Responsible travel: How do we make booking sustainable hotels easier?
22 experts shared their view
Evidence shows that spending time in nature helps reducing anxiety, improving mental health and well-being, let alone boosting physical health. Nature is good for us; can we be good to nature too? It's no wonder that one recent large-scale survey conducted by Booking.com (2020) identified 'Impact Awakening: The Rise of Responsible Travel' as one of the nine predictions on the future of travel. Half of the global travelers surveyed expressed the desire to travel more sustainably in the future with over two-thirds of respondents expecting more sustainable travel options from suppliers. Demand is (and expectations are) building up and post-pandemic will see a surge in travel with purpose. But do travelers easily have access to all information needed to make wise decisions on sustainable travel and hotels? Where are the gaps in the search and booking stages? And which company manages to fill those gaps well? What are some best practices in showcasing hotel sustainability online?
Booking.com (20 Oct 2020). Smarter, Kinder, Safer: Booking.com Reveals Nine Predictions For The Future of Travel. https://www.booking.com/articles/category/future-of-travel.html.
Cornell Roundtable Recap: Sustainability in the era of COVID-19
Best Practices of showing Tourist Accommodation sustainability on-line Sustainability is complex. Communicating it well requires storytelling. My thoughts for OTAs, NTO, and Regional tourism is:
- On-site Search engine tools: Tourism sites and OTAs must offer adequate criteria to enable potential guests to select tourist accommodation by factors most of interest to guests, such as plastic-free, chemical-free, renewable energy, and community projects. This is more meaningful than eco badges.
- Focus on Benefits: Tourism sites and OTAs should provide space for each accommodation listing to show how the property's sustainability efforts improve the guests' experience?
- Turn sustainability actions into exciting learning experiences for the visitors: Preachy messages are not appealing. Instead, tourism sites and OTAs should provide space for each listing to illustrates how their redesigned sustainable activities can teach guests to apply their newly gained skills.
- Staff social contracts: Tourism sites and OTAs should allow tourist accommodation to demonstrate how their staff are involved, disclose fair work policy policies, and how guests can become involved in creating a better stay.
- Verification & Reviews: Participating properties must verify that their actions have demonstratable results. Guests should be encouraged to review the claimed activities/policies and applaud good practice or call out irresponsible practice.
- Proof of benefits: Tourism sites and OTAs should highlight independently verified claims of sustainable practices. Share these as short videos/stories/social media campaigns to raise awareness of tourism's good results. Tourism should not only focus on reducing impacts but celebrate how it can positively put back into communities and nature. This adds a positive reason for staying to prospective guests.
The perception of sustainable business practice is intrinsically linked to the way it is communicated. Acceptable actions and solutions are framed through language choice and messaging approach. The unexpressed concern that “green” is interpreted as cost-cutting and reduced quality must be eliminated.
There is a major gap between the desire to do better on holiday, and the conscious search for accommodation that adheres to and promotes responsible tourism practices. This is due to low consumer literacy around the topic, but also because the main factors in choosing a holiday revolve around the location, type of accommodation, and price. The intent to stay in a hotel that does good in the world may well exist, but it is not yet an intrinsic part of the initial search criteria.
Herein lies a didactic opportunity. Never has the industry been presented with a better chance to harness the increasing positive traveler sentiment regarding sustainability.
A balanced educational drive is required to:
- a) engage owners so they understand how important their sustainability efforts are to their long-term business strategy;
- b) educate consumers so that they recognize and value the social, environmental, and economic elements of sustainable tourism and are compelled to take action through participation; and
- c) assist business owners in weaving their responsible practice into their sales offer and marketing copy through storytelling and direct persuasion techniques.
A best practice example is the B Corp recognized Chilean company, Smartrip - the first socially driven travel company in the world. Read more here: https://smartrip.travel/en/we-are-travel-with-purpose/.
