Where do I tell?

Where can you integrate sustainability to communicate quality?

a young couple standing under a tree staring into the distanceContents

  1. Certification and awards
  2. Online and offline press
  3. Your website
  4. Social media
  5. Online distribution channels

 

Certification and awards

Certification has helped you to improve your management. Now use it for marketing.

Companies get certified or apply for awards partly to gain a marketing advantage, in the expectation that being certified lifts them above some of their competitors - and yet they report that customer awareness is low.

How you use your logos is key. It’s your role to know how and where to display them, and more importantly what they mean and why you gained them.

Gaining awards gives customers an independent guarantee of your credentials. It helps with quality assurance and credibility. Now you have the independent recognition of your sustainability performance, you should explain what you do with confidence.

VisitEngland validates those schemes which support, assess and market businesses to a high sustainability standard. 

For business hotels, certification is now a requirement to tender.

In the corporate travel market, certification is essential in demonstrating compliance with buyer requirements, as both buyers and suppliers will find it less time consuming.

Increasingly requests for Proposals (RfP) ask for evidence of independent third party certification, as well as asking specific questions on environmental and social performance.

Do you communicate your sustainability logos, and more importantly communicate with pride what you did to achieve them?

Here are some places where customers would expect you to communicate your sustainability credentials:

  • in your tendering process
  • in the reception/entrance
  • in your bedroom pack (if accommodation)
  • on your website
  • on promotional leaflets and printed literature
  • in your public relations work
  • in adverts.

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Case study: certification helps sell

All our hotels are certified to reassure blue chip buyers.

Sean Twohig is Risk Safety & Environment Manager at Jury’s Inns Group Ltd.

What we do: Much of our business comes from companies that require evidence of sustainability certification and individual practices such as our carbon emissions and fair trade purchasing, as part of their RfP. So we have integrated our environmental management system with the requirements from our marketing department to respond to these.

How we tell: Over the years we have developed a set of answers to the typical RfP questions that need to be answered every year, for every company. So these are now integrated into our own management systems. All our 25 hotels in England are Green Tourism Business Scheme certified, and this gives the base to be able to gather the data that these blue chip companies demand.

Certification helps us focus on the management of our data, to gather information systematically, but also in our communications to potential clients.

Certification helps because many of the RfP questions focus on our monitoring, transparency and reporting. We believe that certification gives us an edge on these RfP, although we don’t get to find out the relative importance it has to the final purchasing decision.

Our top tip: use certification to reassure your business market buyers that the data you provide in RfP is audited, and to systematically gather internal data.

Online and offline press

You need to do something quirky and unheard of to get in the press

The travel sections of newspapers and travel bloggers need fresh, quirky stories to inspire their readers. Newspapers will cover a broader range of issues, while bloggers tend to specialise in types of holidays, particularly specific destinations or lifestyle interests for a specific type of customer. They both rely on the credibility of their content - readers do not like to feel that they are being fed an advertorial. But blogging has a more personal voice than print journalism - followers need to relate to the blogger’s experiences and trust their judgement.

Travel editors and bloggers get bombarded with very similar mailings from companies claiming to be sustainable. Their question: “What makes you different, in a way that my customers will want to read about you?”

Press coverage you’ve achieved should not be lost - make links to it from your website, say in your mailings that you have been highlighted, use quotes from the write up to show your positive side. Even if it is old, there’s a value to it.

Add a tab to your website called “our recognition” where you gather certifications, awards and press coverage - put the new one on top, and keep all the previous coverage lower down. All of it reinforces the fact that you are a company that can be trusted.

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Case study: new, quirky, inspiring

I write human stories my followers can relate to.

Kathryn Burrington, blogger at http://travelwithkat.com.

What we do: I write for the 40+ year old, affluent market. I respond positively to offers to blog about locations and businesses that have an edge. It is difficult to explain what this is, as it varies from place to place.

How I tell: I write stories that are new - I was one of the first bloggers to write about privately-run food tours of the East End, where you learn about the culture and history as well as tasting some fabulous food - but if a lot of other bloggers had already written about it, I would not have been so keen to cover it.

