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When you talk about sustainable tourism, focus on it makes your guests’ experiences better

Categories: Blog Posts, Marketing
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by Jeremy Smith, Editor & Co-Founder, Travindy

 

The easiest way to understand why most people struggle to communicate sustainable tourism well, and to understand how to get it right, is to stop thinking about sustainable tourism.

Instead, think about food. When you buy any food that comes in packaging, that packaging is covered with information. On the front, there’s the name of the product, maybe a photo or image of it looking at its finest, and a few short words or a phrase that describe how mouthwateringly, lipsmackingly delicious it is. All this information is communicating to the customer what their experience will be like. Because that is what motivates their purchase.

Meanwhile, somewhere else on the package, probably on the back, in a tiny font, is a long list of ingredients, some information on how to dispose of the packaging, guidelines about which sort of food intolerances it is a risk for, and so on. How many times do you ever look at that information before you buy a product – unless you specifically need to know if, say, it might contain peanuts? This is how the product was made. It’s complex, necessary, and in a few specific cases motivates a purchase. But not often.

When talking about tourism in general, people focus on the first approach – how relaxing, exciting, thrilling, inspiring your holiday will be. But when many people try to communicate sustainable tourism the focus shifts to an overemphasis on what is found on the back of the food packet – the stuff about how it is made.

It’s not surprising. People who put in all this extra effort are incredibly committed, passionate people. They care hugely about supporting their local communities, regenerating endangered habitats, or reducing their impact on climate change. And they want to share this passion with their guests.

Last year my colleague Professor Xavier Font analysed the sustainability messages used by businesses winning the World Responsible Tourism Awards held at WTM and WTTC’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards over the previous years. In other words, the leaders in the field. He found that even then: “most of these messages focus on passive facts where the beneficiary of the sustainability action is not clear.”

To use an example that combines food and hospitality, companies report reductions in food miles, but don’t contextualise this message so as to explain to their guests how their experience is improved as a result. Yes, reducing food miles means less carbon emissions while supporting a region’s farmers. Yet the key message to consumers should be that this offers unique opportunities for them to enjoy varieties and tastes they won’t get elsewhere, while ensuring that the food is as fresh and ripe as can be. In other words, our efforts to be more sustainable mean a better holiday for you.

In the same way, if your lodge has solar panels – key messages might be how this enables it to be sited in such a remote and beautiful place, or how it means there are no ugly power cables spoiling the view, or how guests can sleep undisturbed by the hum of a generator. If your staff are all from nearby villages, this means they know the area best, have the most fascinating stories of its history, and make the best guides to it today.

If you clear the litter off of coral, it is the clean reef you show a picture of, not the pile of rubbish. If the air is pure where you operate, you don’t detail the chemical composition of the atmosphere, you paint a picture so people imagine closing their eyes and breathing deep. If you have protected thousands of acres of forests the story you share is not of the bureaucratic wrangling and years of campaigning, but of how far and free people can walk direct from your front door.

For every action you take, every procedure you implement, every device or tool you’ve added to make your operation run more sustainably, ask yourself – how does this improve my guests’ experience. And then tell them that. To use the food packaging analogy – put this on the front of the pack.

Of course it may well be that you can’t think of suitable stories to tell about some of the things you do. So, just as with all the less exciting sounding ingredients, you put these on the back. In an environmental policy document. Under a ‘sustainability practices’ tab on the website. You still mention them – because just as some people look for specific ingredients in food, so some people will check your sustainable tourism policy. And without it being there for those that look, how would they know?

There is much else to get right, once you have ensured your communications focus on the benefit for your guests. You need to avoid greenwash. Got the tone right so you aren’t preachy or angry. But everything starts here.

 

Looking for more help?

Over the years we’ve worked with hundreds of people and companies who are putting loads of effort into being more sustainable, and who are frustrated because they aren’t able to get their guests as excited about their efforts as they are. We’ve put together much of what we have learned, and the stories of many of the companies we have helped, into a free Essential Guide to Marketing and Communicating Sustainable Tourism. This 83-page ebook is filled with case studies of companies getting it right, and ideas and advice for people looking to do the same.

It can be downloaded from Travindy here. And if you want to talk to us about how we can help you get your sustainability stories heard, email anula@travindy.com, tweet @travindy or find us at facebook.com/travindy

 

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author(s) and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) or any employee thereof. We make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on our blogs and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.

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I have just read a report titled The Global Wellness Tourism Economy 2013, and it has made me optimistic for the potential growth of responsible tourism. It has made me see that there are many more travelers out there for responsible tourism companies to connect to. And it has given me some insight into how we might go about reaching them.

The wellness tourist is anyone who travels with the desire to improve their physical, emotional and spiritual well being. In other words, it is about much more than just people who go to spas. For example, the report defines what wellness tourists look for as “Healthy Living”. “Rejuvenation and Relaxation” and “Meaning and Connection”. “Authentic Experiences” Which responsible tourism operator doesn’t aspire to offer these?

Screenshot 2014-04-16 13.59.55

The report also gives examples of the sort activities these tourists enjoy: hiking, biking, walking along nature trails, volunteering, connecting to arts, culinary experiences. All the same sorts of activities that many – if not most – responsible tourism companies offer. Now consider that Wellness Tourism is already reckoned to be a $439bn market, worth one in seven of every tourist dollars. And it is forecast to grow to $678bn by 2017. Meanwhile, your typical wellness tourist spends 130 per cent more than the average global tourist while on a trip.

Although the two sectors are in no way synonymous, the one key difference that I see is that responsible tourism talks primarily about the impacts of travel upon those outside of us – the community and the environment, while Wellness focuses on the impacts upon the traveler. The issues that cause these impacts – pollution, overcrowded cities, industrialized agriculture, economic disparities etc – are the same. The report even spells out how interwoven our two sectors are, when it describes “core wellness consumers [are those] who embrace holistic and integrated approaches to health, as well as environmental and sustainability issues, recognizing that personal, social and planetary well being are all interconnected.”

Although the main focus of each sector may be different, the fact that these core consumers are seeking an ‘integrated approach’ suggests there is merit in looking to learn from what one another does well. And where I really think Responsible Tourism can really learn from Wellness Tourism is by studying the way it connects the stories of what it offers with consumers. Because by talking to people where they are – connecting what we offer to their needs, desires and worries about their own lives – we stand the best chance of exciting them about our trips.

At its simplest, compare the way the two sectors might talk to a tourist in their bathroom. Responsible Tourism puts a little card on the basin that asks the traveler to help saving the planet by not washing their towel. Wellness Tourism offers them a natural bath soap created by local artisans using traditional herbs known in the region for their curative properties.

Both of these approaches can impact positively on the world outside the bathroom. But I believe the latter resonates far more richly with most travelers – whether it is deeper meaning they seek, or a deeper bath.

Originally Published as Why the growth of Wellness Tourism is good for the responsible tourism market by

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