Ultimately, we need to encourage the “greenhushers” out of the closet and hold the “greenwashers” responsible for what they claim they do. A consistent approach is necessary to nurture a middle ground where confident, innovative messaging compels guests to feel empowered to participate in creating better futures for our destinations.
Making booking sustainable hotels easier? In my belief, it will definitely happen as due to Corona the love for the planet and conscious living is on the rise. There is a critical mass growing so booking sustainable hotels will soon be a selection criteria on all major platforms. It is not very forward-looking of OTAs to have waited soo long.
When I asked Booking.com about the “green hotel button” in the past, they first explained not enough people are searching for sustainable hotels. In 2019 before their investigation they had a trial with a sustainable questionnaire, they were developing kind of their own “eco-label”.
There lies a big challenge. There is not one big single "eco-label" that will address the full scope of sustainability. Some focus on hotel operation others on the hotel building and installations. And what is sustainable in 2021? I believe we have moved on from compensating Co2 to a mere climate change view towards including a broader view by including our impact on biodiversity, land use, and toxic/persistent materials. We need to broaden the sustainability scope towards a simplified Life Cycle Assessment model. We are 100% bio and on a plastic diet, we never scored any points with that other than “Karma-Points” and a loyal following.
The more important question is in my view, do we want to wait for the OTA's to further develop this for us or will the whole hotel business including governments and consumer organizations take steps to make real sustainable options on booking platforms reliable and even preferred?
There are many questions yet to be answered about the future of travel in a post-pandemic world, but one thing that seems quite clear is the growing consumer focus on sustainability and responsibility. The UN global climate poll – the biggest ever on the matter - published earlier this month confirms it; two-thirds of the global population say the climate crisis is a global emergency, meaning it's a factor high on the agenda for people when they choose to travel and stay, too.
Our leisure guests tell us how important sustainability matters are to them and that they are more likely to choose brands that operate responsibly – and are even willing to pay more for ones that do so. And, as a rapidly growing number of organizations make external commitments for environmental and social change, our business customers are in turn requesting information about sustainable accommodation and meeting options with growing frequency to help make progress against their own targets.
This momentum for sustainable options needs to be met with transparent and accurate information right across the guest journey. Creating approachable, digestible content to inform and inspire guests and customers, and an interwoven storytelling approach is key to increasingly bring sustainability initiatives to the mainstream as a core part of the hospitality offering – rather than a niche.
Driving awareness at the outset with compelling content across our own platforms is important. Informing booking decisions with information about hotel-specific features; reinforcing how guests can get involved and play a part; demonstrating the bigger picture to show what is being led at group-level; capturing data and feedback, including via platforms such as our own IHG Green Engage™, will all allow for further improvement.
To be most effective, we'll also need this to be a true collaboration across the ecosystem – brands, operators, OTAs, TMCs, and other industry organizations. While the stories we tell as individual companies and even as individual hotels will invariably differ, we should continue efforts to align these to a common “language” or context of what sustainability means at an industry-level, and that should also consider how to simplify the multitude of different certifications available in this space to enable consumer understanding. This way, our guests and customers are truly able to make informed decisions on traveling more responsibly.
Lack of transparency remains a stumbling block for travelers who mostly don't have the time or inclination to spend hours researching a hotel's sustainability credentials. There are three ways in which we need greater transparency.
Firstly, over a hundred certifications, labels, and accreditations signpost travelers to more sustainable options, but there's little information about how they compare to one another. We need some form of standardization that consumers recognize and understand.
Secondly, since sustainability has become a selling point for hotels, there is a tremendous amount of noise (and plenty of dubious 'green' claims) out there, making it hard for consumers to cut through greenwashing. The industry needs some form of accountability.
Thirdly, the travel press is still reluctant to publish hard-hitting pieces about sustainability, although thankfully the balance between concrete facts that help people make more responsible choices and fluffy speculation is starting to shift in the right direction.
Finally, we need to feature local voices more across the travel selling and booking process. Sustainability credentials are dependent on local context (there's no one size fits all), so only when that context plays into purchasing decisions can we transform the travel industry.
