How to develop a sustainable travel itinerary

Developing a sustainable travel itinerary involves combining sustainable travel components and tailoring it to your customers’ needs.
How to develop a good travel itinerary

Developing travel itineraries

One of the key services offered by travel businesses is developing travel itineraries. But what exactly is a travel itinerary? Think of it as a well-structured roadmap for your potential customers’ journey. It’s not just a list of destinations and dates; it’s a thoughtfully designed route that includes comfortable accommodations, seamless transportation, and exciting travel experiences, all carefully chosen to satisfy your travellers.

Travel itineraries play a crucial role in managing your customers’ expectations. They provide a good preview of what you have in store and the quality of the experiences you offer. Whether you present them on your website or create tailor-made itineraries for individual requests, they serve as your portfolio.

A well-developed travel itinerary isn’t just a list of activities; it’s a tool that empowers your customers to prepare for their trip and enjoy every moment to the fullest. Yet, designing travel itineraries can be a challenge. It’s about blending sustainable travel components that not only meet the needs and expectations of your travellers, but also leave a positive impact on the destinations they visit. It’s about creating experiences that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Identify your ideal target group

To tailor your travel itineraries to the needs and expectations of your travellers, it’s essential to know who your ideal customer is and how to attract them. By doing this right, you can have a high conversation rate from request to booking.

Developing a sustainable itinerary

As a travel business committed to sustainability, your mission is to ensure that your travel offerings are not just journeys, but sustainable adventures. Travel itineraries should not only incorporate sustainable elements like eco-friendly transport, green accommodations, and responsible activities but also take into account the broader impact of how money is spent throughout the entire trip. The ultimate goal is to ensure that your travel itineraries leave a positive, lasting impact on the destinations they visit. It’s about creating the right balance and making responsible choices.

Example itineraries

Let’s take a mid-week itinerary in Thailand as an example:

Original itinerary:

  • Day 1 – Arrival day by private transfer | Stay at Hotel A
  • Day 2 – Highlights day tour by car | Stay at Hotel B
  • Day 3 – Visit to an elephant rescue centre | Stay at Hotel C
  • Day 4 – Departure day by private transfer

If we aim to include sustainability into this itinerary, we’d opt for:

Revised sustainable itinerary:

  • Day 1 – Arrival by train | Stay at Hotel A
  • Day 2 – Guided hiking tour and cooking workshop | Stay at Hotel A
  • Day 3 – Kayaking birding tour and free afternoon | Stay at Hotel A
  • Day 4 – Departure day by group transfer

In the initial itinerary, we observe that:

  • Transportation is done privately and by car.
  • There’s a different accommodation for each night.
  • Highlights are visited briefly and by car.
  • Travelers can have close interactions with wildlife.

In the updated version, you’ll notice several sustainable changes:

  • Transportation is by train or in a shared group, reducing carbon footprint.
  • There’s one accommodation for the entire stay, stimulating slow-travel.
  • Carbon-free travel experiences are introduced, promoting eco-friendly activities.
  • Interaction with the local community is encouraged, fostering cultural exchange.
  • Enjoying wildlife in their natural habitat is prioritised for ethical wildlife encounters.
  • Free time for travellers allows them to explore and immerse themselves in the local culture.

Tips for a sustainable travel itinerary

Developing engaging travel itineraries is an important but difficult task. What to include, the reasons behind those choices and the criteria for selection can be a bit of a puzzle. There are 7 key elements to take into account when developing a sustainable travel itinerary.

7 tips on how to develop a good travel itinerary

Be guided by our 7 tips to develop a sustainable travel itinerary.

  1. Transport to the destination
  2. Local transport
  3. Sustainable accommodations
  4. Slow travel
  5. Carbon-free travel experiences
  6. Customisation
  7. Support the local economy

1. Transport to the destination

When it comes to getting to their holiday destination, customers have options. They can book their own transport or let you take care of it. International transport plays a significant role in the tourism industry’s high CO2 emissions. And while we can’t entirely reduce air travel, we can certainly aim to reduce its environmental impact.

To achieve this, choose flights with minimum layovers to cut down on emissions generated by extra take-offs and landings. Additionally, research if there are alternative ways to reach the destination. The number of destinations accessible by train or bus is growing and greatly enhances the travel experience!


If customers book their own (international) transport, you can still influence their choices by recommending responsible options on your website and in travel itineraries.

2. Local transport

Beyond the journey to the destination, you also need to think about the transportation within the destination itself. This includes getting from the airport to the first accommodation, as well as additional transfers and excursions. Once again, the key is choosing transportation methods that minimize their carbon footprint.

