The Potential of Carbon Offsetting Programs and Travelers Willingness to Support Them

by Margaret Loncki

Tourism-related air travel has consistently been one of the fastest growing carbon releasing industries. Although, the industry has faced serious pressure to reduce their carbon output, it has struggled to find an efficient way to accomplish this. Choi and Ritchie (2014) aim to discover how much consumers are willing to pay to offset the CO2 emissions released by their travel. Many airlines have carbon offsetting programs that allow passengers to pay a fee to help fund carbon reducing research and development programs as well as the production and support for new and existing clean energy programs and renewable energy sources. Although most travelers understand the implications of the carbon released by their flights, only a fraction of passengers have supported the carbon offsetting programs offered by airlines.

Passengers who have been willing to pay extra to support these programs have attributed it to the guilt and responsibility they feel for the size and implications of their carbon footprint. On the other hand, there are many reasons why people choose not to support these programs, the most significant being the lack of understanding of just how paying a little extra is going to reverse the negative impacts of the carbon emissions of their flight. Non-supporters also expressed concern that the carbon offset options are not placed in an important or visible place in the booking process and usually go unnoticed as they are located next to the hotel and car booking options. This location also contributes to the lack of trust in airlines and the disbelief that the fee will truly go to programs that will eventually result in reduced carbon footprints. Many consumers feel that airlines are often just trying to sell one more thing, and that this is another one of those things. The final reason for the lack of support of these programs is the increasing trip costs; the traveler may not be the one funding the trip, or simply does not have the financial ability to pay for carbon offsetting programs.

Choi and Ritchie found a significant willingness to pay for carbon reduction. The study also found that a strong belief in flight-caused climate change did not produce a higher willingness to pay than that of skeptical travelers. Travelers were also found to be more willing to pay to support programs that would eventually benefit the general public such as renewable energy programs as well as technological improvements and biofuels. Surprisingly, the study found no significant difference in willingness to pay between socio-demographic characteristics such as job, age, and income.

This study indicates that most travelers have a significantly higher willingness to pay for carbon reduction than indicated by the current lack of success of airline carbon offset programs indicate. With a few changes to the programs, they have the potential to become powerful tools in long-term climate change mitigation.

Choi, A., Ritchie, B., 2014. Willingness to pay for flying carbon neutral in Australia: an exploratory study of offsetter profiles. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 22, 1236-1256.


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