There is an urgent need to get sustainable hotels "on the shelf". It's not hard to find organic food at my local grocery store. It is clearly labeled, and I can easily choose it as I walk through the aisles. On the other hand, if I wanted to book a sustainable hotel, I'd face a real challenge (and I've been doing this for a while). The search 'cost' would include digging deep into hotel brand CSR pages to determine what information related to the property I was choosing. It is too much to expect from all but the most diligent buyers. We can't expect consumers to buy "sustainable hotels" unless they are easy to book.
What's the solution? A couple of suggestions:
First – let's get over "green hushing". Many hotel brands are committed to sustainability and are making significant progress, particularly with environmental performance. Even so, they do not promote their work widely; they "green hush" it. If the brands are worried about "greenwashing" accusations, they need to ensure they have rigor in their performance management programs. Let's get the word out about the progress our industry is making.
Second – it's time for the supply chain to demand the information. The distributors of tourism products have an important role in promoting sustainability across the sector.
Third – we need to recognize the complexity of sustainability and simplify it for consumers. I am a great advocate for the GSTC sustainability criteria, and I agree that it is essential we consider all elements of the triple bottom line when we consider sustainability. (This is where I need to point out my comparison to organic products is unfair. Organic is one dimension of the product; sustainability criteria include a multitude of criteria). Despite the complexity, it is clear that some elements of sustainability are easier to quantify than others. For example, environmental performance, typically focused on water, energy, and waste, is often easier to report than social performance, which can incorporate a wide variety of issues both internal and external to the company. If demanding everything means we aren't making progress on anything, then let's start with what we can get done now. Let's break out social and environmental performance and report on them separately if it means we can move forward quicker.
Choosing a planet-friendly hotel or such type of accommodation is not about green certification, affiliation with a global think-tank of sustainability experts, or replacing plastic straws with more environmentally friendly alternatives. When talking about booking sustainable hotels, probably the first step is to identify what the definition of sustainable is….
Green “washing”, ESG, over-supplied markets, transporting recycled or natural products around the globe, what is it that we want to include in the notion for “Sustainable”? What is the consumer looking for? And even more to the point: Is it a “feel good” move or is it the drive to make a real change?
Raising awareness has caused the world to realize that something has to happen, then consciousness is created and the next step is to note what efforts are making a real change and what should the consumer/guest look for when they book. For example, with our brands, we try to hire locals, use the local supply chain, and supply a mixed-use offering to create ecosystems of businesses who collaborate and build the business together. In our view, creating sustainable hospitality projects means cultivating, supporting, and developing the location, wherever this may be.
I believe that sustainability is a state of mind and a way of life, where reaching perfection, at this point in time, is still very difficult, and businesses should be pushed, supported, and rewarded for making a tangible impact. So, going back to the question: 'How to make it easier to book sustainable hotels?' It all comes down to creating a flexible set of standards, or “proof” points, for any business to set out what they are doing, and their impact, regardless of different this may be, driven by the largest booking platforms, i.e. OTA's, Tripadvisor, and other active platforms that bring guests together, so guests drive further the selection criteria, like in the good old times.
We support the New Generation, as they are so much more driven to save the world, and ensure they have a good future. We believe that their views and ideas would bring an even much more pushed and rigorous approach, as for them eating meat is a question, followed by another question: where is the cow from and where does the food come that the cow is eating… Our industry is so far from ready for this as we are still talking about avocado, chia, and organic cheese, but truly, how as an industry we can reward those at the forefront of the changes, create a set of important criteria for guests, integrate this on the booking channels, and let the changes be driven by the those who are booking and not the theorists ….
Transparency on all sustainable initiatives, projects, certifications as well as reporting frameworks for all products offered by a booking platform should be available to consumers at every step of the process. This includes information on hotels, airlines, cruise ships, ground handlers, and any other travel product sold on the platform. Obviously, it can be a struggle and a lengthy process for the booking platforms to obtain all of the above information, but through stakeholder engagement and supply chain surveys key basic features can be collected and displayed for the end consumer to access easily.
