Brought to you by The Travel Corporation
Consumer interest in sustainable tourism is growing, but at this point, it’s unlikely you’ll have many clients asking specifically for a cruelty-free, community-focused vacation. This is because the many choices of sustainable travel are still relatively misunderstood.
In fact, Matthias Beyer, managing director of mascontour GmbH, a sustainable tourism consulting firm, stated at this year’s ITB Berlin that while consumers are aware of sustainable tourism, there’s still a gap between their awareness and their buying behaviour. The key to selling sustainable travel effectively, Beyer concluded, is for travel advisors to bridge that gap themselves.
Likewise, a study by market research provider, Euromonitor International, found that the best way to pique clients’ interest in making more responsible travel choices is to inform them about their options without overwhelming them with too many details.
While this means familiarizing yourself with the ethos of sustainable travel so you can communicate effectively, selling it to clients is not as complicated as you might think; like other complex products, it’s all about understanding the experience and pairing it with the right client.
So how do you know which travellers might be receptive to a sustainable product? Start with identifying your client’s primary travel style, and then determine what variant of sustainable tourism will appeal most. Here’s a breakdown of some different travel types whose interests fall in line with sustainable tourism’s ideologies – they just may not know it yet.
According to an article by Travel Technology & Solutions (TTS), millennials are more likely to be interested in giving back to the destinations they visit, due to their strong sense of social responsibility and desire to help people. This demographic’s buying habits are how they express their values and concerns.
Consumers who enjoy the wonders of the planet are more likely to be interested in measuring their footprint when they travel. Arguably an easy sell, sustainable tourism promotes this group’s ability to visit – and revisit – the world’s most incredible destinations.
While these consumers are often affiliated with experientially-inclined millennials, it really comes down to a specific buyer’s personality. Transformative travellers view tourism as an opportunity for personal enrichment and thus, specifically seek out impactful, immersive experiences before and during their travels.
GROUPS & FAMILIES:
Regardless of the age of these travellers, group travellers are looking for crowd-pleasing and memorable ways to spend quality time together. Reputable volunteer programs, environmentally-conscious safaris and educational experiences that give back to the destination will appeal on both counts.
While these travellers have been somewhat painted into a corner for their love of creature comforts, it’s good to take note that these travellers have the time and resources to go deeper into the culture of a destination, like on a locally guided hike or as part of a women’s artisanal cooperative.
FINDING THE BALANCE: Q&A WITH BRETT TOLLMAN
Brett Tollman, CEO of The Travel Corporation (TTC) isn’t shy about using the company’s wide-reaching influence to promote and drive responsible tourism. Operating in 70 countries and serving more than two million travellers annually, TTC’s 30 award-winning brands work with the likes of ME to WE, WildAid and Céline Cousteau to support 40 sustainable projects through its self-funded philanthropic initiative, TreadRight Foundation.
This year, the company took another step forward, becoming a Diamond Sponsor of the UN International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017. We sat down with Tollman to find out how he balances managing TTC’s sustainable initiatives while remaining competitive as a global business.
Where does your sense of responsibility toward our planet come from?
When you look at [traveller volume] over the last 50 years and what’s being projected for the next 50 years, it’s exciting and it’s also scary at the same time – because you wonder how we’ll be able to support all that growth. My philosophy is that there’s only one planet; nobody’s going to Mars anytime soon. And therefore it’s incumbent on all of us to try to reduce our footprint – to try to do more. Every business has a bottom line.
How do you manage to spend so much time and energy on your sustainable initiatives and still ensure that TTC stays competitive?
It’s always very difficult. But in order to be a responsible business owner and leader, you have to balance the two. I’ve heard it said that in order to do good in the world, you have to do well in your business. If we aren’t generating a profit, then we don’t have the wherewithal to put it back into meaningful projects. It also comes down to sincerely being driven to do all the good you can, while at the same time, taking care of your guests, because if you have happy guests, they’ll come back to book their holiday with you again.
TTC serves nearly every market, from millennials to baby boomers. Is there a particular demographic that you see as more invested in making responsible travel choices? It’s hard to generalize. It seems to be the millennials, who have grown up more aware and educated about caring about our planet. It’s less so the baby boomers, although they too are looking for more authentic and genuine experiences: a chance to meet the locals and explore the communities they visit, rather than seeing a rushed or passerby kind of way.
What are some tips for travel advisors who are looking to sell their clients on making sustainable travel choices? Research some of the issues around sustainable travel products and programs – the destinations, the operators, etc. – so that you can speak with confidence about them. Try also to work with companies who are genuinely concerned about those issues, and can provide quality, authentically sustainable experiences. Of course, getting to know your customer and their interests is essential to matching them up with the right kind of experience as well.
*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
According to “The struggle for sustainable tourism development,” a study by analyst Dr. Wouter Geerts, travel analyst - lodging for Euromonitor International, there are several alternative forms related to sustainable tourism. Here are the most prevalent forms:
RESPONSIBLE TOURISM: Whereby destinations and activities are centered around moral, natural and social elements, such as patronizing local restaurants and artisans.
GREEN TOURISM: Focuses on environmental responsibility over cultural or economic considerations, like hotels which operate on renewable energy.
ETHICAL TOURISM: Rejects practices and attractions seen as cruel to people or animals, such as “swim with a dolphin” interactions, orphanage-based voluntourism trips and elephant rides.
ECO-TOURISM: Integrates environmental conservation of natural areas into travel products while benefitting local communities and visitors, such as African game conservancies and culturally sensitive community experiences.
Recommendations from the desk of Brett Tollman:
READ: Who cares wins - Why good business is better business, by David Jones. In this book about growing your business, Jones recognizes that in future, the most successful companies will be those who are the most socially responsible.
LISTEN: Sustainable Business Fridays - Bard College: This bi-monthly podcast features special guests selected by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program. Transcripts are published on GreenBiz.com.
REFERENCE: Treadright Foundation: The resources page of The Travel Corporation’s charitable foundation provides articles and guides for both travellers and industry professionals. treadright.org.