Expert Opinion

How can sustainability help tourism businesses?

Following the launch by TripAdvisor of the GreenLeaders programme, Dr Xavier Font shares his experience in marketing consulting to advise tourism businesses how to make the most of this opportunity.

Going green checklist

Companies make great efforts to be more sustainable, but fail to communicate it convincingly to their customers in a way that it clearly shows how their experience will be superior. In tourism and hospitality for example, this is a missed opportunity to increase revenue, reduce seasonality, retain loyal customers and increase customer satisfaction. Taking seriously how you communicate sustainability will improve your overall efficiency, motivate staff and allow you to achieve more in less time.

Research has shown that there are many missed opportunities in communicating sustainability because firms are worried about green washing, but also because they haven’t thought about how sustainability helps create unique experiences and how to communicate this message to customers. Here are some tips to help you communicate your sustainability credentials.

Who do I tell?

Figure out your target audience. Is it clear who you have written your sustainability messages for? Picture the people that you want to be influenced by your message. You will have many types of customer, but it’s still important to identify a segment large enough to make sustainability communications a viable business proposition. The challenge for the marketer is to learn how to think like a customer and put the most favourable side of the story, the one that speaks to the selfish customer parting with hard-earned cash. Why will sustainability be better for them, as a client?

Why do I tell?

Write with a purpose. Is the intention behind communicating sustainability clear?

What do I tell?

It’s all about content. Is the message you put across appealing or listing facts? You want your customers to have better, more fulfilling experiences- so communicate first the aspects of sustainability that will help you achieve just that.

Where do I tell?

Location, location, location. There are so many places to talk about sustainability, and yet too many businesses have only a simple tab on their website called environmental policy. Match the contents to the most appropriate channel to communicate more effectively.

When do I tell?

Timing. Is your information appropriate for the decisions consumers need to make? First-time customers need different information to repeat customers. And all customers have different information needs before travelling, on arrival, during their stay, and most importantly, to encourage recommendations and repeat purchases.

How do I tell?

Persuasiveness. It’s all about compelling language. Are your sustainability messages written in a way conducive to behavior change? Can they be easily understood? Research shows that when customers understand the consequence of their actions or part of the bigger picture, they are more likely to act. Messages can influence customer behaviour differently. For example, when faced with the message ‘most clients staying in this room re-use their towels’, 65% of guests did the same, compared to ’most clients staying in this hotel…’ (45%) or simply saying ‘please re-use your towels’ (under 30%). Make your message relevant to the customer’s situation.

From strategy to implementation

If you are comfortable with the six previous points, it is time to apply these throughout your communication channels, and nowhere more important than your website and your social media. Without good communication platforms, you will struggle to put your message across. Follow these key principles:

  • Be Reliable
    Quality is king. Your website’s content must be up-to-date and accurate if you want to be taken seriously. Ensure your website is clearly branded, consistent and updated regularly.
  • Be Smart
    Performance. After accuracy, your website must be user-friendly. It must do the job well, seamlessly taking your customers from one step to the next. If using your website is an effort, you will lose sales. Decide how much you want to hide or make sustainability prominent, where it belongs, how you use it, and test different propositions.
  • Be Social
    Connectivity. Use sustainability messages for social media content. Sustainability gives you content and a reason to engage in conversation with past and prospective customers.

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