Booking platforms can thus become positive drivers for more sustainable codes of conduct to be adhered to along the supply chain, potentially providing smaller hotels, ground handlers and other travel service companies with frameworks they can adhere to for their own sustainability strategies.
However, in order to avoid the risk of every booking platform setting up their own sustainability criteria, which can confuse the markets, both for the consumers as well as the hotels, it is imperative that there is a common sustainability denominator for all to adhere to internationally. The obvious one here being the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), given that these are now the most well established international sustainability indicators, adopted by all major consumer goods companies. This can drive their recognition further and allow consumers worldwide to chose according to a well recognized and familiar scheme as well as allowing the business community to show their contribution to the international achievement of the SDGs.
The last decade has seen a surge in the number of studies and trend reports claiming that sustainability is on the verge of becoming the new normal across industries and witnessing the rise of the mindful consumer. The travel industry makes no exception as a majority of travelers declared their commitment to travel responsibly, expecting industry professionals to adapt their offerings accordingly.
Although booking a sustainable hotel remains a real obstacle course nowadays despite the intent of a growing number of smaller platforms such as Regenerative Travel or Singular Places to bridge the gaps in the search and booking stages, I would rather address an even more pressing issue when it comes to environmental engagement, namely the value-behavior gap.
Shifting the travel industry toward sustainability requires moving from isolated green initiatives, competition, and self-interests to genuine collaboration and partnerships across multiple industry stakeholders in order to formulate a sector-wide response to sustainability, similar to the UNWTO Global Tourism Crisis Committee initiative. The industry needs bold leaders, willing to question the status quo, embrace our world's uncertainty and volatility with agility and resilience, and make long-lasting actions to reform the industry from top to bottom.
Consumers should also do their part and take full responsibility for their impact, questioning their worldviews and checking their current behaviors to adapt their travel habits according to their core values. People have to be willing to genuinely walk the talk so that sustainability doesn't stop when they return from their trip but becomes ingrained in their very lifestyle. Only when we shift our mindset and fully realize that we are all interconnected and interdependent will we eventually take care of our precious planet. For true sustainability to occur, it has to come from the inside-out.
A sustainable lifestyle was established in the population long before Corona. Since Greta Thunberg and #fridayforfuture, many people have started to think about their own consumption and their behavior towards the environment and have changed significant things in their lives in order to improve their own ecological footprint. It is gratifying that the pandemic is now also having a positive effect on sustainability when traveling. However, in my opinion, it has only accelerated this process a little and the travelers were already on the way to changing their travel behavior permanently.
My team and I recognized the potential and necessity of sustainable hotel offers back in 2014 and set an important milestone for the hotel industry the following year with our GreenSign sustainability seal. In order to be able to offer appropriate sustainable offers for travelers, a transparent, scientifically sound and practice-oriented management system for sustainable hotel management had to be created. Recognized sustainability seals such as the GreenSign are the best way for travelers to see whether a hotel is really managed sustainably. However, now the question arose how we can bundle the certified hotels on one platform and make them bookable directly?
We took up this topic a year ago and made, with the relaunch of the greenline-hotels.com website to a purely sustainable booking platform, an important step in making it easier for consumers to find sustainable accommodation. It is important to show guests that sustainable tourism does not restrict travel in any way, but that holidays can be made more conscious, more adventurous, and more authentic. Anyone who values things like regionality, nature experiences, healthy culinary delights, and also deceleration will find the right inspiration in the hotels on greenline-hotels.com to be more attentive even in the most beautiful time of the year and to appreciate and preserve nature.
In order to prevent greenwashing here, we only put hotels on greenline-hotels.com with selected sustainability certificates whose criteria are really sustainable and have been appropriately checked. We now have almost 1,000 hotels, primarily in Germany, but also in many European countries and beyond, which can be booked directly through the technology provider eHotel.
