Americans increasingly prioritize sustainability as they make decisions about how and where they travel. In tandem, American transportation innovators are developing new technologies to make the entire mobility value chain more sustainable.
This convergence presents significant economic opportunities for our nation, as well as new considerations for policymakers at the local, state and federal levels. To ensure the equitable deployment of infrastructure to support more environmentally friendly mobility technology, it will be necessary for industry leaders and government decision makers to work together hand in glove.
It’s clear that Americans want to travel in a more sustainable way. More than one in five U.S. travelers responding to an Ipsos survey said they would travel more by car if their personal vehicle produced fewer carbon emissions, and 15 percent said they would do the same for air travel.
Looking ahead to the future, over two-thirds of respondents said they would take more frequent leisure trips, and 28 percent would take more business trips, if Virgin Hyperloop technology was available. Close to half of air travelers would take more frequent leisure trips, and 16 percent of business travelers would take more frequent business trips to far away destinations if Boom Supersonic aircraft technology was available.
It’s not just travelers’ priorities that are changing. Businesses are also making ambitious corporate sustainability commitments that may change the way workers meet for off-site conferences and workshops. And as we see more hybrid work environments here to stay, there is an opportunity to position travel as essential to growth — but likely only if it is sustainable in the long run. The travel sector is accordingly setting goals and targets to lower emissions, minimize waste, and conserve natural resources.
The industry’s investments are ambitious and substantial. General Motors plans to be all-electric by 2035. Ford plans to add four new electric vehicles into its Lincoln lineup by 2026. And Hyundai has announced plans for a 2,200 acre site in Georgia to build battery-powered cars.
Major U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, and United, have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. There is a strong push underway to substantially expand Sustainable Aviation Fuels. Simultaneously, new technologies in development, such as electric vertical take-off and landing (eTOL) aircraft, are on the cusp of reinventing air travel.
In the hospitality sector, Hilton’s hotel chains have partnered with Clean the World, the world’s largest organization to recycle hotel soap and bath amenities. Booking.com has created a program to encourage properties on its platform to become more sustainable and provide more transparency to help consumers identify sustainable travel options.
But for this transition to a more sustainable future to succeed, strong private sector investment needs to be coupled with coordinated policies to ensure that new travel technologies are supported with modern infrastructure.
Cars provide a great example. Roughly 87% of travel is done by car domestically, so an uptick in electric vehicles puts some destinations — such as in rural areas — at risk of being left out if they don’t have charging stations. Even in cases where charging stations are available, a wider adoption of electric vehicles means we will need more of them.
Travel sustainability further presents enormous opportunities to grow a robust segment of our economy. The U.S. Travel Association — which will host the Future of Travel Mobility Summit in September — estimates that if travel increased by just 5 percent because of more sustainable travel options, that would lead to another $50 billion in annual travel spending that would in turn support about 850,000 additional American jobs.
We can see where travel is headed in the U.S., with new technologies and innovations that will help Americans connect with colleagues, friends and family in more environmentally friendly ways. We must start preparing now to secure this future.
Yet innovation can’t happen in a vacuum. The American travel and hospitality sectors, working alongside the transportation and technology sectors, public officials and communities across the country can shape an interconnected transportation framework that supports the modern travel economy for generations to come.
With a coordinated planning effort, we can successfully drive sustainable travel in the U.S. to the benefit of travelers, the economy and our planet.
Tori Emerson Barnes is the Executive Vice President, Public Affairs and Policy at the U.S. Travel Association.