From Robinson Crusoe wilderness retreats in the Seychelles to high-design eco-lodges in Chile, luxury travel is pushing to go green, but big spenders are still hot on fossil-fuel-powered air travel. "Green will be the hot colour in the luxury products and travel sector for years to come," Ed Ventimiglia, vice-president and publisher of the American Express travel magazine Departures, said at the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) that opened Tuesday.
While the global luxury travel business accounts for some 25 million annual arrivals -- or just three percent of total international arrivals -- when it comes to spending, wealthy tourists don't hold back.
Rich travellers spend an estimated 10,000-20,000 dollars per trip, which could include more than one destination, the ILTM said at the fair.
Speaking at the crowded event, Departure's chief editor Richard David-Story said today's ultimate luxury was a sustainable environment. "We need to innovate and agree on goals that will help sustainability," he said.
Hotels and resorts worldwide have taken up the challenge with such simple measures as removing the option of a daily sheet and towel change.
Some, like the Intercontinental Hotel in Bali, re-cycle waste water to irrigate their tropical gardens and have dropped tractor-power in favour of cattle to rake their endless stretches of beach sand.
Rental car firms and travel agents are also trying to do their bit for the environment.
Hertz has just launched a new Toyota hybrid eco rental car fleet.
And some travel agents, such as Penelope Bannerman of South African-based Far East Tours, have stopped producing glossy paper-hungry travel brochures, instead offering customers a chance to adopt a giant panda in China's Wolong Panada Reserve.
"But hotel clients seem largely unaware of these efforts and their carbon-offset and other initiatives," said a new research report carried out for the ILTM noted.
And a readers' survey by Departures showed private jet travel still popular, with readers making more than 1.5 million trips in private jets in the last 12 months, and a quarter of those interviewed likely to switch from commercial airlines to private jet or chartered flight in the next year.
Exactly why the affluent seemed less aware of saving energy than the average backpacker was difficult to explain, said Nancy Cockerell, head of research at TBP, which carried out the ILTM report.
The well-heeled were big contributors to philanthropic causes and active about reducing carbon emissions at home. But they appeared to believe their air miles were insignificant compared with the mass market and therefore had little impact on the environment, Cockerell told AFP.
"They seem to be in a separate world when they travel," she added.
The ILTM report said today's ultra-affluent travellers tend to shun large branded hotels in favour of destination clubs and resorts.
And with a host of unique, exotic and increasingly sustainable travel experiences on offer, the choice for the discerning traveller is large.
One pioneer in the market is Sonu Shivdasani's Six Senses Resorts & Spas group. His 65-villa Soneva Fushi resort in the Maldives aims to become totally carbon neutral by 2010 thanks to a range of innovative energy saving measures.
These include a biodiesel plant to convert oil from island coconuts and used-cooking oil into fuel that can be mixed with diesel to power the resort's generators.
Another example is South African-based Wilderness Safaris, offering wildlife experiences in some of the most remote and pristine areas of Botswana, Namibia as well as the Seychelles.
And environmental concerns are starting to shift travel patterns, with a growing move away from quick get-aways and a preference for longer vacations of upwards of two weeks.
Peter Lederer, the chairman of "Visit Scotland," summed up the view of many experts by stating that the short weekend break was under threat due to concern about rising carbon emissions related to air travel.
"I can't justify taking them," he stressed.
There is no question that travel will change. The debate is about how it will change," emphasized Lederer, who has pioneered green tourism in Scotland over the past 10 years.