As the evidence shows, customers – corporate and holiday-makers – are increasingly wanting to make more sustainable travel choices. With 69% of global travelers expecting the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options, there is an emphasis on hotel properties to demonstrate their positive impact.
There is therefore an increased focus on providing business-to-business customers as well as individual leisure travelers with information on sustainability to support their decision-making. This has led to an increase in the development of sustainability metrics or other rating systems. While this helps the communication of sustainability-related information, we do need to ensure that the information is both meaningful and comparable, so that it's providing an accurate picture and recognizing genuine efforts.
In an industry that has been very hard hit by the impact of the pandemic, sustainability and CSR teams are already stretched, and we want to maximize their time spent on advancing sustainability activities, rather than responding to an increasing number of information requests in varying formats. Likewise, measurement systems developed without genuine industry insights place pressure on stretched hotel operations teams who feel compelled to complete the data or may risk disadvantage of some form.
There already exist many recognized systems for measuring impacts such as certification (EDGE, BREEAM, LEED, etc.), or the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance's Hotel Carbon and Water Measurement Initiatives. These systems and tools are highly used by the industry and provide comparable information across a diverse industry. Therefore, we should consider how we can make these existing reporting methodologies more accessible to a general and corporate audience.
An interesting recent example is the announcement that 61 business leaders, including Unilever, Nestle, PayPal, and Sony, have committed to a core set of 'Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics' for their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting. This announcement not only demonstrates the intent of leading global companies to integrate sustainability into their core strategy but also signals the need for a joined-up approach to reporting that benefits businesses and customers alike. And ultimately leads towards a better world for all.
Responsible travel in a sustainable hotel environment; wouldn't it be nice?! Who doesn't know the 1966 Beach Boys song that starts with “Wouldn't it be nice…”? It said much in its first few chores: “Wouldn't it be nice….if we were older? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long. And wouldn't it be nice to live together? In the kind of world where we belong?…”
If we continue, we certainly do not deserve to belong here. No doubt the Beach Boys were not referring to sustainable travel, albeit it is something which is not too far away if we want to...
If anything the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, the ultimate beneficiaries of being able to book sustainable travel are hotel owners, operators, distribution platforms, and their guests. Travelers and guests are indeed very interested to travel in a more sustainable mode, if this is made possible at all. There are a number of interested parties that need to put their efforts together; 1. The hotel developer and investor to develop sustainable assets and, better yet, circularly built properties; 2. The hotel brand and/or operator no longer willing to expand the next hotel property which is not subscribing to the latest possible technology. 3.The distribution platforms, while offering the highest in their rankings, those hotels that are truly committed to delivering an ecologically safe & sustainable experience, without jeopardizing overnight stay attributes or service concepts. And 4., last but certainly not least: The guest who is making the sustainable choice possible. Very possible and all the more needed. Hotel business worldwide produces 3% of worldwide CO2.
The 2020 UN-Gap report shows that we are yet closer again to tipping points which, once surpassed, are irreversible.
Some report details:
- 2020 was one of the warmest years on record, with wildfires, droughts, storms, and glacier melt increasing
- in 2029, total greenhouse gas emissions new high of 59.1 Gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent
- Carbon Dioxide expected to fall by 7% in 2020, but this represents only 0,01Co global warming reduction by 2050
- The ambition levels in the Paris Agreement must be roughly tripled for a 2Co horizon, and increase fivefold to reach 1,5Co
The UN-Gap Report 'Key Messages' conclude with: “Stronger action must include facilitating, encouraging and mandating changes in consumption behavior by the private sector and individuals.”
That's you, me, all of us. No time to waste.
