Sustainability in travel: How software addresses environmental challenges

Sustainability in travel: How software addresses environmental challenges

“Going green” has become a popular trend lately. With more awareness about climate change and the negative impact of travel on the environment, many people want their vacations to be eco-friendly. 

In 2022, 81% of travelers worldwide said sustainable tourism was important to them. This has led the eco-tourism industry to reach a total global market size of $172.4 billion. From green hotels to carbon offset programs, the industry is developing and is expected to grow further. Software is playing a big role in making sustainable practices possible.

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These solutions can help you keep track of emissions, pay to offset carbon output, promote eco-certified suppliers, facilitate bookings of sustainable options, and analyze environmental performance. 

In this article, we explore the exact reasons for implementing sustainability in travel and explain how technology can simplify sustainable business development.

Sustainable practices in the travel industry

For a long time, neither travelers nor tourism companies worried much about the environmental impacts of vacations. But over the last 20-30 years, that started to change. In the ‘90s, certification programs like Green Globe created sustainability standards for the travel industry. 

What is sustainable travel these days? Its definition has since expanded to also encompass fair labor practices, preservation of cultures and heritage, and human rights considerations.

As a result of this growing awareness, the travel industry is facing big pressure to follow the principles of sustainable tourism. 

Rise of sustainable travel trends

Several key sustainable travel trends have taken off in recent years that are changing the sector:

  • Carbon footprint reduction. It would take a full acre of forest to soak up the carbon dioxide released by a single flight from London to New York. More people started worrying about all the greenhouse gases coming from flights, hotels, cruises, and other vacation activities. Sustainable travel companies are now providing tools for travelers to estimate and mitigate trip emissions.
  • Sustainable flying. Similarly, many travelers feel guilty about planes burning so much fuel and contributing to climate change. So, airlines are using more fuel-efficient aircraft, biofuels, and better routes to cut air pollution.
  • Paperless travel. Back in 1978, Frederick Wilfrid Lancaster predicted that paper communication would eventually be replaced by digital formats. Quite a far-sighted forecast. Now, the shift toward a “paperless society" has also expanded into the travel industry. Travel sites digitize all their tickets and guides to help the Earth.
  • Sharing economy lodging. The smaller operational scale of private homes enables easier adoption of renewable energy, food waste reduction, and water conservation compared to large hotels. This is how home-sharing sites like Airbnb took off.
  • Group bookings. This is another way to support eco-friendliness, particularly sustainable business travel. When people travel in groups, it means they share rental cars or buses, hotel rooms, and tour activities. This pools resources and cuts down on total emissions, fuel, plastic, and waste.
  • Decrease in tourism overcrowding. Travelers now intentionally skip overcrowded landmarks during peak seasons. Like how art lovers go see other masterpieces if the Mona Lisa has a two-hour line. Sustainable travel companies and governments make efforts, too, to coordinate the tourist load.

There are undoubtedly a lot more eco-friendly travel trends. But they all originate from the same underlying risk — harming nature. Some companies are making changes because they genuinely care about environmental protection. However, other motivations exist for businesses to tackle the challenges of sustainability in travel.

The importance of addressing the environmental challenge

As climate concerns reshape traveler choices and governments enact new sustainable travel policies, the industry finds many pragmatic reasons to transform operations… or risk getting left behind.

Future-proofing the travel industry

Ultimately, beautiful landscapes, pristine beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and rich biodiversity are what feed the travel industry. Tourism depends on keeping these ecosystems thriving, as their sustainability impacts the industry’s future revenue. But too much hotel construction, plastic waste, crowds, and disrespect all gradually ruin the special spots visitors come to see. Without effort, famous places could turn into trashy zones.

So, it’s in every travel company’s survival interest to keep locations pristine. Protecting nature guarantees visitors keep coming.

Preventing destinations from becoming victims of their own popularity

In addition to the risk of travelers avoiding polluted destinations, overtourism is another threat. With roads, airports, and hotels overloaded, both visitors and residents end up unhappy. Overwhelmed with crowds, residents in Hallstatt, a World Heritage Site, even protested on the streets, demanding bus tour limits after 5 pm.

Locals protest against overtourism in Hallstatt, Austria, on August 27, 2023
Locals protest against overtourism in Hallstatt, Austria, on August 27, 2023
Source: Business Insider

If communities feel tourism makes housing more expensive or their culture gets erased, hostility results. Plus, governments may try addressing excessive demand using entrance fee hikes or freezing permits for new city hotels. 

That means travel leaders must strike a balance between making a profit and preventing what people have begun calling "overtourism."

Following industry regulations

Governments keep enacting new sustainability rules travel companies must meet or risk penalties, lawsuits, naming-and-shaming, or loss of operating permits. 

