This month at Postconsumers, we’re shining the light on some activities, hobbies, niches or even social norms that are ridden with consumerism but are often thought of as being postconsumer alternatives. Today, we’re tackling something that we’ve found to be a controversial topic in the past: eco-travel. Whether or not eco-travel is really eco-friendly isn’t a new topic at Postconsumers.  In fact, when we explored it, the topic caused quite the discussion. But whether or not you’re on board with eco-travel, it unquestionably comes laden with consumer elements.

To Be Clear, Eco-Travel Beats Wasteful Travel

There are some common vacations that are, simply put, terrible for the planet. If your choice is between those vacations and an eco-friendly travel destination, then we can’t argue with your making a more environmentally sound choice. We’re not going to get into the debate here of whether or not it’s responsible to the planet to travel at all and create carbon miles. We’re on record as saying that we think travel is important and that we accept a certain amount of carbon footprint that comes with it. We’re also on record as saying that each individual needs to find his or her comfort zone on the postconsumer scale. But whether you travel close to the earth or hop a plane to an eco-friendly resort, you’re being exposed to certain consumer practices. Today, we’ll take a look at them.

Travel Has Become a Commodity

The first thing it’s helpful to understand is that travel has become a commodity, which is to say that it in itself is a product. It’s not as it was in the past when planning and booking travel was a “process.” While there are still several steps that anybody must make to put a trip together, several things changed in travel in the recent decades that turned it from a service industry to a product industry. The first obviously is the internet. Prior to the internet, people used travel agents (yes, real people) to help plan and book their trip. The travel agent’s job was to provide a service that resulted in an individualized vacation or travel plan. When you “shopped around” for a travel agent, you weren’t buying a product. You were buying a relationship. That’s a much different, and less insidious, type of marketing. And travel destinations were doing the same thing. Rather than marketing their hotel, attraction or transportation method, they were building relationships with the travel agents who advised individuals.

Obviously, the ability of individuals to purchase their travel themselves on the internet changed that. As travel booking sites on the internet grew, people were buying the product of travel. That means that price competitiveness, user acquisition and presentation became important in the ways that they are for any direct-to-consumer product. As the relationship-building element of travel was replaced with consumer direct purchases, travel destinations and companies had to become product marketers. We’ll touch on that later in this article.

The switch of travel from a service industry to a product industry was what escalated the creation of all-inclusive resorts and destinations. These are travel locations that offer vacations that are a “single click purchase,” meaning that they include travel, accommodations, food, beverages and even activities. So rather than comparing elements and putting a trip together, individuals purchase a vacation as though they were purchasing barbeque kits or patio furniture. It’s not about the individual parts, it’s about the total package. Even the use of the word “package” tells you a great deal about the shift in the travel industry from service-side to product-side.

So, What Does That Have to Do With Consumerism?

As soon as something becomes a product, it’s subject to all of the consumer marketing tactics that we warn about when we talk about “stuff.” That’s because at base any product is “stuff” even if it’s really an experience. So when you “shop” for travel, you’ll be exposed to:

Direct Marketing: As soon as you show any interest in travel, you can expect your inbox, your online experience, your interaction with the Internet of Things and even your very own postal mailbox to fill up with marketing materials. These marketing materials won’t tell you much about the experience you’ll have, but they will tell you about the “things” you’ll get – such as upgraded rooms, the number of days you can stay, what’s included for food and even activities that you can enjoy. This will cause you to begin comparing vacation packages by what you’ll get rather than what you’ll experience. It’s the antithesis of travel and the very definition of consumerism.

Hidden Fees and Prices: And just like with actual “stuff” you’ll also have an emphasis on price. But just like with physical “stuff” be wary of price marketing. There’s always a cost for a low price. Nothing is free (or even really cheap).

The Idea That You Need More: More is never enough is not a concept that the travel marketing industry is immune from. You need upgrades! You need faster, more direct flights! You need the room with the view. You need the top shelf liquor! You’ll be bombarded with “more marketing’ at every opportunity.

Developing Identity Through “Stuff”: Eco-travel is no different than eco-fashion when it comes to leveraging the fact that you often believe your identity is wrapped up in your stuff. Yes, we know that there are plenty of eco-travelers out there who do it for the joy and because they want to make ethical travel decisions. But there are just as many who book eco-travel to make a statement about who they are. Even if we like who they are, creating identity through your purchases is a trap of consumerism.

Oh, and Souvenirs: Of course we couldn’t get out of this without actual “stuff” being involved as well! Even at an eco-friendly destination, the assumption is going to be that you will want to buy “stuff” because that’s the only way to remember a vacation. You know that’s not true!

Did we miss a way that eco-travel and consumerism are entwined that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.

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hoto Credit: Luke Mackin via Flickr