COVID-19 has opened people's eyes to the importance of the tourism sector to not only national economies but to the hundreds of millions of jobs in the industry, including SMEs and vulnerable populations that have been hardest hit. While this proves that disruptions to the tourism industry can have devastating and far-reaching impacts, it reminds us of the potential benefits of effecting positive change in the industry. Now that tourism is in the spotlight, the audience remains (for the time being) to discuss key issues of tourism moving forward, such as natural hazards, climate risks, over-tourism, environmental impacts, equitable employment, forced labour, food waste and corporate social responsibility.
According to a booking.com survey of 20,000 travelers, 70% of travelers now book only after confirming which health and hygiene policies are in place. That same survey found that travelers are interested in more meaningful and sustainable travel experiences. Finally, the majority of travelers are paying attention to what hotels are doing beyond the amenities they provide. This opportunity shouldn't be wasted by limiting the discussion to COVID protection measures. Hotels and destinations can use that same communication space to promote measures beyond COVID – to highlight the variety of measures that make the hotel safe, sustainable and inclusive.
A key step towards increasing transparency and confidence in a hotel's safety, sustainability and social impacts is certification. At Hotel Resilient, our standards and certification address safety, in terms of the pandemic, multi-hazard and climate risk. While there are numerous organizations offering sustainable certification, a major gap for the industry is the ability of hotels to quantitatively measure social impact and achieve certification for their efforts. Now is the time for hotels to implement initiatives beyond COVID, to achieve the certifications that are right for them, which will not only protect their hotel, environment and local community for the long term, but will take advantage of the current increased support among travelers for responsible tourism.
Determinants of travellers' choices when making a hotel booking have been researched from various angles by the academic community. A recent study published in the International Journal of Hospitality Management looked at the two stages of decision making (comparing various alternatives and identifying the optimal choice) and asked two key questions: (1) What are the key factors affecting consumers' consideration of alternatives? and (2) what are the key factors driving consumers' final choices? (Hu and Yang, 2019, p.2). While the research did not include a 'green' factor but focused on factors such as hotel online ratings, price discounts or sales promotions, it is interesting to point out the importance and influence of hotel online ratings and review volume on the consumer decision-making during both decision making stages. With these results in mind, one of my studies as well as the results from Gerdt et al. (2009) indicate that there is a relationship between sustainability endeavours of hotels, consumer satisfaction and online reputation ranking (qualitative and quantitative). In another empirical research conducted by one of my students, transparency on OTAs, improved advertisement, as well as the establishment of a global green ranking system were also identified as potential improvements.
Certification systems can help visibility, but those need to be present during the searching and booking process, otherwise, they remain irrelevant to the traveller's decision-making process. As long as sustainability criteria are clearly communicated, platforms such as https://www.bookdifferent.com/en/, https://bookitgreen.com/en/ , https://www.greenpearls.com/ or specialist networks such as https://www.sleepgreenhotels.com/ all have a role to play too. Many hotels have embraced sustainability as a whole or in parts as we often discuss on this World Panel. However, the large OTA platforms are called upon to doing their part in providing transparency (at the very least in the filter option).
Travellers, keen in making informed travel decisions coming out of the pandemic, and with a strong desire to book responsible suppliers, deserve to have the information at their disposal.
Committed hoteliers deserve to reap the benefits of their continuous engagement in sustainability.
Gerdt, S.-O., Wagner, E., & Schewe, G. (2019). The relationship between sustainability and customer satisfaction in hospitality: An explorative investigation using eWOM as a data source. Tourism Management, 74, 155–172.
Hu, X., & Yang, Y. (2019). Determinants of consumers' choices in hotel online searches: A comparison of consideration and booking stages. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 85, 1-9
Even in the face of a global recession and pandemic, consumer demand for businesses to demonstrate sustainable practices and planetary stewardship has only increased. People want to support businesses that embody their beliefs and are willing to pay more.
- 57% adults globally want businesses to focus on sustainability and the environment more in 2021 (Sourcing Journal).
- Companies abiding by social or environmental standards showed higher operational performance (Morgan Stanley).
- Millennials and Gen Z are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services (Nielson).
