The price of hotel sustainability: willing-to-stay and willing-to-pay?
— 20 experts shared their view
A recently published large-scale survey points out that the vast majority of travelers are keen on staying at hotel properties that engage in sustainability (1). Willingness-to-stay (WTS) is important to the extent in which hotels can capitalize on their sustainability endeavors through transparent communication. However, the same travelers seem to have difficulty in finding hotels committed to sustainability or simply are not aware that those hotels even exist (2); a topic discussed by the World Panel on Sustainability in Hospitality earlier this year (3). Beyond WTS, hoteliers are particularly interested in the willingness-to-pay (WTP). Findings from academic research are mixed, but recent studies point out that the willingness to pay a price premium to stay in hotels that have implemented sustainability practices is linked to the level of environmental concerns showed by individuals (4). Because ultimately, the price guests pay to stay at the property remains a major driver or barrier for travel decisions.
How should the industry communicate the added value of sustainability (rather than added cost) that resonates with guests that espouse similar values? How should the industry communicate to other segments which do not share the same values? How do we transform the perception that sustainability measures are simply a cost-reduction strategy rather than valuable and essential practices in this day and age?
CEO of Kerten Hospitality
The sustainability debate has reached critical mass with our industry playing a key role in addressing the topic for real tangible outcome. Hospitality represents a wholistic Ecosystem involving a long list of stakeholders such as airlines, technology, automobiles, construction, waste management etc, who share responsibility for the current environment and the values needed to commit to action for the benefit of all. If a guest/traveller replaces a van tour for an electric option, prefers to order a meal prepared in an electric oven, has the option to choose wind-powered water heater in his/her long-stay residence and seeks to run his laptop and connectivity gadgets on a solar generated power, then we need to ensure those choices are prevalent, attractive, cheaper and easily accessible. Education on our joint efforts to make that happen is primary – ranging from the adoption of farm-to-fork approaches, alternative power generation, the use of smart utilities and technology that connects it all and delivers to all.
Creating self-sustaining products and services that are connected to locality across the whole value chain is vital in choosing sustainable experiences. Only by supporting each other to jointly deliver cost-effective business models and smart solutions across all verticals engaged in hospitality – the most human industry of all – we will devise our common ground and address the “cost” of the sustainability agenda.
The only way to truly make a change and not add a hefty price tag to the end user's experience, is by shifting the mindset from cost-driven to self-sustainable lifecycle of all offerings. How could that be achieved? Engagement, transparent communication and setting standards beyond the single-business bottom line. Equally important for the success of this new era is embracing an authentic sustainability thinking: from the first brick being laid, to the logistics of all constriction supplies and smart building installations, and with the provision of choices. That is a small step in this lifelong learning that will accelerate the education curve and will drive the Purpose behind it all. Green goods, ESG investments, the young generation's proactive engagement side by side with the industry's decision-makers can re-focus the environmental agenda for generations to come. Now, seems to be the ripe moment to push the RESTART.
We find that many hotel websites hide away their sustainability initiatives and they are not easy to find. It is almost as if they are embarrassed to declare that they are playing their part in saving the planet for future generations – why should this be seen as a disadvantage? Eco-conscious guests are probably making sustainable choices in their own lives and will be more than receptive to hotels that are actively reducing carbon emissions and creating a healthier environment for their guests, by making more sustainable choices. We also know that since the disruptive times during the past eighteen months, consumers are now more concerned about social issues such as diversity and inclusion. This provides an opportunity to hotels to highlight their contribution to the lives of the community which hosts them as well about staff inclusion and diversity policies. Brand reputation has never been more important for guest attraction and retention and just like hotels share news on rates and special offers, they should be sharing their sustainable highlights. Hotels that have a strong sustainability strategy should declare it proudly and use it as a competitive advantage.
When it comes to less eco-conscious travelers, the hospitality industry can play an educational role in order to preserve and improve the nature, culture and heritage of the locations it promotes. Guests are looking for exposure to different environments and cultures. They are also looking for life-enhancing experiences and offering sustainable choices tick all these boxes. Guests can feel that they are part of protecting the destinations they wish to visit.
