Are your ears burning? They should be, because your colleagues have been dishing about you − and perhaps not in the best way. At the recent Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference, I was privy to conversations with enthusiastic resort and travel destination sustainability officers wondering how to convince their company’s old school marketing managers to embrace the not-so-new green world.
Here’s what those in the sustainability trenches would like you to know. Going green is not a passing trend but a valid business model with tangible benefits to hotels, airlines, cruise lines, resorts and related businesses. In addition to enabling brands to attract more travelers and enhance employee satisfaction, operating sustainably reduces costs and increases profits.
The Carbon Measurement Working Group is developing a standardized approach to evaluating and reporting hotel environmental impact, propelling sustainability to a new strategic level. As Matt Courtland of the Natural Strategy advises, these examples should be encouraged and emulated.
Often brands don’t realize how far behind they are. Take a quick look at your competitors’ websites, and you may be surprised to see how much information they are sharing with consumers about their sustainable practices.
Armed with knowledge of what other travel businesses are doing, work with your sustainability officer to establish a plan with measurable objectives. Once you’re in full swing, report progress quarterly and annually so your stakeholders can see the positive impact of going green.
Maybe your company has only taken baby steps to be green and you feel like you have a long ways to go. That’s okay; few companies are sustainable from stem to stern, but being truthful and transparent about progress against your green goals builds credibility. Because the green travelers you want to attract to grow your business are skeptical of trumped-up sustainability claims, it’s important to get third-party certification for the eco-friendly elements of your business. Consumers consult peer reviews on websites like LonelyPlanet.com and TripAdvisor to verify sustainable practices, according to CMI Green’s second annual Green Traveler Study. Eco travelers also look to each other for comments and ratings when making travel decisions.
Green travelers are looking for remarkable vacation experiences. That’s #1. But they also want the same creature comforts they enjoy at home, including locally sourced food, coffee in durable or compostable cups, in-room recycling, non-toxic carpeting and use of natural cleaning products. For some, price trumps green amenities, and they’ll choose the most-affordable option even if the company doesn’t operate sustainably. However, a third of eco-travelers are willing to pay a bit more for a green travel. The U.S. Travel Association’s TravelGreen section has a wealth of research you can review here to learn more about consumer behavior.
Ready to get people talking about your business? Here are four simple guidelines for successfully communicating your sustainability story to attract more consumers and increase revenue:
People are not going to say bad things about your company if it isn’t 100% sustainable, but they might if it appears you aren’t trying at all. Since so much travel planning is done online, make sure the Internet chatter taking place about your brand is based on facts. Don’t lead with your sustainability story, don’t beat your chest about it, merely state what your company is doing to be more eco-friendly. Give people something to talk about and be part of the conversation.