- 60% of youth under age 30 say the priority for the post-pandemic recovery should be restructuring society to deal with challenges including inequality and climate change (Sustainable Brands).
Additionally, we are seeing a rise in "digital nomads" accelerated by the impacts of remote working during the pandemic often in the millennial generation who care deeply about sustainability. This is particularly felt in coastal and tropical regions. In fact, Island Innovation is hosting a webinar tomorrow (9 February) on the subject of Adapting Tourist Destinations For Remote Workers & Digital Nomads In 2021. https://islandinnovation.co/remote-work/
As such, the need to communicate sustainability initiatives is critical and ever more relevant. Currently, it can be very difficult to identify what specific sustainability actions a hotel or restaurant is taking. Certification and verification schemes help add some transparency as a third-party can offer credibility to claims about regenerative best practices. Businesses themselves also play a role in communicating their efforts clearly and specifically for guests to understand including key on-site messaging at guest touchpoints. Furthermore, guest reviews and responses can be the most revealing or endorsing. There are many new platforms and sustainability labels entering the scene with different merits (I will outline some below), but ultimately to reach a critical mass of the general public, this information needs to be integrated and clearly available on mainstream platforms like Booking.com, Expedia, Yelp, and Google Reviews.
Certifications / Verifications
To begin with our own work, Oceanic Global has developed industry solutions to unify a global movement around responsible consumption and provide tangible sustainable solutions to set a new industry standard. Our industry solutions program is a set of research-backed guides and badge verification system that helps various industries minimize their environmental footprint and adopt sustainable operating practices. Industry-specific guides support shifts in operational infrastructure connects businesses with approved sustainable vendors and serves as a resource for political action and reform.
The map of businesses that have earned one of our badges is available on our website and this can be used as a resource particularly in areas we are more prevalent such as Tulum, Mexico; the Caribbean; and NYC. www.oceanic.global/oceanic-standard
EarthCheck, Green Globe, and Green Key are three of the most prevalent sustainable tourism certifications that require a holistic third-party audit and tangibly track goals year-over-year. Similar to Oceanic Global's program, this signals to guests that the business takes sustainability seriously and there are specific goals that are communicated by each tier of badge awarded.
You can see how some of our partner organizations communicate their commitments including Sandals Resorts, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, Bulleit Distillery, and Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort. The more clear the messaging and specificity regarding what actions have been taken, the more trust is built with the community.
Platforms / Apps
- Wayaj (https://wayaj.com/) is a brilliant platform that collates existing leading sustainability indexes and provides a searchable map as well as booking and relevant travel info.
- PlasticScore (https://www.plasticscore.co/) is a great app that allows guests to review venues specifically based on their plastic consumption and waste management practices. This platform is growing quickly because anyone can post a review and the business will find themselves on the App.
- Remark (https://remark.eco/) is another app that allows anyone to send feedback directly to a wide range of businesses regarding their practices with a specific focus on waste and packaging, but also more encompassing.
Overall, these efforts are exciting and needed; however, as mentioned we need to find ways to introduce these systems to the general public. We are currently working with a coalition of nonprofits and businesses to integrate these systems into Yelp, and efforts to engage the other platforms are a natural next step so that everyone can easily and clearly find this information!
Clients often look for the best price-quality offers during their booking process. The challenge in front of responsible travelers is the lack of clarity and transparency about the hotels concerning their sustainability-related efforts and achievements. Even in specialized websites, such as Bookdifferent.com, the information about environmental and social efforts made by the hotel is not easily understandable, because it is not customer friendly. I believe, there should be a simplified, but credible label or a shortlist of sustainability-related actions of the hotel on the screen during the reservation process. Certainly, this would not be the final solution, but simply a step toward more sustainable bookings, where customers will be a bit more aware of the sustainable efforts, initiatives, and results of the hotels. This way customers can make their sustainable choices and, once in the hotel, track and even evaluate those actions, so others can make their decisions more responsibly, too, if they wish.
