Ritz Carlton’s ‘Give Back’ Logo
As part of the ITB CSR Programme a panel discussion “Who is the EcoTourist” was held that yielded some interesting results.
Jurgen Maier of American Express Int presented results of research they conducted looking into the green marketplace, which suggested that a typical eco-traveller is around 30 years old living a broadly healthy lifestyle that is good for themselves and good for the world – the “Conscious Consumer”. “Green” says Amex is new luxury
Andrew Harding, founder of Nature and Kind said he believed that travellers desire more immersive and diverse experiences yet lack the time to research holiday options. Harding suggested here that green and ethical travel is actually not the luxury commodity; it is time that we crave..
The important point was made that going local actually costs less while being a more sustainable way to travel, and so the future of eco-travel may not be considered luxury only that it makes sense.
Going local makes as much sense to business as to the consumer by saving time and money while enhancing the overall experience. Harding also argues that ‘responsible tourism’ often coincides with emerging niches in the market and is an effective way of securing new business in difficult times, a way of looking ahead to the future. So, if the eco-traveller is the ultimate prize, how do we go about winning that market?
Amex’s research found the key interests of this customer lie in a unique experience, value for time and money, access to valuable knowledge and the opportunity to be conscientious. Some established points here along with new ideas of building a holistic package that affords the customer that feel-good sentiment.
Consumers occupying these niches are loyal, passionate travellers, argues Harding, and there are rich rewards for any company that can strike a relationship with them.
So how to do this? Offering something unique, intimate and responsible. For inspiration look at Ritz-Carlton’s work in community participation. Sue Stephenson explained how the company’s hotels are all connected with local projects, supported actively throughout the year by their employees. Guests who show an active interest are invited to visit the projects and even be involved, proving a huge hit all round, not least with families. This initiative was enlarged after Hurricane Katrina boosted interest.
Ritz-Carlton suggests these breaks allow visitors to understand how their trip is making an impact locally.
The most interesting thing about this programme is that it is not marketed, promoted only by word of mouth and yet with 50% uptake.
Marc Aeberhard, founder of luxury Seychelles Frégate Island travel, adopts a similar approach. He says that the truly green credentials of their resort, which again are not actively marketed, are only fully demonstrated on a guest’s arrival and this is where that message has its strongest impact. As with Ritz-Carlton’s approach encouraging visitors to participate and learn during their holiday there is huge potential here to combine a strong sustainable tourism policy with a fantastic product and service.
What does this say for how ‘green’ and ethical travel is combined into traditional travel packages? It seems customers don’t want to be labelled as ‘green’– perhaps there are too many socialist connotations with the term, but this begs the question, as had been so often asked before, whether a change in language is required to stimulate a change in perception. Green washing agendas have demanded a chance in language and accountability, leaving the seminal question as whether eco travel is just the new form of travel.
The panel moderator concluded by suggesting that ‘conscience’ as an attitude could replace the rhetoric of green to bring about a shift change in the way people travel and the way company’s operate.