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?
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.