Sustainability may be seen by some as purely a cost-reduction strategy although it will incur some investment in capital costs as well as staff training. The most compelling reason to implement a sustainability strategy is that the devastating effects of climate change are being experienced increasingly all over the world and the tourism industry is in danger of destroying its own life-blood: its destinations.Related article by Nelly
Owner, The Murphy Gallery & Hotel Dublin
Increasingly consumers want to 'buy into' a brand, rather than 'buy from it', and are seeking to engage with companies that they can trust to live up to their ethical, social and environmental promises. In this new 'integrity economy', it's essential not just to walk the walk, but to talk while you walk, and let guests know about the measures you are taking to be more sustainable.
I'd like to think that the question of whether or not travellers are willing to pay a premium to stay in sustainable hotels may ultimately become irrelevant, and that the question of whether or not travellers will be willing to stay in hotels that are NOT sustainable will become more pertinent.
How should the industry communicate the added value of sustainability (rather than added cost) that resonates with guests that espouse similar values?
Use storytelling to bring to life the interesting things the hotel and its suppliers do to be sustainable, and the impact this has on staff, guests, the local community, and the environment.
With 'greenwashing' a very real thing, people are rightly sceptical of sustainability claims that are not backed up. Facts are powerful. Set and publish sustainability targets and whether or not they have been achieved.
How should the industry communicate to other segments which do not share the same values?
Use the hotel's buying power to wield influence for good by making sustainability a priority when dealing with suppliers and potential suppliers.
How do we transform the perception that sustainability measures are simply a cost-reduction strategy rather than valuable and essential practices in this day and age?
Give guests options. Let them choose whether they want daily housekeeping, how often they would like fresh towels etc.
Highlight positive feedback from previous guests.
Highlight the quality of the suppliers the hotel buys from.
If your technology allows, let guests know how much water and energy they are using/ have used throughout their stay in order to encourage them to use less.
Principal, EplerWood International
The hotel industry needs to create a more thorough campaign which allows consumers to understand their interest in delivering sustainability. I would suggest a strong public awareness campaign. But such a campaign would require multi--brand commitments to sustainability and measurable progress using the same indicators. I would suggest making such commitments in specific destinations. Countries such as the Maldives or in the Caribbean, and the Asia Pacific are seeking to achieve a new level of sustainability which will require a macro view of how to Build Back Better in cooperation with industry. If the hotel industry were to make commitments to lower their carbon footprint at the destination level across-brands .. this would be ground breaking. A coalition of brands could potentially support the rebuilding of key destinations post-pandemic, via a new set of goals which attract both private and Foreign Direct Investment for energy efficiency, proper management of solid waste, measurable progress on sourcing new significant amounts of renewable energy, and creating systems of water conservation and waste water treatment that meet international standards. My company's vision is called the Marshall Plan for Tourism, http://www.eplerwoodinternational.com/marshall-plan-fund-reports/ We worked with the Pacific Asia Travel Association to create a model that would allow for public private collaboration on these key goals. Have a look!
Senior Lecturer in the School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Management at Leeds Beckett University, United Kingdom
Have you ever considered asking your friends and family members of their understanding of sustainability and sustainable hotel properties? Academic research suggests that most travellers still associate sustainability merely with green practices such as energy and water savings or recycling. Through this lens, such practices seem solely beneficial for the business as they are perceived to reduce business' operational costs along their ecological footprint. So how does the guest relate to that and why they should engage with such practices during their well-deserved holiday break?
Human perceptions are built on the value they ascribe to their experiences, whether cognitive or anticipated. For hotel guests to successfully comprehend and embrace sustainability practices and to be willing to stay and pay for such properties, they should perceive an authentic element in their purchase and an added value to their experience. Hotel guests should immerse in sustainability brand values, corporate-social responsibility, business responsibility and ethics to feel that they partake and contribute to something bigger. For it could be there where sustainability becomes a conscious choice. Maybe it's time to start considering sustainability as an experience in the hotel sector!
Chief Executive Officer, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance
As research shows, travellers globally do think that sustainability is vital (83%). With 61% of people saying the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future, the global crisis is further increasing people's consciences. We also know that sustainability is a leading focus area for the industry, with three out of four accommodation providers saying they have implemented sustainable steps at their property. And yet, despite the customer appetite, only one-third (31%) of those providers communicated about their efforts proactively to guests.
