One thing was clear recently at the California Travel & Tourism Commission’s (CTTC) first-ever California Sustainable Tourism Summit – going green is key to the travel industry’s economic future.

An astounding 170 stakeholders – more than double the anticipated participation – flocked to Asilomar near Monterey to discuss the future of sustainable tourism in the Golden State. Representatives from destination marketing organizations (DMOs), parks, wineries, transportation companies, restaurants, accommodations, media outlets, conservation groups, universities and local governments came to share best practices and learn more about how we can all ensure that tourism maintains its economic vitality while protecting the environment and community for future generations.

In California, sustainability is integral to the tourism landscape, attracting a fast-growing niche of eco-savvy travelers who are looking for green travel products and services – and are willing to pay more for them.

Sustainability is not only good for the environment, but can boost local economies and make a destination far more attractive to consumers. Even in lean economic times, nearly half of U.S. travelers (48%) said that supporting green services is a necessity (Travelhorizons, July 2009), and 76% percent of Americans say they will spend the same or more on green products in the next year (ImagePower Green Brands survey, May 2009).

There is also a growing demand among consumers for green practices in the travel industry. In a survey of visitors at the San Francisco California Welcome Center at Pier 39, 83% said that it’s imperative for the travel industry to become greener (San Francisco State University). This shows that going green is no longer just a whimsical “hippie” notion – it’s now a mainstream business trend. And, global interest in our sustainable brand is high as well. For example, BBC World recently broadcast a six-part series called “Cutting Edge California,” which focused strongly on the state’s innovations in sustainable architecture, technology, heritage, wine and food, energy and conservation. Travel media interest worldwide in our sustainability product has never been higher.

Clearly, participating in the sustainability trend is critical to our future growth – not just in tourism, but in any industry. Ninety percent of CEOs say that sustainability is key to future profitability. Nearly half of Americans said they’d be willing to pay 10% more for green services – with only 9% saying they weren’t willing to pay a premium. Unfortunately, eco-savvy consumers are having trouble unearthing the product they want, which California travel suppliers need to quickly address. Less than one-third of U.S. consumers say they can easily find green travel suppliers and policies, so we as an industry aren’t doing enough to create the green product they want and marketing it to consumers.

CTTC has been aggressively marketing sustainability in its branding and public relations efforts, but we strongly urge the entire travel and tourism industry to get on the train fast, as it left the station a while ago. For more information on how you can get involved, check out for research and tips. There you will find a comprehensive Sustainable Tourism Handbook prepared in part by Jess Ponting, PhD, of San Diego University, which offers the first Sustainable Tourism major in the U.S. As Jeff said so well at the October Summit, quoting a 2009 Deloitte study, “Sustainability is now becoming a mandatory business requirement. The sustainability movement is being driven [by]…sharply rising energy costs, increased regulatory pressures, and growing consumer demand.”