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?
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.