Evidently there is a role for the industry to increase their communication around their sustainability efforts, and doing so in a simple way that it makes it easy for guests to choose more sustainable options. Encouraging the modification of guest behaviour is a good way for hotels to improve their footprints (e.g. turning down air conditioning when leaving the room, towel re-use, and reducing food waste). However, this needs to be combined with information about the other activity the hotel is carrying out, both to protect the environment and within their communities, so that it isn't seen as just a cost-reduction strategy and demonstrates the wider impact their efforts are making.
Willingness to pay should also not be a barrier for booking a sustainable hotel as sustainability should not necessarily be costly for hotels to implement. A sustainable building is at least 20% more resource efficient which reduces utility costs, and our research shows that sustainability upgrades can have payback periods of less than one year.
Sustainability is an increasing trend not just for leisure travellers, but with corporate clients too, keen to limit their scope 3 emissions. Consequently, it also raises the need for consistency of reporting and recognition for the whole impact rather than cosmetic greenwashing. For example, our Hotel Carbon and Water Measurement Initiatives are free tools that enable every hotel to monitor their impact and support their targets for reduction. The data can then be used to accurately benchmark against other properties, for example in the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmark Index (CHSB) to provide a comparison of energy, water and carbon usage for properties in similar geographies and type.
With demand for sustainability never higher, and activity increasing across the industry, now it the time for hotels, and other participants in the customer journey, to maximise and simplify their communications so their sustainability efforts are being fairly recognised and further encouraged to ensure that hospitality is making a lasting positive impact on our planet and its people.
Managing Director at GreenHospitality.ie
How should the industry communicate the added value of sustainability (rather than added cost) that resonates with guests that espouse similar values?
There should be no added cost – in 2 decades of working with hotels on environmental sustainability I have never found a hotel that spent more than they saved – even with large capital investment projects as the savings paid for the investment. We need to constantly highlight that Being Green does not mean higher costs, nor does it mean being mean. In fact, Being Green could mean lower costs!
We need to ask the industry businesses that conduct these surveys to stop asking this as a question as it is not a valid one and only reinforces the perception that going green means added cost to the traveler. I do not know of any hotel that charges a supplement solely because they are environmentally sustainable – Do You?
The only real additional environmental cost that does not have a balancing reduction in operating costs is if a hotel decides to purchase Carbon Offsets. At this point it is the hotels decision to either treat this as a Marketing Expense (which they should) and build it into the other business costs, or give guests the opportunity to purchase offsets for their stay (Having used the HCMI tool to calculate their emissions)
Start telling stories that resonate with travelers needs as opposed to hotels blowing their own trumpets with lists of actions they have done and talking about kWh's, litres, tonnes, etc. – These messages are not focused on travelers needs, they are focused on internal image enhancement and generally written by green practitioners, not marketers.
Customers are interested in carbon footprints and reductions, food waste reduction initiatives, local food stories, how we have eliminated single use plastics, how they can be good recyclers, what are we doing to protect and promote biodiversity on-site and locally, how they can experience local culture and history far from the madding crowds, etc. Talk about these, engage your copywriters, don't let your Green Leaders/Champions write your marketing messages – that is not their skill.
Hotels also need to showcase their sustainability story on their websites and stop hiding it away – if it is more than 2 clicks to access a hotels home green page then it is hidden. Start engaging properly and communicate clearly how your customers will have a very light environmental footprint when they stay with you, and what added value they can experience locally – and within this messaging let them know how committed you are to being a better corporate business and your focus on continual improvement.
How do we transform the perception that sustainability measures are simply a cost-reduction strategy rather than valuable and essential practices in this day and age?
Travelers only see or perceive this when hoteliers make weak environmental claims or ask them to alter their behaviour through poorly worded initiatives – the worst example being the “Help save the Environment by hanging up your towels” and nothing else, cherry picking initiatives = green washing.
This perception is actually held more by hoteliers than by customers as management are driven by cost control and also only see this as the real benefit – mainly because the majority have not been trained or educated in sustainability and are failing to read the research and understand the changing environment – the travel & tourism sector needs to embed environmental sustainability into every facet of our operation, from education through to boardrooms and through all national state agencies
Until environmental sustainability is adopted as a basic business principle it will always be seen as an add-on – and customers will go to the smart hoteliers who understand their needs and desires and communicate their story well.
