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Are Travel Documents Finally Going Digital? Take our poll.

Dec 20, 2019 | | by Christa Markley

Ask someone under 40 if they like to read newspapers and they’ll give you an incredulous look. You mean… online? Hard-copy paper publications have long been disappearing around us, as we seek to reduce needless consumption and find simple solutions in rapidly improving technology.

But what about travel documents? Many travelers still prefer their paper booklets, even as technology adapts to accommodate digital versions. For those accustomed to pre-computer travel, slipping a field guide or paper itinerary in a day pack is second nature. It’s easy to access, won’t suffer a technology mishap, and can even become a nice memento when you return home.

On the other hand, some travelers are turning away from excess paper consumption when there are clear, reliable alternatives on a digital screen. “Green” initiatives are a value-add for many travel providers in a crowded market. Not only that, deforestation is a prevalent issue in many popular international destinations.

So what’s the best way forward?

The hidden cost of printing and mailing

Before departure, group travel participants usually receive a packet of final documents for their program. A paper folder, letter, printed day-by-day and/or a field guide may not seem like much paper and waste. But there’s also the energy and ink used by the printer, and the cost of getting it to your home. In addition to money spent on mailings, there’s an environmental cost as well. Shipping and mail delivery services by truck and plane release carbon emissions into the atmosphere, worsening the negative effects of climate change.

Providers are adopting responsible travel initiatives

Given that travel itself has its own sizable carbon footprint, many travel companies are looking to increase their eco-conscious initiatives, from the office to the field. Motion sensor lights, recycling programs, and solar panels are common ways for an office to “go green.” In the field, travel providers can work with in-country partners that use alternative energy, eliminate single-use plastics and non-compostable waste, source from local suppliers, and participate in reforestation and clean-up projects.

Considering this multilevel “greening” of company initiatives, having digital documents is an important part of the mix. Reduced paper consumption is a viable target for companies and individuals alike – but how can a travel provider maintain their standards of service while shifting their environmental standards?

As travel gets more personal, should digital documents be a choice?

Another trend in the tourism industry offers a solution to the question of paper vs. digital documents: personalization. “Our world now is all about personal choice so it only makes sense for travel documents,” says Mary Ann Hunt, Associate Director of the Travel-Learn Program at Tufts University. “Although our demographic is slow to change, we are taking steps to be more sustainable in all aspects of travel, and documents need to be one of them.”

Many companies have begun offering travelers the choice of receiving documents via mail or digital delivery. But it’s not just start-ups and “millennial” companies. AHI Travel, founded in 1962, has made the switch to online travel documents. Road Scholar, founded in 1975 and today one of the largest educational travel providers, gives their clients a choice when they enroll. Given the average age of Road Scholar’s travelers, this perhaps shows that older generations are more embracing of digital options than one might think.

What is the best delivery option for digital documents?

The debate about digital documents extends beyond a simple yes or now. We must also ask: how?

It’s important that any digital documents be just as efficient and reliable as paper documents, or they won’t be a feasible long-term option.

For pre-trip documents, a PDF reader like ISSUU can serve as a user-friendly tool for sharing digitally. But for any documents that will need to be accessed during travel, local storage on a mobile device is a more dependable method. Internet connection is never a guarantee when on the road. If you’re worried about your device’s battery life, consider a portable battery charger made from recycled materials.

As with any application of ethical consumerism, it takes some time, consideration, and research to make the best decision for both you and the environment. Moreover, there can be pitfalls, tradeoffs, and limitations based on budget, technology, and availability. But it’s vital work to continue seeking solutions and implementing viable ones wherever possible.

Take Our Poll - Where do you stand on this topic?

Take the documents poll here