Update: As of April 22, 2019, Green Tourism Canada is now Sustainable Tourism.
You have the fluffiest towels, the best views, the most intimate experiences with nature or the most amazing [insert your top guest benefits here.]
Sound familiar? Research by Xavier Font, Islam Elgammal & Ian Lamond, published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, has demonstrated that most tourism businesses focus their marketing and communications exclusively on the features and benefits that they provide their guests. While these are things marketing expert Jacquelyn Ottman, in her book “The New Rules of Green Marketing,” suggests you should lead your message with, there is also a growing body of evidence that suggests you also need to find ways to connect with the values of your guests. For many tourism businesses, this means digging into your operation and identifying the areas where you are making positive impacts, environmentally, socially, economically or culturally, collectively known as sustainability.
Yet, most businesses are only communicating 30% of all of their sustainability related activities, or “Greenhushing.” Many others are “Greenwashing,” or exaggerating their sustainability achievements. What’s going on and how can you avoid these two mistakes that are bad business?
After talking to thousands of tourism businesses over the past several years, we know that the number one reason tourism operators pursue sustainability is because of the marketing benefits. Unfortunately, many of these same businesses that are implementing green practices, and even some that have achieved Green Tourism Canada certification, are guilty of Greenhushing. Xavier Font et al. suggests that this is due to a conscious effort by tourism operators to limit how much they are sharing and how they are sharing it. This is done to prevent a perceived disconnection that they believe exists between their own sustainability values or practices, and their customers, thereby mitigating a potential disconnection between what they think their customers want and their own views on sustainability. Talk about paralysis by analysis!
Research indicates, year over year, that the demand for socially responsible and environmentally friendly tourism products is growing. More than 70% of travellers want (and many expect), tourism businesses to be operating in these ways.
We have often heard the arguments, “I don’t want to brag,” or, “we don’t want customers to poke holes in the things we aren’t doing well yet.” The problem is that in the communications void left by the tourism businesses that actually are doing great green things, the fakers are able to gain more traction with their greenwashing. Don’t view sharing a compelling story of your sustainability achievements and goals as bragging, but rather as an inspiration for others to do the same, and a way to resonate instantly and deeply with the growing body of leisure and business travellers that care.
The best way to get around the “we’re not doing enough” concern is to admit that you’re on a journey, that you know you’re not perfect, and then highlight the things you’ve done already, the things you’re working on, and the things you’re planning to do in the future.
Check out our handy little guide, “3 Ways to Kickstart Your Green Story,” to help you get started.