Food stories about local produce and solo travel work particularly well for my audience - other bloggers will find adrenaline stories are their thing - each blogger has their own specialist area. In general my most successful stories talk about making connections with the people you come across in your travels and getting to see the real, authentic side of the places you visit.

a pretty Cotswolds village with stone buildings

I really like to share the stories of small business start-ups, where I can show the owners for who they are. My blog ‘The Secret Cottage Tour’ of the Cotswolds is a good example of what I think the mainstream market is ready to enjoy as sustainable tourism products.

You guessed it, I’m unlikely to talk about your sustainability policy or water saving devices, unless you’ve found a way of making them fun. A compost toilet while glamping was unusual once.

My top tip: It’s called news for a reason: tourists love to be able to do something unheard of and unusual, but also within their reach.

Your website

Here’s an opportunity to share more than a policy and a list of practices

Having a sustainability page that only shows a list of sustainable practices is a missed opportunity. What you do is far more interesting than that!

Businesses typically have all their achievements on a single page, with an inspired title like “sustainability” or “environment”. Mostly these are dull lists of water, waste, and energy actions, written in management speak – this is fine for the environmental auditor.

But customers are hardly going to pick up the phone because they’ve read that you “minimise waste by evaluating operations and ensuring they are fit for purpose”.

By all means upload your policy and list your achievements somewhere, but in general you won’t get many customers visiting it. There are of course exceptions, but you need to get more creative.

Apply instead the same principles of how you currently communicate quality in your website, and think which aspects of sustainability your customers will value, and how you can put them across throughout the website to reinforce your quality message.

Your messages should start with the customer benefit, and finish with the reason. You can describe:

  • a quieter and warmer bedroom (because it is better insulated and uses biomass fuelled heating)
  • a tastier menu (because of carefully selected, locally sourced and organic ingredients)
  • a more personally and uniquely designed hotel (decorated with local crafts and giving a sense of place)

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Case study: accommodation: forget the bed

Things to do matter the most.

David and Felicity Brown are the owners of Hoe Grange Holidays, Derbyshire, Peak District.

What we do: While our overall slogan is environmentally sensitive self-catering holidays, we have divided our website according to the needs of different markets.

How we tell: We tell people what to do that is fun, according to their needs. Our website is more effective by quickly directing people to what’s there specifically for them. Families want to know about things to do, so we communicate about footpaths for circular walks, wholesome food, quirky places to visit, contributing to feed the animals, family days out and rainy days out.

The accessible market demands evidence of just how accessible we are. So we put emphasis on comfort for everyone for those with limited mobility, hearing loss or partial sight, such as being able to bring your own guide dogs, the ratings for accessibility and equipment available. We then give peace of mind with our accessibility awards, before moving on to what

view of Stanage Edge in the Peak District

all this security allows you to do with your time such as using our amazing Boma 7 off-road wheelchair.

We have done the same for bring your own horse and pet friendly holidays. After spending time understanding what those visitors enjoy doing, we have made sure we provide the facilities these animals need, and then found out all the fun things they can do nearby with their favourite four-legged friends.

Our top tip: Instead of showing pictures of empty rooms on your website, tell your customers what they can do while staying with you.

Social media

Get seen by new customers and remembered by old ones

Social media gives you endless possibilities, but you need to know where to spend your time. The choices are eye watering: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, Stumpbleupon, Pinterest, Instagram… each has a different purpose, and maintaining them all could be a full time job. So be selective.

The good news is, most social media sites are free, and your local tourism partnership is likely to run, or know about, training available in your area.

If you have something interesting to say and you are internet savvy, you will develop a group of followers.

Social media are channels - sustainability is the content. Conservation and community messages provide you with content to share with customers.

Talk about forthcoming events, not something in the past - otherwise you simply tell customers what they missed. You will need to use last year’s photos to announce what’s coming this time around.

Messages must be short and light-hearted. You need positive messages that customers feel compelled to like or share - moralising messages get ignored. Funny messages work best, as well as those your target market identifies with.