For example, right now, sustainable fuels have a tiny supply and cost way more than regular fossil fuels. The European Parliament approved its ReFuelEU aviation standards to fix this issue. According to the new rules, by 2025, EU airports and fuel suppliers must guarantee that 2% or more of their fuel is "green." 

Decreasing operational cost

Sustainability in travel can also make businesses more cost-efficient by reducing wasted money. They can directly minimize expenses on water, electricity, gas, and supplies that got thrown out for no reason.

By making environmental management a top priority since 2009, the global hotel group Hilton has saved over $500 million. Installing technology like smart heating and cooling systems reduced utility bills. Composting kitchen scraps cut waste hauling costs. Responsible construction saved building expenses over time.

Enhancing brand reputation

Finally, when companies launch big, visible sustainable practices like cutting all plastic use, switching to solar power, or letting people offset trip pollution, it builds goodwill and makes people view them more positively.

As sustainability grows as a priority, companies have more metrics, regulations, and customer expectations to manage than ever before. This is where digital tools come in, making "going green" much easier.

Benefits of digitalization in promoting sustainability in travel

Just recently, sustainability tracking meant teams manually gathering piles of data across locations. They suffered from long delays in creating basic reports. It was an uphill battle, even for passionate green innovators inside companies.

Moreover, booking systems couldn't provide filtration options when customers requested green options. Agents searched spreadsheets by hand for certified eco-lodges, train routes, carbon offsets, or local tour guides. This made responsible travel complex for both company staff and guests. 

Numerous travel brands have decided to build travel industry software to remove those barriers. now provides Travel Sustainable filters to help people find eco-friendly accommodation. 

Cloud dashboards centralize resource usage data, offering visibility. Machine learning rapidly models scenario changes to improve financial returns. Self-service booking software lets travelers search for green accommodations. Basically, technology removes excuses for travel brands to commit to sustainable practices. 

Next, let's explore how software can specifically help you implement the principles of sustainable tourism: reducing carbon footprints, enabling paperless operations, monitoring overtourism, incentivizing travelers, and more.

Carbon reduction 

Software is making it easier than ever to minimize the massive carbon footprint. Eco-conscious brands use various tools to reduce emissions:

  • Carbon footprint calculators. These tools are getting popular among travelers wanting to understand their vacations’ impact on the climate. Calculators estimate trip pollution from transport, hotels, and trip-related activities. They add up all miles flown, rides taken, and nights stayed to get CO2 totals. Travelers can then voluntarily “offset” the carbon released by financing renewable energy or reforestation projects.
  • Route optimization software. The software considers vehicle efficiency, occupancy rates, and road mileage to calculate the lowest emission path possible. This way, you can cut tons of emissions from less fuel burned and fewer empty rides wasted.
  • Energy management tools. These tools track how much electricity or fuel every elevator, lobby light, or tour bus uses hourly or daily. With their help, managers can instantly spot which equipment consumes the most energy and make sustainability improvements accordingly.
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You will almost definitely find information about climate protection initiatives on major travel brands' websites. For example, Lufthansa Cargo lets customers pay extra to offset the carbon from shipping cargo by plane. The service is called "Sustainable Choice" and is available for all Lufthansa Cargo flights worldwide.

Flying green

Remember all the buzz when Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a zero-emission boat? Or headlines about celebrities using private jet flights? With “flight shaming” on the rise, aviation faces growing pressure over its sizable carbon footprint.

Avoiding air travel completely, like Thunberg, isn’t practical for most travelers or companies. But new tech can improve air travel sustainability. It ultimately starts with raising passenger visibility via the above-mentioned carbon footprint calculators. 

Also, flight booking platforms now highlight “green” planes using biofuels and filter efficient direct routes so travelers can make better choices. Airlines can also shorten travel time or decrease extra weight on board by using flight planning and weight and balance systems and, thus, reduce total fuel burn.

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Paperless travel experiences

Travel relies heavily on paper — boarding passes, room key cards, brochures, and more. The software can remove plenty of waste.

So, why go paperless? Digital platforms eliminate the need for paper and ink expenses as well as facility power. Plus, online bookings, mobile check-in, and self-service kiosks speed up operations by cutting manual paperwork that takes ages. Your staff can serve more guests faster with less hassle.

What’s more, many travelers get frustrated with all the paperwork still around. Who wants to wait in line just to check in and get their room key, right? Or what about having to track down menus and hotel details in a big printed book when you just want to order some food after a long flight?

