Consumers expect the goods and services which they purchase from producers and suppliers to be fit for purpose, to be safe and not to jeopardise their health, and to have all the qualities and characteristics that were claimed when they purchased them. Responsible tourism is the responsibility and trust agenda for the travel and tourism sector.
When Marks & Spencer, the quintessentially British High Street chain, was in commercial difficulties they improved the style and quality of the goods they sold, the ensured that they became more price competitive and they made sustainability a core part of their competitive advantage. They did not make the mistake of thinking that the consumer would want to pay more for something which was sustainably produced – they understood that the product needed to be competitive – quality, style, price and sustainability were all a part of their customers’ trust and expectations.
The tourism sector does not pay sufficient attention to what is happening in other consumer sectors. The idea that consumers will pay more for a sustainable product is part of the poisonous legacy of ecotourism, yet there was never any evidence for it. As Jane Ashton, then with First Choice, said in a newspaper interview back in 2006 “‘The product we sell is the people and environment – so we have an obvious interest in protecting them.” She went on: “‘We’re not experiencing a huge demand from the average consumer, but we do believe that awareness is increasing, and in a few years’ time we will have needed to have integrated these principles into our supply chain.” Jane is now Head of Sustainable Development at TUI Travel PLC and has she said recently on film TUI Travel’s “vision is to make travel experiences special with a firm commitment to sustainability.” Note that the objective is to make the travel experience special. Johan Lundgren, the Deputy Chief Executive and the PLC Board sponsor for sustainable development reports that TUI’s own customer research wants:
“The reassurance of knowing that their holiday’s impact on the environment and destination communities is being actively managed by us, their tour operator. We strive to do so in a way that involves our customers, reinforcing their expectations of a high commitment to sustainability from our brands.”
Sustainability is one element of the product being sold. Consumers do not make one dimensional decisions, and they look at the product in the round. Smart companies are engaging with their consumers, reassuring them about sustainability, recognising that consumers want to trust that they do not need to feel uneasy or guilty about the impact of their holiday. Just like most shoppers in the UK do not want to buy eggs form battery hens.
Recent global research by Nielsen found that consumer sentiment toward socially responsible companies is growing. In the year-and-a-half since Nielsen published its “Global, Socially Conscious Consumer” report, the percentage of global consumers willing to reward companies that give back to society grew by 5% —increasing to 50% from 45%. As TUI Travel has recognised the market increasingly demand responsible products.
Laurie Demeritt reports in an article on GreenBiz no matter whether consumer can define sustainability when researching consumers: “we find that they often point to words and phrases that reference the greater good. Recurring terms such as “responsibility” and “doing the right thing” emerged from interviews as ways consumers describe achieving the greater good and linking economic, social and environmental issues important to them. Thus we find that sustainability is reflected at the consumer level in myriad behaviors, from purchases and non-purchases to voting and volunteerism.”
Consumers aspire to be responsible – those producers and suppliers who they trust to help then to achieve these aspirations alongside their other travel aspirations are likely to be more successful in a fast evolving market place.
As part of the WTM Responsible Tourism Programme we have a panel on communicating responsibility:
Communicating Responsible Tourism: Securing Market Advantage
Tuesday 5th November 15:00 – 16:00 South Gallery SG19+20
Four practitioners will talk about how they have used their Responsible Tourism ethos to benefit their business – learn about how to use Responsible Tourism to enhance product quality, improve the destination experience, secure marketing advantage and win repeats and referrals. How does the Responsible Tourism agenda enable you to differentiate your product and secure attention? What does it have to learn from other sectors?
Chair Justin Francis CEO ResponsibleTravel.com Ltd
Jo Baddeley, Sustainable Destinations Manager, Thomas Cook UK & Ireland
Xavier Font, Respondeco & ICRETH, Leeds Metropolitan University
Sarah Holloway, sustainability communications consultant
Gail Ward, Responsible Photography Holidays