Give customers incentives to become your friend on Facebook or upload their own photos about your property - whether there is free wifi, a free coffee or entering into a prize draw for example.

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Case study: keep expanding the market

We use social media to keep in touch and attract followers and customers.

Kayleigh Baddeley-Read is owner of Deerly Beloved Bakery in Norwich, Norfolk, a vegan bakery specialising in cakes and pastries.

What we do: We adore baking and experimenting to make delicious, cruelty-free, vegan treats. We only use real, wholesome fair-trade and 100% vegan ingredients.

How we tell: We love to share with people through social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our blog. Besides posting a photo of our wholemeal cake just baked, we also share photos and comments of when we join local events and show proudly our products, talk to people face-to-face about how vegan wholefoods taste good, while supporting healthy life styles.

This makes people who just met us, either at events or social media followers, get excited and try new recipes.

We also share photos of our press coverage such as when The Norwich Resident magazine wrote an article

view of colourful buildings next to a river in Norwich

about us and we showed it on our blog with a comment inviting locals and tourists to come, see and feel for themselves the benefits of eating healthy.

We also post practical videos to show recipes with seasonal ingredients, so people can eat healthier, get creative and bake from home.

Our top tip: Social media can be intimidating at first, but think about it as a dynamic tool that is there for you. Use it to increase your market to attract, share and have fun keeping in touch with followers who might become customers and customers who might become followers!

a path in a cottage garden leading to a covered bench areaOnline distribution channels

Get others to do your selling.

Direct selling may seem more profitable if you have a high turnover, but paying a commission for someone else to do your selling can have its advantages.

The internet has allowed a new breed of distribution channels. Mainstream online travel agents such as Expedia, Travelocity and Booking.com are showing more interest in differentiating the unique characteristics of accommodation and the carbon impacts of travel. So far there is no evidence on how displaying your sustainability credentials on these channels impacts on your sales. For these large agencies, the number of currently certified products is too small to make any difference, and certification isn’t a differentiating factor.

TripAdvisor has developed GreenLeaders, a programme that aims to help travellers plan greener trips by highlighting accommodation businesses that engage in environmentally-friendly practices. Each award is shown prominently on the property’s listing on TripAdvisor. Travellers are prompted to comment online on the green practices they experience during their stay. The number of properties is growing, but the impact this has on customer ratings or bookings is currently unknown.

Online bookings now account for 45% of total travel sales in Europe, and much of the rest is business travel handled by specialist corporate-travel agents, according to PhoCusWright.

Because the bigger online travel agents can sign-up more hotels and negotiate bigger discounts, the small specialists need to find more customised products. Specialising in more sustainable products is an option: responsibletravel.com and greentraveller.co.uk focus on the unique products and experiences. Alternatively fairbookinguk.com emphasises that everything the client pays goes straight to the businesses that provide your experience, who in turn support other local businesses and the destination.

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Case study: facilitate bookings

We make it easier to travel sustainably.

Lonneke de Kort is Manager at Bookdifferent, a non-profit organisation running an online booking system for accommodation.

What we do: We are a booking engine that helps all customers choose hotels based on sustainability information, from more than 600,000 hotels available. Our philosophy is that the more often you choose green accommodation, the more incentive other hotels have to go green too. Our site has great customer loyalty and excellent media reviews.

How we tell: When you search for a hotel, you come up with three bits of information that should help you make an informed booking:

1. For every destination, the booking engine first shows you the environmentally-certified hotels. The portal uses data from certification schemes to highlight first in the search engine the more environmentally-friendly accommodation in each destination (over 650 in the UK, nearly 6,000 across the world, from the 600,000 in the database).

2. All hotels have a carbon footprint value, independently assessed based on comparative data.

3. Bookdifferent has the past customer comments and lowest price guarantee that come by being powered by booking.com. In addition, Bookdifferent gives a large proportion of its’ profits to charity - which charity is entirely up to the customer (from the 100 chosen so far). This increases the customer’s feel good factor about travelling, without adding to their price.

Our top tip: Find ways for your customers to have fun while helping out at the same. Don’t overcomplicate the message - less is more.