How to close the sustainability say-do gap

There’s a gap between what travellers say and what they actually do in terms of booking sustainable trips. Contribute to closing this gap.
How to close the sustainability say-do gap as a tourism business

Opportunities and challenges in sustainable tourism

Last year, the World Economic Forum and Accenture launched a white paper providing an analysis of the opportunities and challenges of sustainable travel experiences. They pinned down the issue around sustainable travel behaviour and the say-do gap and researched how to overcome this gap.

In this article, we highlight their most important findings and provide practical tips how you, as a tour operator, can close the sustainability say-do gap and develop travel products your customers are looking for and want to experience.

Increasing demand for sustainable tourism

There is a growing group of sustainable travellers. Recent studies, surveys and reports show that travellers want to travel more sustainably and that they’re developing an intrinsic motivation to travel better. This behavioural change leads to an increasing demand for more sustainable travel options.

Research studies show that travellers are more aware of their footprint and negative impact, and that they’re looking for more sustainable travel options. The majority says they’re actively looking for environmentally friendly transport modes, green accommodations, and ways to contribute to local communities.

Important findings of sustainable travel behaviour

  • 90% of consumers look for sustainable options when travelling (Expedia)
  • 4 out of 5 global travellers confirm sustainable travel is important (Booking.com)
  • 40% want to make more sustainable choices compared to a year ago (Skyscanner)
  • 96% say it is important that their travel spend makes a positive impact in the places they visit (Kind Traveler)
  • 75% want to use environmentally friendly modes of transportation for future trips (Booking.com)

The sustainability say-do gap

But even though studies show a very positive change in sustainable travel behaviour, we don’t see these high numbers reflected in actual booking behaviour yet. When it comes down to making more sustainable choices during booking, many travellers show they have other priorities. Such as price, availability, and the overall experience.

In their whitepaper, the World Economic Forum and Accenture identified six main roadblocks they believe are holding travellers back. The gap between what travellers say they want, namely sustainable booking options, and what travellers do, being not booking a sustainable trip.

Illustration of the sustainability say-do gap in travel

Understand and overcome key roadblocks

There is a high willingness to opt for sustainable travel, but there are still too many roadblocks holding travellers back to actually book a sustainable trip. Luckily the white paper of the World Economic Forum and Accenture dives into these roadblocks for understanding and finding ways to overcome them.

Knowing what’s holding your customers back in booking your sustainable travel experiences is key. You can use these insights to make changes in your business and to develop products and services that convince travellers to book more sustainable experiences (with you!).

Roadblock 1: Limited availability

The main roadblock is the limited availability of sustainable travel experiences. Even though there is already a great offer out there, the majority of experiences are not necessarily sustainable. Travellers are influenced by the quality, comfort, and overall appeal of travel experiences. According to a Booking.com survey, 32% of global travellers claimed non-sustainable travel options appealed to them more.

How to overcome this roadblock?

This roadblock highlights the fact that travellers perceive a lack of comparable sustainable options. The main solution here is to develop more sustainable travel experiences. Experiences that meet the needs and expectations of your customers and that are appealing, but at the same time a sustainable choice.

Key elements to develop new travel experiences

Roadblock 2: Lack of awareness

Even though many travellers talk about sustainability, the exact understanding of the concept varies a lot. It has become such a buzz word, that often travellers are not fully aware what it entails and what it actually means for their travel experience. Sometimes they’re also convinced sustainability means lower quality or comfort. If it’s not clear to the traveller what sustainable travel experiences are, they won’t prioritise them.

How to overcome this roadblock?

The answer to combatting a lack of awareness among travellers is raising awareness. As a tour operator, educate your potential customers about your sustainable travel experiences. It’s important travellers understand what it means to travel sustainably, that they’re aware of the positive impact on people, planet and profit and the impact of their own choices.

Roadblock 3: Low credibility

With sustainability becoming a buzz word many businesses started using, it’s difficult to know which businesses are truly sustainable and which are using it for marketing purposes. Customers want to be reassured that sustainability claims are credible and verifiable. Often, they’re aware they don’t have the knowledge to research these claims themselves. They feel more comfortable booking with a tour operator that is certified.

How to overcome this roadblock?

Overall, it’s important to improve transparency and elaborate on what exactly you’re doing in terms of sustainability. Explain what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what this means for people, planet, and profit. Certification is also a great tool to improve transparency and to have third-party validation that your business is sustainable. For example, through Travelife for Tour Operators.

Roadblock 4: Price premium

Sustainable travel experiences are generally perceived to be more expensive than ‘normal’ travel experiences, even though this is not always the case. The willingness to pay more for sustainable travel experiences varies in terms of customer segment and very much depends on the type of experiences.

According to Skyscanner, “74% of consumers surveyed said it costs too much to be more sustainable when travelling, with only half willing to pay more for more sustainable transport, activities, and lodging.”

How to overcome this roadblock?

The price of travel experiences has and most likely will always stay one of the most important decision factors for booking trips. There are two main ways to overcome this roadblock. The first being a reduction of the experiences price to increase demand and improved brand image that compensates for profit-loss in the long run. Offering competitive pricing helps customers choose your business over non-sustainable competitors.

The second way is improving your value proposition. Highlight the benefits of your sustainable products and explain how it enhances the travel experience of the customer. When travellers understand how their trip has more value when it’s sustainable, helps improve their perception and willingness to pay more.

Roadblock 5: Cumbersome purchasing experience

When travellers are looking for sustainable travel experiences, they don’t want to go out of their way to research the sustainability of a travel experience. They want this information to be easily accessible and they want it to be easily written and understandable. Travellers find it important that sustainable experiences are labelled or highlighted as such, making it easier for them to make more sustainable choices.

How to overcome this roadblock?

Make information about the sustainability of your travel experiences easily accessible. However, mentioning your travel experiences are sustainable is not sufficient. Go into detail and explain what aspects make it sustainable and how this benefit local communities or the environment. Thereby, provide a frictionless booking experience and focussing on a strong customer experience is key.

Roadblock 6: Lack of rewards

Travellers are looking for confirmation and rewards to feel supported in having made a sustainable travel choice. They are looking for ways to make their own efforts more visible and rewards to encourage them to continue doing this. Travellers are also interested in sharing their sustainable trips on social media but often don’t know how to approach this.

How to overcome this roadblock?

Start rewarding travellers that have made sustainable choices with a certain incentive. This can be a discount code, loyalty points or a thank you card. Make their sustainable choice tangible and share how the traveller has contributed to a local community or nature protection project with their trip. Also provide travellers with options to display and share their sustainable choices on social media, following the principle “do good and talk about it”. This also increases general customer awareness and improve your brand image.

What else can you do?

Besides focussing on overcoming the identified roadblocks, there are many more ways to implement in your business to close the gap. When it comes to being a good tour operator, it’s all about being consistent and ensuring sustainability is embedded throughout your organisation.

In order to attract customers looking for sustainable travel, your business has to be in it for genuine reasons. Customers easily recognise businesses who are not authentic in creating positive impact. Implement the tips from this article to increase the demand for your travel experiences, to focus on sustainable growth and to improve your brand image successfully.

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Discover 6 proven paths to best-selling sustainable travel experiences.