Founder of Hospitality Business Development and currently developing strategy and cradle-to-grave Asset Plans for a new European Sustainable Hotel Brand
Can you charge for hotel sustainability?
Imagine it's 2030 and we got it all right.
Guest willingness to stay or pay for a sustainable hotels isn't relevant anymore, because all hotels are now sustainable and the few hotels who didn't manage to at least halve their emissions, were clobbered by carbon taxes and went bankrupt.
Here is one version of HO-topia: you walk out of your sustainable hotel in the morning into a green and liveable city. Since the council has banned private cars in the city, tons of new mobility services have arrived. It is cheaper for you not to own your own car, and it reduces congestion, so you arrive at your destination more quickly and don't have to spend time looking for parking. There are a lot fewer cars on the streets and the rest are electric. All electricity is green by the way.
Single use plastics are a distant memory. When you buy stuff, you buy something that lasts. But because you buy a lot fewer things, you can actually afford better quality products and you have more money to spend on services: cleaning, gardening, laundry help, healthy meals easy to cook, entertainment, experiences, fabulous new restaurants. All of which brings the average modern person more options and more free time. Picking up the mantle against climate change may not be so bad after all for the hotel sector.
And so how is value created in such a world? Will it matter to guests whether the hotel they are booking has had to transform its business model and is seeking to recover that investment in the price? What if the sustainable hotel next door has friendlier staff, because your hotel failed to invest in its team? What if you had to do sustainability “on the cheap”, and there was no money to invest in technology and maintenance? What if guest satisfaction falls below that of the competition?
The idea that the guest has to pay for sustainability to get a return on investment or get ahead when transforming is not realistic and is not a valid argument. And here is the steep learning curve. Whilst investment in sustainability is needed to ensure a hotel remains in business, value is not created by the mere act of ensuring that the property is decarbonised and operates sustainably.
The critical two components of an intelligent, profitable and sustainable strategy will depend on the hotel's ability to remain compliant with climate law as well as its ability to adapt to radically changing market forces and guest needs. And future willingness of guests to pay or stay in a hotel will not depend on its sustainable investment in isolation, but rather on the hotels ability to anticipate and exceed future guest needs, and create better value over and above that of the rest of the hotel market.
Willingness to Stay is definitely on the rise as consumers are becoming increasingly intent on putting their money where their mouth is - which is wonderful! Going along with that there is a wealth of information out there on every platform from T&L to Tripadvisor when it comes to sustainable hospitality options. People looking to book their next stay should definitely seek those articles out and apply their best judgement when it comes to avoiding greenwashing. A little research will reveal some really fantastic hotels and unique experiences they offer - which go hand in hand with sustainability, and merit guests Willingness to Pay!! The key is, as you say, for guests to be told, long before their arrival, when they are hovering over the BOOK NOW button online, what they money will support if they follow through.
I truly believe that clean tourism is the future and we all need to be thinking beyond just big numbers - as mass tourism isn't always beneficial to everyone and can be damaging. The many Chinese tourists Thailand welcomes come in on package deals, which are sold in China, where the money stays - on their trip here they might buy a two-dollar trinket, which does little to help the local economy, and a lot for destroying our natural environment. Instead encouraging guests who are WTS and showing them WHY they should be WTP for what your beautiful hotel offers - a unique, sustainable experience that puts them on the front lines of conservation (here I am thinking of Shinta Mani Wild) - is key. We need to be aiming for high yield low impact models like, otherwise environmentally there will be nothing left for people to come see.
BA Hons, PGCE & MSc, Tourism Training Specialist & Business Mentor for Small, Independent Hotels
Increased awareness and inclination to do good on holiday and reduce impact where possible is currently at the highest level it has perhaps ever been.
In my opinion, how effectively tourism business owners leverage this lies in the quality and structure of their content creation strategy.
Let's not underestimate the power of the feel-good factor. Yes, holidays are about relaxation, switching off, and escaping daily routines, but that does not mean that our ideals about taking better care of the planet and the people in it go out of the window.
While I agree that the "traditional" decision making factors leading to hitting that “Buy Now” button are still location, price, and compatibility with guest type, I believe that the intrinsic value that we perceive in an offer is also critical to that decision.
