It wasn’t all that long ago that the hospitality industry’s sustainable measures included simple “green choice” tactics such as skipping daily housekeeping, replacing toiletries with hand pump dispensers and encouraging guests to reuse towels by hanging them to dry. However, catastrophic events such as the Australian wildfires have put the world’s focus squarely on the growing climate emergency, and leaders in our industry must take a broader approach to how their companies tackle sustainability across the globe.
I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Skift Global Forum and while the conference brought in industry experts from DMOs, OTAs, lodging and transportation, one topic remained ever-present in the discussions – sustainability. Hearing the unique point-of-views from some of the travel industry’s best CEOs was enlightening. Glenn Fogel, of Booking.com, felt overtourism wasn’t something his company or the industry should be responsible for and others, such as Carnival’s Arnold Donald, are taking active measures to change their business practices to support a more sustainable travel experience. Moreover, at this week’s Megatrends event in DC, the first trend Skift hit on was Responsibility. Our industry has a unique opportunity to go beyond sustainable measures and start taking responsibility for the environment and communities we impact. All this talk over the last few months left me wondering, do travelers really care about sustainability or their impact on the local communities they visit, and how do we communicate our efforts in a meaningful way to them?
Research shows that today’s consumers are more likely to choose brands that align with their core values. That means that a brand’s responsible and eco-friendly business practices may actually give it a competitive edge if their counterparts are slow to adopt new efforts. Skift’s research from the Millennial and Gen Z Traveler Survey 2019, showed that over 50% of these audiences find it “important to choose travel companies that prioritize sustainability” and many of them are even willing to pay more for their services.
Leaders of the Pack in Responsible Tourism
We could call out travel companies that haven’t changed quickly enough, but let’s explore some examples of organizations that are doing it right and going beyond those old school “green choice” tactics:
After gaining notoriety through its Sheep View and Faroe Islands Translate, the community of these small islands began to seriously feel the negative impacts of increased tourism and something needed to be done. They decided to ban tourists from the islands and instead asked for volunteers to come to help them address these impacts. They received such an overwhelming response, that they decided to make it an annual occurrence with thousands of “voluntourists” throwing their names in for a chance to help out this beautiful destination.
Sustainable travel is the foundation upon which their business has been built. The expeditions they offer to travelers around the world actually benefit local communities and support local conservation efforts. Furthermore, they now have 2,000 carbon offset trips, giving travelers distinctive cultural experiences without the footprint.
Hilton has committed to cut their environmental footprint in half by 2030 and their Travel with Purpose corporate responsibility strategy goes beyond the environmental impacts, handling sustainability with a broad approach based on local needs and opportunities including wildlife protection in Kenya, use of local hydroponic farms in Seychelles, and training opportunities for young women in Nigeria.
Marketing Sustainability as a Differentiator
You’ve implemented new sustainability measures, feeling good, right? Then you might as well look good too, and communicate that to your target audience, especially if they fall into that Millennial or Gen Z demographic. But keep in mind, for a sustainability or responsibility message to stick there must be interpreting and understanding by the non-scientific, uninformed public. Also, it should feel like a tangible benefit to them; the selfie-obsessed, socially-absorbed consumers we all know and love today.
WHITE64 launched a sustainability campaign for our client, Metro, to let DC riders know that taking Metro is the responsible choice.
While we still have a long way to go in the travel and hospitality industry… like the overwhelming carbon footprint of our airline friends, it’s comforting to see the strides we are making and that travelers, particularly the future Gen Z travelers, are paying close attention. My advice to all you travel marketers out there, don’t forget to let your customers know about all the good you’re doing; it could be the deciding factor before they hit “Book Now.”