Wherever possible, include train journeys to move your travellers between locations. Transform a simple transfer into an additional part of their experience. Additionally, explore long-distance buses for more distant destinations and use the local public transport system for shorter distances. In cased where private transport is required, make sure to collaborate with local drivers and choose well-maintained (electrical) vehicles.

Local transport

3. Sustainable accommodations

In every travel itinerary, accommodations play an important role. Whether it’s a large chain hotel, a charming eco-lodge, or a rustic camping adventure, the choices are endless. However, when it comes to sustainable accommodations, making the right choices can be a bit of a puzzle. How do you determine just how responsible these accommodations are? If your goal is to make sustainable decisions, you must dive into the sustainability practices of your preferred places to stay.

The selection process should be based on your customers’ needs. Do they prefer a well-known chain hotel? Ensure that it holds eco certifications. If they seek a more localised and authentic experience, opt for a small (eco) boutique hotel that not only offers a genuine connection with the local culture but also contributes to the well-being of the nearby communities.

Reading tip

Learn how to check and select sustainable accommodations for a sustainable supply-chain and travel itineraries.

4. Slow travel

When developing a travel itinerary, you have the power to decide how fast or slow the trip goes. A key ingredient for a good travel itinerary is encouraging your customers to spend more time in one place and less time on the move. This means suggesting your travellers stay put for at least 3-4 nights, or even longer if possible. Why? Because this approach gives your customers a chance to fully explore and enjoy the destination.

Slowing down the pace allows them to relax, take in the local culture, and go beyond the typical tourism highlights. It not only enhances their travel experience but also benefits local communities as travellers tend to spend more during longer stays. Plus, it helps reduce carbon emissions when they’re staying longer.

Carbon-free travel experiences

5. Carbon-free travel experiences

When talking about travelling slower and emitting less CO2 emissions, carbon-free travel experiences are a perfect add-on. These are simply activities that don’t produce carbon emissions. They’re all about enjoying the destination to the fullest without causing harm to wildlife or the environment.

Think about activities like walking tours, bike rides, or canoe trips. They’re all about taking it easy, immersing yourself in nature, and staying active. The options are limitless, and you can pair them with niche activities like local food tours, history explorations, bird watching, and community-based tourism. It’s a fantastic way to make your trip eco-friendly and unforgettable.

Reading tip

Learn more about examples and the benefits of carbon-free travel experiences for a good travel itinerary.

6. Customisation

While you may create travel itineraries tailored to your ideal target audience, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Every traveller has their own unique preferences and desires. To cater to these differences, it’s crucial to provide customisation options. Personalisation is the key to success, giving travellers the freedom to shape their dream travel adventure.

To make this process easier, include optional travel experiences, transportation choices, or accommodations in your itinerary. This helps customers visualise the possibilities and make informed decisions. Clearly communicate that customisation is available, and also highlight responsible add-on choices to encourage more responsible decisions.

7. Support the local economy

Responsible tourism plays a significant role in supporting and empowering local economies. As a travel businesses you have the power to influence your travellers where they spend their money. You can make sure they create a positive impact during their trip. You can either include this in your itineraries, which is ideal for group travel, or provide suggestions to individual travellers.

Consider recommending specific places and destinations where travellers can contribute to the local economy. For instance, suggest a cozy restaurant that serves local dishes or a boutique store where locals sell one-of-a-kind souvenirs, directly benefitting the crafters. It’s about guiding your customers to spend their money in ways that promote local businesses and leave a meaningful footprint on the places they visit.

Reading tip

Learn more about how you can support the local economy as a tour operator and ensure money spent stays locally.

Getting started with sustainable itineraries

Besides selecting the most suitable options for a sustainable travel itinerary, it’s also important they’re visually appealing. Stay away from sending itineraries in word format or with limited information. Your itinerary should not just inform but also engage your potential customers, convincing them that your company is the ideal choice for their travel.

Achieve this by including background information about the selected regions, accommodations, and travel experiences into your itinerary. Add storytelling and beautiful pictures to visualize the itinerary and to make it appealing to your potential customer. Even if your selected components are perfect for your customer, it still needs to look interesting to them for them to actually convert to a booking. Bring your itinerary to life and create positive impact!


  1. Customisation is a new chapter to travel. Thank you Anne for this tip. Please keep us informed on how we can personalize and give our visitors their dream travel experience. For example how would you tailor your travel itineraries to offer customization opportunities to a large group and balance the costs(expense) involved.

    1. Hi Adam, how to personalise really depends on who your target group is. Even with larger groups, you have group needs and preferences.

      For example, you can imagine there being a difference between a group of adults with their children, a group of seniors (50+) or a group of active travellers.

      Depending on the type of group, you’re able to personalise. If you’re not completely sure what they want, I’d suggest creating a small survey with questions to find out what they want in terms of accommodation, activities, comfort and planning.

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