If we can be made to feel great about choosing a hotel that actively reduces its carbon footprint, and/or encourages and supports communities, we feel just that little bit less guilty about our holiday choices.
How to get this value across to a potential guest can only be achieved by putting the right kind of content in front of them. Storytelling is an age-old communication tool, and we are not leveraging it enough in the industry. Stories create relationships and give meaning. By talking about the significance of the embroidery on the cushion covers in the hotel, or the percentage of stay donations that go into maintaining and building new walking routes in the destination, emotional connections are generated and that is often enough to influence the decision to buy.
However, it can rarely be done with a single piece of content. One blog post is not going to cut it, but the same messaging from that blog, chopped up and scheduled to appear in a variety of places such as quotes and Stories on Facebook, images and Reels on Instagram, work to consolidate the message and create top of mind awareness in target audiences. A recent National Geographic article even heralded TikTok as a platform to “present destinations authentically, tell engaging stories, and model responsible tourism”.
In regard to communicating sustainable values to other industry sectors, I believe this can only be done by proudly showcasing achievements and not just talking about intention. By sharing the results of action taken, responsible business owners cannot fail to influence their peers. After all, we know taking better care of the planet and our local communities is the right thing to do, so when other businesses are shown that committing to doing better also translates into a market advantage, they will be motivated to get started themselves.
In summary, tourism business owners should 1) start by defining their own value, 2) get bold and confident about how they demonstrate their achievements, 3) weave these actions into consistent, engaging, content and messaging in different formats, 4) work to get that content in front of their target audiences.
Everything else will follow and I believe that, by doing this, the need to “justify” our sustainability measures as being so much more than cost-reduction strategies will not be necessary. There will always be someone who does not resonate with your ideals and ethics, so you may therefore prefer for them not to convert into a customer anyway.
As has been shown in data and surveys over the years people value sustainability in their daily lives and with regards to businesses they interact with. Hotel guests are no different and look for properties and travel experiences that prioritize sustainability—but they also expect uncompromising service quality and experiences. Sustainability measures that attract travelers have a few core elements in common: they're thoughtful, communicated well, and don't negatively impact guest expectations.
It's one of the reasons eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of travel, and fueling sustainability practices in hospitality. Guests are looking for opportunities to align their values with a stay that also prioritizes their comfort and relaxation. Properties that strike a balance and deliver both sustainable practices and VIP service will find guests are more than willing to pay for it.
Traditionally, sustainability practices in hospitality have been associated with cutting costs, but that doesn't have to be the case. With design, construction and operations practices, and, of course, hospitality technology continuously innovating, properties have nearly unlimited opportunities to take a meaningful approach to sustainability that preserves and even enhances the guest experience. For example, urban hotels that provide guests with local transit on bicycles, low-emission vehicles, or group transportation make sustainability part of the guest experience. Bonus opportunities of not changing the linens every day to conserve resources, utilizing mobile key instead of plastic key cards, practicing on-premises recycling programs, and installing solar energy cells are incremental and tangible ways hotels can enhance the guest experience through sustainability.
Look no further than the new sustainability standards that Forbes Travel Guide released on Earth Day earlier this year. They call sustainability “the triple bottom line—making a profit while taking care of the environment and taking care of the communities around you.” According to the new standards, there's an emphasis on paperless arrival and departure processes, offering guests digital menus and compendiums, and making efforts to reduce single-use items and food waste—all of which are good for the guest in addition to being good for the environment.
Consider sustainability standards through the lens of the guest experience and don't be afraid to get creative. Like anything else, sustainability takes effort. If you put in the work, you'll land on an approach that's uniquely right for your property and your guests.
Associate Professor at Institut Paul Bocuse
Currently, hotels try to invite customers in sustainability acts that call for some form of sacrifice through gamification (for example, a timer to save water in the shower) or by promising to reinvest part of the money saved through the customer's sacrifice into a good cause. Direct savings to the customer could, of course, be a motivator for sustainable behaviour. For example, a discounted room rate for sustainable choices could attract guests. However, this only appeals to certain segments and misses the underlying point: Sustainability is an imperative for everyone, not only something incentivised by money.