Finding a hotel that guests can trust to be sustainable has to become user-friendly. There are many sustainability labels and certifications in the industry, but guests are too often unfamiliar with them. Yet in other business-to-consumer industries, there are examples of widely recognized labels, such as Fair Trade, that stand out in the purchase situation.
For decades, star ratings have given a baseline for customers looking for a certain type of hotel. The industry urgently needs a simple, non-profit system for sustainability that can be brought to the booking situation. This would preferably be at an international level, but parallel national systems might be more realistic. The goal must be to present key sustainability evaluations in an interesting and concise manner while coming across as a trustworthy system without ulterior motives.
It's difficult for travelers to find information that enables them to evaluate hotel environmental performance. There is no universally-accepted scorecard or website that ranks hotels on environmental measures. So, hotels must communicate their green credentials on their own to prospective guests.
It's equally important to secure return business by making their green practices evident to visitors. Guests value visible signs of a property's environmental program, such as recycling bins, EV charging stations, solar panels, local and organic menu options, and no-smoking policies.
Making wise decisions when it comes to traveling certainly requests that travel agents and hotels disclose and share new information about destinations.
A company that is doing a great job at filling this gap is Feelingo. Feelingo - a B Corp certified french company- is an online booking platform that offers high visibility to sustainability commitments taken by hotels and resorts. As a traveler looking for a sustainable hotel to stay in, one will find the classic Destination and Dates fields but will also be able to filter hotels based on their sustainability level (Beginner, Committed or Certified). In addition to this classic search engine feature, one can only create traveling profiles (for as many travel types as relevant) and benefit from a matching service providing hotel recommendations based on these profiles.
Once the "where" is chosen responsibility, let's not forget about the "when", a topic on which there is probably more work to be carried. For instance, it would be worth considering developing a traveler flow gauge to relieve some destinations from high pressure in some seasons and promote responsible visits.
Sustainability is still a subjective concept for most properties, making it difficult to integrate sustainability principles as search engine criteria and drowning in the mass sustainable hotels with limited options to show their added value other than in their description.
Waste management / water efficiency / energy efficiency / local employment / working with local suppliers / carbon efficiency. How hotels can measure these criteria to allow them to be used by search engines?
Could sustainability-driven certifications like LEED, EarthCheck, Travelife be used as sustainability search elements?
Presently travelers have a hard time identifying which hotel goes well in line which what the “green guest” is actually looking for. Two problems arise: First, most tourism operators know too little about their impact on the environment and tools for how to measure and reduce it. And second, the certification schemes or external proof on how to define “green”, “biodiversity-friendly” or “sustainable” is often lacking.
Many national parks in Germany have “Nationalpark Partner” a network of hotels, restaurants, and other enterprises that agreed to support not only their neighboring national park but follow a set of rules in terms of sustainability, environmental protection, and resource management. That might be a good point to start and a system worth to be extended beyond German national parks.
Let customers review how sustainable a hotel is by having up to 5 green stars (on top of the existing star rating). Booking.com and TripAdvisor and other such platforms could adopt such a feature not just for hotels but other hospitality businesses too (If they do feature other types). I believe that ALL hospitality businesses should strive to be sustainable with the true meaning of the word, not just green issues. However, I do accept the fact that most customers would be able to rate only some aspects of sustainability and are likely to focus on green issues. But that in itself is a good start. A real effort by 3rd parties would see that your green star rating affects your overall rating and if you do not have a 5star green rating you can not reach a 5-star general rating. In other words, an algorithm that takes into consideration the green stars rating and applies it to the general rating. An alternative to that solution would be a Green/Sustainable focused hotel search engine/platform but we have not yet seen any study that suggests that the consumer cares enough about green practices to truly alter their booking behavior. In conclusion, I argue that the power for change lies in the hands of 3rd parties and consumers. This approach in my view will minimize Green Washing and will affect decision making for the general consumer too.