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Ecotourism: How to attract environmentally conscious travelers
It’s a paradox: On the one hand, travelling has never been easier or cheaper – thanks to open borders, long-distance buses and budget airlines. The number of worldwide tourists in 2017 increased by 7% compared to the previous year. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a staggering 1.3 billion travellers went abroad last year – and the tendency is going up.
At the same time, popular tourist destinations are suffering from the masses of people. Cities like Barcelona and Venice are thinking about introducing a limit on the number of visitors, while many other metropolises are taking up arms against Airbnb – and the resulting shortage in affordable living space. At the beginning of 2018, Ecuador further tightened the already strict regulations for visiting the Galapagos Islands in order to protect the archipelago’s flora and fauna. Other nature reserves are following suit.
The awareness for a sustainable lifestyle has increased significantly over the last few years. This awareness has now hit the mainstream – just like environmentally-conscious ecotourism. The changes aren’t just visible in niche tourism. In the luxury sector as well as on city trips, accommodations that operate in a transparent and ecological manner are becoming more and more popular. Today, 90% of guests prefer to stay at a sustainably operated hotel, and the willingness to pay extra for this service is growing. Around 77% of all consumers state that they trust companies that produce or offer ethnically correct products.
The transition from hedonistic mass tourism to sustainable ecotourism is therefore not simply a temporary fad, but an unavoidable step to combine our responsibility towards nature, the needs of the guests and the economic interests of the hotels.
What is ecotourism?
“Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
This is the definition of ecotourism by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). There are countless interpretations of this term floating around the internet, complemented by additional versions such as gentle tourism, sustainable tourism and eco-friendly tourism. While there are a lot of overlaps between these terms, there are also significant differences to ecotourism. The differentiation of the individual models might not seem very relevant at first, but knowing the differences is especially important for hoteliers. Only then will they be able to position themselves optimally in the market, reach the right target group and bind them to their operation.
The interests of the local population and a positive guest experience are the top priorities of ecotourism. The interference with nature, the local traditions and ways of life are kept to a minimum. One of the big advantages of ecotourism is that the majority of the revenue flows into the regional economy – and therefore into the protection and expansion of the local infrastructure and environment – instead of the accounts of international corporations.
The term gentle tourism, often also called sustainable tourism, is defined as follows by the UNWTO: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”
Gentle tourism satisfies the needs of the guests as well as those of the guest region. However, the good intentions of individuals aren’t enough. Gentle tourism also requires legal regulation and consistent, structural implementation.
The term nature tourism describes niche tourism in locations with pristine natural conditions, as well as activities in and with nature – from fishing and hunting to nature photography, hiking and snowboarding. The ecological and social aspect is secondary, but is included if possible.
Green tourism includes everything that benefits nature in the broadest sense – from compost heaps to the in-house solar plant. It doesn’t matter if the local economy or population profits from it or if the revenue winds up in the pockets of an international corporation.
Show what you have to offer
You’re using regional products in your kitchens, you support the local nature conservation organisation and your housekeeping only uses eco-friendly cleaning products? You provide bicycles to your guests for free for the duration of their stay? Is there a hotel shop? Locally brewed craft beer? A barefoot path? Wonderful!
This is not the time for modesty, because your good deeds and the eco-conscious investments not only benefit nature and your social environment, but also your reputation – and therefore your economic success. Targeted marketing of your ecotourism offering will enable you to attract even more environmentally conscious guests to your hotel.
Ecotourism certificates and awards
There are countless certification programs and eco-labels, some global, some regional, that offer you the possibility to officially certify your hotel’s green focus. From Green Globe and Green Key to Blue Flag and Viabono.
One of the benefits of these eco labels is increased credibility – because unfortunately, not every company that uses eco in its name actually acts in an environmentally conscious manner. A certified label will increase your guests’ trust in the eco-friendly focus of your hotel and make you more attractive than “normal” competitors without an ecotourism concept. At the same time, you will profit from the marketing and additional reach provided by the certificate – the homepage and member directories provide additional distribution channels.
Stay attractive to environmentally conscious guests
Research! Are there unusual museums, hidden hiking trails, a wildlife park or attractive bicycle routes near your location? Provide your guests with information about eco-friendly activities in your region.
- Which product is symbolic for your region – and is it maybe even exclusively available here? From local species of fish on your menu to homemade jam that your guests can take home as a present – obviously with your logo on the jar.
- Which partnerships are possible in your region? Reach out to other companies and profit from the collaboration – for instance through an association with other hoteliers, joint events and promotions or partnerships with local farmers.
- Let your guests participate in the social and ecological life in your region. Organize events, for instance sponsorship of animals or plants or support for the annual toad migration, where your guests can participate and collect the animals to carry them to the other side of the road.
Do good deeds and talk about them
Use guest reviews that talk positively about the eco-friendliness, the regional integration or the social and cultural engagement of your hotel. Spread relevant excerpts from the reviews through your social media channels, your homepage and via the newsletter. According to TripAdvisor, 93% of travellers use ratings to decide which hotel they will book – you should use this to your advantage!
The significance of social media for the tourism industry is increasing by the day. You should use these platforms as marketing channels for your green image. Use atmospheric and convincing images and post them on your Facebook and Instagram accounts (feel free to add an individual hashtag) as well as the rating portals. Encourage your guests to do the same. Your satisfied customers are thereby becoming influencers that will acquire new customers for you with their positive and authentic reviews.
It’s not just the significance of pictures, videos are becoming more relevant as well. Give your employees a voice and let them talk about their daily work – obviously always with a connection to your focus on ecotourism. This doesn’t require any professional equipment nor any special know-how: a smartphone and the hotel’s Instagram account are all you need to attract future guests through personal videos.
Invest in the environment and save money
It sounds so easy – and it really is!
That’s because ecotourism
- conserves resources
- reduces waste
- strengthens the local production
- reduces the traffic load
- protects the environment
- promotes the local economy and secures jobs
- harnesses the new, growing target group of eco-conscious tourists
- improves the guest experience
- offers new USPs and marketing opportunities
- saves money and thereby increases your company’s profit
By using intelligent ecotourism, you can make sustainable investments in your region, your environment and the local population – and thereby also in a successful hotel revenue management and increased revenue for your company.