In my view, hotel sustainability initiatives have to become meaningful to guests. This could possibly be achieved through connecting the initiatives with the big picture. I suspect that many people who, according to surveys, want to be sustainable, miss the link between their everyday actions and the climate and biodiversity crises. They would be willing to make choices accordingly, if the potential effect of their actions was clearly illustrated. Of course, guests cannot be bombarded with doomsday scenarios. Instead, messages that positively connect the results of their actions with favourable effects to the environment, for example, "if all our guests took this action, as a result…", could nudge people in the right direction. Such messaging would have to go hand-in-hand with a pledge to invest the money saved (considering, of course, paying back the investments hotels have made in this) in environmental causes so that the guests do not feel like their sacrifice merely benefits the bottom line of the hotel. Without such pledge, the effect would be limited to segments who are altruistic and already likely consider the big picture.
PhD, Founder & Editor, Sustainability Leaders Project
Rather than focus on sustainability, communication should center on more fulfilling experiences that guests will enjoy and the higher quality which such measures often mean. This combined with sharing stories of people and communities who are part of it or benefit.
Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Many businesses continue to consider sustainability as something that is costly and necessary, rather than to get certified, to engage in additional measures on a voluntary basis and to then communicate all of these efforts pro-actively. Environmental sustainability in particular is expected by many guests (who still wants cage-eggs for breakfast?) and a signifier of a high quality standard. Communicate it as such wherever possible. And ask the platforms to include sustainability as a criterion to be judged by guests, and it will bring the entire sector forward: We all want quality, and we should embrace definitions of quality that include environmental sustainability.
Founder, Agentur Auf!
Maybe we should try this statement in communication: "The easiest way to become a hero or heroine is: choosing a sustainable hotel!"
This would be connected with the fact that "doing it right" is the order of the day - not "going for cheap". Sustainability pays off sooner or later one way or another. A message aimed at customers, competitors and other sectors alike.
Co-Founder of La Belle EDuC, Founder of Upside Up Hotel Asset and Guest Lecture at ESSEC MSc in Hospitality Management (IMHI)
I would like to tackle the question of how we can drive the perception of sustainability measures as valuable and essential practices through the lens of the F&B offer. Indeed, changing our eating habits is a major leverage in lowering our impact on the planet through a drastic reduction of our consumption of animal products. Being close to guests for long periods of time is a unique opportunity for hoteliers and hotel groups especially to stand out with a large-scale and remarkable move in favour of the environment.
The starting point is to teach, share and support both team members and guests with adopting new habits to eat better and make a difference. There are various opportunities to communicate internally and externally about the impacts of our heavy consumption of animal products: hotel magazine, menus, table sets, booking confirmation or post-stay emails...
The second and very concrete action is to bring more vegetables, cereals and legumes in people's plate to participate in associating pleasure with plant-based food. F&B teams should be encouraged and trained to channel their talent toward developing flavoursome, predominantly plant-based recipes to offer a memorable food experience to their guests. To ease the way some traditional meals can be reinterpreted, before getting to the next step which is to make guests curious about new creative dishes and get them to share this experience (on social media, at home…). By bringing new tastes to their plate we can make such change more attractive than it can sound in the beginning and accompany people in embracing this valuable and essential shift.
Principal Sustainable Development at 3 Pillar Solutions, LLC
It isn't necessary for hotels to charge more just because they are sustainably operated. There is too much waste that can be reduced that actually lower operating expenses.
In my opinion, the answer to solve this WTP and WTS question is simple. ALL hotel properties become certified to a recognized green hotel standard, and promote that. Then, you satisfy those who care, and for those who don't, it doesn't matter, because every hotel is certified 'green', anyway.
My burning question is 'why are hotel properties not pursuing sustainability'? It's in their best interest cost-wise, ability to attract eco-conscious consumers, and higher value in the real estate marketplace. So, what's the problem?
Professor of Hospitality Management at the IU International University of Applied Sciences, Germany
Zero years to act.
