On the complexity of “selling” sustainable tourism

“Sustainable tourism you say? Do you expect me to be sleeping in a shed?”

Throughout our investigations and meetings, we have witnessed how tricky it is for very small businesses trying to do good to communicate on their commitment to sustainability.

They are desperate to show every positive action they take and to highlight every effort and all the money spent on developing a business that is respectful of the social and environmental balance. They are willing to explain that beyond developing their activity responsibly, they are also optimizing their profitability.

The point is, beyond conveying a “nature-friendly” image – which does not necessarily mean “responsible” and which is also too poor a term to embrace the diversity of sustainable tourism, a sector as vast as tourism itself – communicating on one’s commitment to sustainability is too often limited these days. It consists mostly in explaining how clean the energy and cleaning supplies in use are, that employees benefit from a programme of eco-mobility, and that clients are no longer provided with take-away goodies but with built-it soap dispensers instead.

Anyway, beyond a bunch of tourists, nobody cares! And worse than that, this kind of message can dissuade and repel customers. Harsh but true!

Benefits for the customer first, your clear conscience second

The way you advertise a destination or a sustainable accommodation to tourists has to shift from promoting clear-conscience consumption to emphasizing the consumer benefits of a responsible business. The “clear conscience” strategy is not an efficient one in a sector where the customer’s priority is to indulge.

 

Here is a list of the benefits you can communicate on:

  • Highlight the range of activities you offer, that foreground local heritage
  • The originality of some of your equipment and facilities, like natural pools for instance (environment-friendly)
  • Healthy and authentic food (organic or from local providers)
  • The well-being of your customers in a healthy environment, where water is pure (if you’re using an innovative filtration system) and landscape is authentic and diverse (respect for biodiversity, late harvesting of fields etc.)
  • The quality of service (thanks to the social responsibility implemented by your business towards its employees for instance)
  • Accessibility to a wide range of customers (people with disabilities, families, etc. referring to the social and societal responsibility of your business)
  • The amazing south-facing view from the bay window which also keeps the room warm (energy-saving equipment)
  • Etc

These are a few examples illustrating the transition we are trying to support when touring France, visiting tourist-based businesses. For each, we look for the right words or the right remedies to convey all the added value of their investment in a relevant way and to showcase their endeavour to create a new world, or a better one.

Translated from French by : Diane Cadiergue.