The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) defines sustainable tourism as: “tourism that meets the needs of present tourists and host regions, while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future.” In other words, if you're a sustainable business you have a high level of customer satisfaction whilst mitigating your impact on the environment.
Being sustainable does not necessarily require large investments – there are many small things you can do to be more sustainable and develop what you offer customers.
Use our Green Start tool to draw up an easy-to-follow action plan, be inspired by our case studies and pick up practical tips in our good practice guides. If you're already a sustainable business, explore our Keep it Real Toolkit (PDF, 3MB) to gain useful tips on how to market your green credentials to your customers.
Why be a sustainable business?
A growing market
Consumer understanding of sustainability is growing rapidly. A research study of 14,000 people across seven countries by TNS Global shows 95% of people say protecting the environment is important to them personally, while the number of people purchasing environmentally-friendly products more than doubled between December 2007 and December 2012.
The same study states that 70% of people surveyed in the UK would like more information on the environmental friendliness of brands – customers want to know what businesses are doing to be more sustainable.
As well as being better for the physical, social and economic environment, being sustainable makes good business sense. Being more sustainable can help you to:
Save money and reduce business risk
- Being more efficient will save costs and improve your profit margins – most tourism businesses can save water, waste and energy costs by at least 10%
- Greater sustainability means you're more prepared for the unexpected, such as energy price rises
- Taking a more environmentally-aware approach will help reduce your staff turnover by attracting loyal staff who believe in the integrity of your business
Improve your customer experience
- Being part of an authentic destination can enhance your customer experience – a sense of place and engaging in the local culture or eating local produce is important to many visitors
- Showing visitors that you care about the local community as well as your profits demonstrates your commitment to customer service
- Improving your visitors’ ‘feel-good’ factor will help you gain higher customer satisfaction levels
Support your local economy
- Building relationships with local suppliers will improve the quality of your offering, provide your visitors with an authentic experience and support the local economy as a whole through increased demand and jobs
- Local residents benefit from sustainable tourism because it leads to a growing sense of place, increase in local pride and support for your business
- Investment in your local community can raise the attractiveness of your destination to visitors, leading to a positive cycle of growth
Stand out from your competitors
- Accessing an increasing market of customers looking for more sustainable experiences could boost your footfall
- Holding an independently-awarded certification of your sustainability demonstrates your authentic green credentials
- Over half of people surveyed in 2010 would choose a hotel supplying local food or one with a Green award if two hotels were otherwise equal*.
* research carried out by ArkLeisure Segments for VisitEngland, February 2010
Green Start tool
Our Green Start tool can help you to create a sustainability action plan for your business.
Completely free to all tourism businesses in England, Green Start acts as a training tool for all operators interested in making their business more sustainable. It'll help you review your business as a whole, along with your current green credentials, as well as providing information and support on how to develop a sustainability programme that suits you.
Your easy-to-follow action plan will help you fit sustainability into your everyday business activities. It can also be used to support an application for sustainable tourism certification.
Green Start is hosted on the Better Tourism website, where you can access more resources and information to help develop your sustainability.
Promoting your sustainability
Our Keep it Real Toolkit (PDF 3MB) can help you to effectively market your green credentials. Top tips include sharing the outcomes of your actions (‘since 2014, we’ve saved enough electricity to…’), promoting local suppliers and using customers’ sense of nostalgia to your advantage.
Sustainable tourism certification
Green certification schemes need to be rigorous to count. Which is why we've evaluated a number of schemes to ensure they assess businesses to a high standard and only promote those who are truly sustainable. Alongside expert advice and insight as you complete the assessment, if your business exceeds the minimum criteria you'll be awarded with a logo and certificate which can be used in all marketing and promotional activity. Find out more about sustainable tourism certification.
Rural Tourism Business Toolkit
The Rural Tourism Business Toolkit is a series of easy-to-follow guides to help new and existing tourism operators make the most of their offering and develop robust business processes. It's designed to help you with business evaluation, market identification and effective communication and marketing, as well as inspire you to create great visitor experiences.
Although the modules are aimed at rural tourism businesses, non-rural operators will also find some relevant information on topics such as sustainability and marketing.
The Toolkit has been created as part of the COOL Tourism Project by the COOL Partnership and tourism development charity Hidden Britain.
- How to write an effective business plan
- Analysing your business in order to maximise its potential
- Understanding your customer base
- Developing your brand
- Producing a marketing plan
- Creating messages which target your audience effectively
- An overview of social media tools
- