It could be something as small as your bar opting to stock beers from microbreweries in the area. That makes for a unique experience for the traveller and creates positive impact among the local community.” 

Photo: The Good Hotel

Photo: The Good Hotel

The Good Hotel is a “profit for non-profit” initiative that offers training to locals who’ve been in long-term unemployment and donates profits to charity. Putting purpose at the heart of the business paid off. “When people find out about our concept and social business model … they are always really impressed,” says Maria O’Connor, Good Hotel spokesperson. “People love the work we are doing and really like feeling a part of it.”

“Recently we held an event with Stories Behind Things, ‘The Big Clothes Switch’, a cashless shopping experience where you trade your clothes for other ‘pre-loved’ clothes. We love hosting events that are like-minded in their social mission but that are also really cool - they tend to go down really well with our guests.”

By 2020, Gen Z will account for 40% of all consumers with disposable income for travel, so the needs of this purpose-driven cohort will become all the more prevalent. As guests demand more from the companies they spend their money with, Barnes anticipates this interest becoming a necessity: “Great experiences, brilliant customer service and doing the right thing from a social and environmental standpoint. That’ll become the norm.”

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Hero image: credit to Phil Coffman, Unsplash

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Purpose-driven travel is defined by the consumer considering their impact on the destination and prioritising responsible, sustainable tourism
63% of leisure travellers say they have a duty in ensuring that travel doesn’t harm a destination
Interest in purpose-driven travel crosses generations but Gen Z - those born between 1995 and the early 2000s - in particular are engaged with “cause-driven consumerism”
Purpose-driven experiences can be as simple as encouraging guests to support local businesses or introducing them to products from responsible suppliers