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A green marketing guide for hotels

By Jessica L on 1 August 2021

Travelling more responsibly is no longer a fringe idea. Pre-pandemic, sustainability was already becoming one of the most ubiquitous words in marketing, stemming largely from increased awareness around climate change and plastic pollution.

What we didn’t know back then was that we would soon witness a period of prolonged and unprecedented stillness: skies free of planes, borders closed and tourist destinations empty of visitors. It forced us to take a look at an industry that is so huge we can hardly define its edges, and think about how we can better it for a new, more considerate era.

Officially tourism employs one in 10 people globally. Travel and hospitality supports the livelihoods, both directly and indirectly, of millions of people worldwide and is a vital source of funding for conservation. It’s an incredible force for good. Most people don’t want to stop exploring altogether, but with so much choice available, many will look to brands that are seeking to improve their game by factoring people and planet alongside profit.

After such a challenging year, focusing on long-term change as well as short-term recovery is a delicate balance to be mastered. To stay competitive, it is imperative that brands begin to examine what sustainability means for them and recognise the consumer appetite for greener operations. Seventy-six percent of travellers are expected to be more sustainability-conscious going forward, so even small steps in the right direction could help hotels to gain an edge.

What is sustainability?

Officially, sustainable tourism is that which “takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities" (UNWTO). That is: it’s about counterbalancing, offsetting, minimising and mitigating. And then there’s ‘regenerative’ travel, which means leaving a place better than you found it, not just treading lightly.

Why is it important for hotel brands?

Although it’s by no means the biggest offender, tourism’s contribution to climate change has been up for scrutiny for some time. Pre-covid, it was reported that at least 8% of carbon emissions could be traced back to the industry. 

The trade of overseas travel is wholly dependent on the preservation of the natural world – bone-white coral reefs and parched rivers don’t exactly meet our expectations of paradise – and consumers are becoming ever-more aware of the effect that everything from flights to laundered hotel towels have.

Other worries have surfaced too: overtourism, food waste, water consumption and the impact on local communities are all topics many travellers would like to see addressed. In March, Condé Nast Traveller published its first-ever sustainability issue, signalling a wind change in what the affluent are placing value on as they look for travel inspiration.

All of this might sound a bit gloomy, but it points to a hugely exciting future. Innovation is happening everywhere. The world’s first energy-positive hotel, The Svart, is set to open next year on the edge of the Arctic Circle, while Costa Rica, which has seen deforestation reversed and 98% of its energy now coming from renewable resources, is setting the standard for quality tourism and green hospitality. Eco upgrades are not just commendable, they’re good business – improving efficiency and creating a more meaningful guest experience. 

Going green – online and off

Before you talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. New legislation is coming in that aims to sift out wishy-washy sustainability claims. Even with the best intentions, brands that can’t clearly substantiate their words run the risk of being penalised for greenwashing and damaging consumer trust. Sixty-eight percent of consumers are trying to be more aware of sustainability-friendly travel brands to support, so find out what matters most to your target audience and ensure that any new strategies are achievable offline.

A good source of inspiration for brands looking to implement new commitments is the United Nations’ SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). And for ideas specific to hoteliers, legendary hotel designer Bill Bensley has put together an open-source whitepaper called Sensible Sustainable Solutions. Third-party certification (for example, Earthcheck) can help with goal-setting and add sound eco credibility to green marketing efforts once plans have been put into action.

When updating your audience, use storytelling to convey the values and purpose behind new practices. Be prepared for questions – or post-stay feedback – and keep it genuine: transparency is much more engaging than too-good-to be-true perfection.

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