Sustainable tourism, do we communicate ?


Sustainable tourism stakeholders struggle to communicate their commitments to their visitors, and above all to make it a differentiating factor, a reservation factor. We talk about “sustainable communication” (or “greenmarketing”) in opposition to the greenwashing, and the communication/marketing sector put it mainly under a long term strategy. And meanwhile, in the current competitive environment that is bringing down the turnover of many professionals, what to do? Wait ? And what if the main asset of responsible tourisme was also valid in the short term ?

Sustainable tourism is not a section

If one French out of two is willing to combine citizenship and holidays, it is clear that the collectivities (the CRT Bretagne for example with its great website or the hosts (to many examples to write them down here…) who invested in a strong responsible approach (CSR) are not “rewarded” for their efforts ; not in term of trafic on their territories or structures anyway.

Thus, as Agnès Rambaud (manager of the office “Des Enjeux et Des Hommes”) said rightly during the last World Day For Responsible Tourism, we bet today on a long term strategy, we make ourselves an actor of the future and … we wait ? It will end up paying : “Those who anticipated the issues of sustainable development will be ready when it will become inescapable and will spread through every sector of the society.” (See the article of (in French) on the report of the WDRT 2015, very faithful to the conclusions of this day of exchanges.)

Except that, as for the “organic food”, sustainable tourism (not to be mingled with the ecotourism) is not a segment, not even a niche. It is a process, a commitment, concrete actions, results, and above all (and it is essential) customer benefits !
The concerned segment, it is just tourism as a whole !

Get out of the bubble !

If one day the visitors go through with their citizenship wills up to their holidays, it will be because they will see key assets for their holidays. What we are looking for during a week-end or vacations ? comfort, well-being, adventure, calm and rest, cultural discoveries, etc… The wishes are many and varied.

Wouldn’t it be better to explain to the customers that being commited to responsible tourim means get the best answer to those various expectations ? Get out of the prism of responsible tourism in term of communication/marketing to be simply in the tourism section ?

Re-integrate marketing in a global approach of all those small and medium commited structures (big ones already do it, sometimes using cheerfully greenwashing, but this is an other story) ?

Because no, marketing is not -necessarily- an unethical practice, as we can hear it in “the bubble”. It means put a supply in front of a demand (sorry for this obvious reminder). Yet, the demand is here !

Remember that the “organic” food products work better and better because the consumer is more and more aware on the fact that it is good for his health ; even that the non-organic products can be harmful.

Enhance the commitment through customers benefits

Actually, the answer is already given. During our Tour de France and since then, during our field’s peregrinations, we observe as everyone that the tradintionnal tourism sector (hotels, guesthouses, inns, campsites…) is ailing. The occupancy rate is going down for the hosts, except for some of them…

  • A restaurant which offer dishes of different sizes (S, M, L, even XL) : one eats with his appetite or its stomach , its conveys a modern and innovative image AND reduce food waste, and of course, make substancial savings.
  • A village of tree houses and floating houses : quality, service, comfort, change of scene, rejuvenation, innovations -small and big- every year. Filling ratio : 90% whereas the owner wasn’t taloking about “responsible tourism”. On the other hand, we can read on the leaflet (recycled paper ;-)) : “Wellness in a natural state“….
  • A campsite that offer various unsual accomodations such as a mobil-home reconverted in an “ecolodge” in which we are not to hot when it is 35°C outside and not to cold in may or september. If one asks why, just look at the vegetal roof or read the welcome book :  wood frame, straw insulation. In brief, ecoconstruction. This same campsite has accessible prices, real commercial asset. Why ? Because thanks to its investments in renewable enegies, it energetic expense has been consequently reduce.
  • In an other campsite, we can see on the website all the activites that we can do around, with a ticketing service at the entrance of the campsite, so we don’t have to queue where we arrive on the visiting site. A strong asset for the customers that are coming with their family. It is called local and heritage development.
  • In a cottage for 15 people “lost” in Ardèche (France), you just need to read the visitors book to understand the well-being that the place brought them, and how much they disconnected comfortably installed. Overthere, no WIFI, the electrical circuits sheathed to prevent waves, a canadian well for an appropriate temperature, the use of naturel materials only (wood, straw, stones, lime,…). The cottage isn’t always full ; but almost …

Among the sixty commited structures that we’ve met during the last year, it is those who communicate on the customers benefits generated by the responsible commitments who are doing the best.

And we don’t talk about those we know less, such as Double Sens (“Travel and Share” ou “Exchange, Give and Discover”) or Voyageurs du Monde (“The world as you wish”) that seemingly work good valuing the key assets, often stemming from their sustainable commitments.

Finally, responsible tourism, what is it ?

We obviously won’t give an other defition of responsible tourism since others like ATD or had alreadyle done it, way better than us.

However, we are willing to highlight that responsible, or sustainable, tourism is a wonderfull tool to save money, get more customers and win their loyalty.  And it is a great mean to first of all “change the world” and second of all, answer to the expectation of the visitors / tourists / cutomers ; knowing : have a great holiday !

With Hopineo, it is this pedagogy that we are willing to convey. And we are not inventing anything ! It is only the result of field observations. During several HopTrips that we’ve done, we have transcribed this methodology in a dedicated recommendation to be download on the website (in French only for now) (it is very humble and will of course evolve during future HopTrips) : first the “customers benefits” (first read), then we justify them by the concrete actions for a responsible tourim (second read).

Dr. Xavier Font, who works at the Leeds Beckett University, and who participate at the WDRT2016 , is one of the main defensor of this approach and is helping tourism companies in the communication of their responsible commitments with Respondeco. We are also trying to highlight those elements in a fun and detailled way : a webdocumentary that will be online before the end of the year.

Let’s not be afraid of ourselves, and let’s be in our time !

Let’s put in front of every responsible commitment what it brings to the cutomers.

Let’s not ask the customers to “travel responsibly”, let’s ask them to “travel better“, to take the best out of their vacations for which they saved money all year long.

Let’s help them to find accomodations where the will sleep comfortably, or where they will discover a specially rich patrimony, or where they will live an authentic adventure, where there are activities for the whole family, etc.

And, let’s not be afraid of ourselves ! Nowadays, consumer trends aimed increasingly the niches. In marketing, we are not talkng to 1000 people to convince 10 to come anymore ; we would rather talk to 100 chosen people so 20,30 or 50 will come. Less energy and more efficiency. New technologies allows (also) this.

In our humble opinion, it means look deep inside ourselves what we really want for our customers or users, and to tell it to those who are susceptible to hear it. Finally, apply to our activity the techniques of our time.

It is “only” (sorry !) about choosing the right messages ; authentics.

Finally, it does exist great tools such as the environmental labeling, developped by Evea Tourisme (and adopted by Best Western for example – watch the explanatory video), that might allow to better communicate the responsible approach, using the well knowing codes (for the fridges and washing machines for example) and emphasize the improvement process of the structures.

Not only responsible tourism has a future, but with a wide potential to be done !


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