Thankfully, software tools are making it way easier to cut down on waste and make employees’ and travelers’ lives easier, too. Here are some software features that can assist you in your paperless endeavors:

  • Digital check-ins. For hotels, guests can check in online days or hours before arriving and already secure their perfect room. Airport check-ins can submit all travelers’ data electronically, assign seats based on their upgrades, and generate mobile boarding passes.
  • Mobile room keys. The hotel room key app works just like the card, except now it's stored on tourists’ phones. These digital keys are actually more secure than old plastic cards. If a guest loses their phone, the hotel can turn off the key remotely so no one else can use it. The days of having to replace those non-working cards at the front desk are also over.
  • Online restaurant menus. We started seeing more digital menus being used during the pandemic — paper menus could carry germs. But these online menus also help you go paperless. They let people easily view food photos, prices, descriptions, and more and even generate bills and pay right on their own devices.
  • Software analytics. Remembering the preferences of so many people can be hard without good records. Analytics improve service without paperwork. These programs gather data on customer choices and buying habits. Over time, they detect patterns about what room types, seat locations, meal options, etc., guests prefer.

The nice bonus is that digitizing processes not only contribute to sustainable business development but also allows you to work more efficiently and provide better, personalized service without all the manual efforts.


Hotels are convenient, but all those big chain buildings use up tons of land and resources. Some travelers would rather rent places right from locals and support their economies. What’s more, up to 66% want to have local cultural experiences. So, home-sharing is a bright sustainable tourism example.

Tourists can find safe peer-to-peer accommodations with the use of technology, and locals can rent out their apartments with ease. Home-sharing marketplaces like Airbnb make it straightforward. 

Their user-friendly software handles all the logistics, from listing creation to payment processing. Reviews and ID verifications also provide both parties with confidence and accountability prior to the meeting. Features like personalized recommendations can match visitors with ideal local hosts based on profiles, budget, and trip goals.

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The right technology features can thus allow more travelers to enjoy cultural immersion while letting residents benefit economically.

Hotel group bookings

Apart from group bookings being more eco-friendly, they also help businesses in a variety of practical ways. Such sustainable hotel practices allow establishments to better prepare staff levels, inventory, and workflows in advance to deliver higher-quality service. 

Bigger groups also spend more total money compared to individuals booking alone. During quieter days of the week, group requests also help fill empty tables and rooms. The same sustainability benefits apply to airlines managing group travel.

Specialized software makes coordinating group bookings much easier for everyone. Customers can temporarily hold or reserve blocks of rooms while getting the final numbers of who will attend. Invite links can be sent out to collect specific order details from every guest.

With gateway integrations for booking apps, all the final details can be synced to the property management system. So the kitchen knows how many customized meals to prepare, while housekeeping sees how many rooms with extra beds are needed. 

In addition, automation also enables sustainable travel companies to optimize revenue in the face of fluctuating demand. Smaller groups can be automatically approved later. Top-tier groups that would spend the most might be able to secure the best dates and rooms.

With the software handling the busy details, the staff can focus on impressing groups with premium care. 

Managing tourism capacity 

Overtourism hurts both the environment and local economies. Better managing visitor flows can help find the right balance. But how can businesses and cities best estimate suitable tourism capacity? Software is the answer here, too.

By combining booking data from hotels, tour operators, etc., the software provides an overview of current and upcoming visitor volumes. Tracking key metrics like website traffic, reservations made, days until arrival, etc., generates demand forecasts. This way, destinations can coordinate with travel partners to smooth out peaks and offer promotions during slower periods. 

For specific sites like museums or parks, setting entry limits helps control overcrowding. Based on factors like visitor density, duration spent, movement heat maps, wait times, etc., these locations can adjust entry approvals right in their pre-booking systems.

When destinations are promoted responsibly, residents don’t feel irritated by disruptive crowds. They can carry on with relatively normal lifestyles and remain hospitable, warm, and kind to guests. In response, visitors can continue to fully immerse themselves in cultural heritage.

Adopt sustainable practices with COAX

The travel industry can’t ignore eco-friendliness anymore, both due to the harm to nature it brings and practical reasons like keeping customers and securing future revenue. More travelers now favor sustainable brands. And wasting resources hurts profits.

Becoming eco-friendly doesn’t mean fully changing business models. As discussed, tailored software, like carbon tracking tools or CRM for tourism with sustainable filters, can integrate sustainable practices into your current workflows step by step. Automation takes care of the complex parts — tracking data to spot high carbon emissions and waste, optimizing routes and group bookings, promoting less busy areas, and more. 

Example of CRM for tourism
Example of CRM for tourism

Yet, transitioning to sustainability in travel may get overwhelming. Where do you start digitizing green initiatives? That’s where partners like COAX come in who know how to improve sustainability using tech. 

We deliver complete tech solutions for the travel and hospitality industries. Our expertise involves modernizing old software, building new systems from scratch, and connecting them to current infrastructure.

COAX provides booking software development services to enable seamless reservations and enhance reporting. For customer loyalty, we integrate carbon offset programs so travelers can transparently mitigate their footprint impact.

Contact us and find out what else we can do to spot your eco gaps and fill them with the right tech!

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