How to close the “say–do gap” for leisure travelers? 

During and after the pandemic, we have seen a lot of good intentions to go green and travel more sustainably. Research backs this up.   But when we take a closer look, at this research, we find that only very few travelers are willing to walk the talk.  Why is that?  Why are not more people actually traveling more sustainably? 

At the Cayuga Collection Hotels like Arenas del Mar, we strive to find the symbiosis of sustainability and luxury in our guest experience.

Is this like the good intentions of joining the gym and losing weight after the holidays?  Let’s take a look at some of the research in more detail. 

Accelerating the Transition to Net-Zero Travel: STRATEGIES FOR ACTION SKIFT RESEARCH + MCKINSEY & COMPANY:        

“A recent McKinsey survey indicates that 40 percent of travelers globally say they are willing to pay at least two percent more for carbon-neutral flight tickets.  However, Skift’s latest consumer survey has exposed a “say-do” gap; only 14 percent of travelers state that they actually paid more for sustainable options when they travel. 


This substantial “say-do” gap could hinder the sustainable travel transition. For example, a 2022 Swiss study found when presented with the option to buy carbon offsets for flights, only around 5 percent of consumers did so—resulting in a mean carbon offset purchase of only around €1 per flight.

81% of active travelers say they’re willing to change travel behavior to reduce the impact on the environment! However, only 21% are willing to pay an additional $5 to support an environmental cause!

Planting native trees, like here at Kura in Uvita, is a common activity that guests of the Cayuga Collection Hotels get involved in.

We suspect that some of the reasons for this say-do gap are the lack of clear and easy-to-understand sustainability-related information. It is confusing. There are still very few truly sustainable booking options and sustainability certifications are often not reflecting a real commitment to sustainability.  They are fairly easy to obtain by just checking some boxes, but never really verified on-site with maybe a handful of exceptions.

During times of inflation and a looming recession, many travelers might give more weight to rate, location or ratings.  It seems like the climate emergency and focus on sustainability has taken the second seat to an energy crisis, increased cost of living, war fears, and an eminent recession. 

Hanging Bridges in the cloud forest of Monteverde where Cayuga Collection’s Senda Hotel is located.

Nevertheless, here are some recommendations on how to help leisure travelers close the “say-do gap” and through their travel decisions be part of the solution and not the problem. 

Guest reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google have helped to raise the bar in hospitality service and helped guests make better decisions on where to spend their money.  What if those platforms would make it easier for guests to comment specifically about the sustainability practices of hotels?  Guests could share not only ratings but specifics of what they liked or did not like about the hotel’s sustainability practices. 

In the Tripadvisor profile of Arenas del Mar, the Sustainability Tour that we offer is one of the most mentioned features in guest reviews.

Every year, hotels receive inspections by travel agents.  They check on the quality of the installation and services, but very few times do they check on sustainability practices (of course there are some great exceptions).  How about if agents would learn about local year-round employment, fair wages, and benefits, wastewater treatment plants, renewable energy production, locally sourced food & beverages, and solid waste management?  This could change the perception and will allow them to recommend hotels that are committed to sustainable practices to hotel guests that care. 

Could travel agents give some more weight to the sustainability efforts of hotels like here at Isla Palenque in Panama?

What about if travelers after checking the websites of a hotel that they are interested have a conversation with the reservation agents about sustainability?  This could happen by calling an 800 number or via chat or e-mail.  Ask the reservations agents how their hotel is sustainable.  Ask them to go beyond not changing towels every day, energy-saving fixtures, and recycling.  What are they doing for the local community?  Where are the food and decoration sources?  Are all employees local?  Soon you will find out how committed that hotel is. 

To learn more, read this article.

Check if the hotel has received local or international recognition for its sustainability efforts.  Just like certifications, not all awards are for real.  But if the awards were awarded after a physical inspection on site like in the case of National Geographic World Savers or WTTA Tourism for Tomorrow awards, you can be assured that it is well-deserved. 

Try not to fall for greenwashing.  While it is a good thing that every day more and more businesses are making efforts to become more sustainable, not everything that is painted green actually is good for the planet. 

At the Cayuga Collection, we have almost 25 years of sustainable hospitality experience.  Sustainability is in our DNA.  We did it way before it was trendy or that the climate emergency was declared.  We continue to walk the walk and make our best effort to improve the nature and communities where we operate.  Our focus is always on “people” and “local”.  We are small and it might seem like a drop in the bucket, but if we can continue to inspire others to follow our path, we know that we can make a huge difference. 

We are all about “people” and “local”. Local staff, local foods, local decor. It is the Cayuga Way of sustainable luxury hospitality.

See for yourself by taking the back-of-the-house sustainability tour that we offer at all our hotels to guests free of cost.  No areas are off-limits.  We will show you all we do to be more sustainable every day.  And of course, we are always happy to receive ideas and suggestions on how to improve.  Write to me directly at and I will help you set up the tour. 

A back of House Sustainability Tour with guests at Senda Monteverde, Costa Rica.

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