When climate scientists were recently asked(1) how many years we have left to act on the climate emergency, the answers were unequivocal: zero. That's right, zero years because critical tipping points are being reached as reported in a recent study published in BioScience(2). You can take a few minutes to browse the outcome and dozens of graphs providing insights on ocean acidification, ice mass, carbon emissions and other critical tipping elements. Why should travelers care about any of this and in which way is this related to willingness-to-pay you may wonder? For one, the hospitality industry does not operate in a bubble. We depend heavily on a healthy planet (COVID-19 aside) for our own products and services in the form of equitable and low impact supply chains, as well as natural and cultural attractions at destinations. Guests also require a healthy planet to travel. Interestingly, many important decisions in the hospitality sector are left to or based on 'what the consumers want, what they are willing to accept, what they are willing to pay'. But I would argue that hoteliers are in the driver's seat here and must take actions to support and persuade sustainable consumption. And the time is now: a series of recent industry reports and surveys are pointing out that a majority of travelers wish to tread lightly when on holidays, supported by a desire to make responsible decisions. Academics have published dozens of studies on the topic of willingness-to-pay for sustainable hotels (3) with mixed results, however, most are pre-COVID-19. Much learning has been accomplished in regards to aligning intentions ("I am willing to pay a premium") to behaviour ("I actually pay a premium"). An article in the Harvard Business Review(4) summarizes five actions a business can take to nudge consumers. These include using the power of social norms, supporting positive habits, supporting the individual sustainability journey, making careful decisions between emotional and rational communication and focusing on the experience. Perhaps the most prominent recommendation is simply making sustainability the default, and not the option.
(1) Francis, J., Mann, M., Buck, J.B., & Kalmus, P. (July 28, 2021). How many years until we must act on climate? Zero, say these climate thinkers. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jul/28/climate-crisis-zero-fossil-fuels-environment
(2) Ripple, W.J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T.M., Gregg, J.W., Lenton, T.M., Palomo, I., Eikelboom, J.A.J., Law, B.E., Huq, S., Duffy, P.B., Rockström, J. (2021). World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency 2021. BioScience, biab079, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biab079
(3) Kang, S., & Nicholls, S. (2021). Determinants of willingness to pay to stay at a green lodging facility. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 94. 102834. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhm.2020.102834
(4) White, K., Hardisty, D.J., & Habib, R. (2019). The Elusive Green Consumer. Harvard Business Review, July-August, 124-133. https://hbr.org/2019/07/the-elusive-green-consumer
Director of Standards and Accreditation at Hotel Resilient
Not only has interest in environmentally responsible and socially responsible travel increased, but the more informed travelers become of responsible travel issues, the greater their willingness-to-pay for staying at a sustainable/responsible hotel. Effectively communicating sustainable practices is therefore crucial for hotels. Yet, many hotels approach the issue of communicating sustainable practices cautiously, leading to what has been termed Greenhushing or under-reporting of sustainable practices. On the one hand, this is due to the fear of being accused of Greenwashing if guests observe hotel practices that conflict with the hotel's sustainable messaging. On the other hand, hotels have been found to subdue communication of sustainable practices because of their belief that such messages can cause discomfort among those guests seeking luxury and escape from their day-to-day issues. Keeping guests informed while maintaining trust and a positive guest experience can therefore be seen as a balancing act in the eyes of hotel management. But as more travelers demand transparency of hotel environmental and social policies and actions, hotels will need to improve their communication strategy. The following points are recommended:
1. Improve capacity by following international standards on responsible tourism.
2. Increase transparency by clearly describing to guests the ways in which the hotel is responsible.
3. Build trust by opening up the hotel to a 3rd party review and aim for certification if possible.
4. Support consumer social responsibility through two-way communication on responsible issues.
Founder & CEO of WE(i) Think
Before worrying about communicating to each guest type, I think that the first thing is to worry about communicating at all and doing it in a meaningful way. People relate to stories, purpose, and vision. The difficulty is to find a way to communicate these aspects when bookings tools are basing the comparison between properties on physical criteria, which is all that is communicated on. Hotels shouldn't be shy to show their "why" and explain their sustainability-related actions.
Too often, this information are lost in the middle of the facilities listing whereas making them more prominent would help travelers identify sustainable properties. The hospitality industry is highly competitive, however, that doesn't mean that hotels should hide their added value to be more likeable to the wider crowd/not upset people who are not into sustainability. I would encourage hotels to embrace their values and what they stand for and communicate about it, show what they do, explain why.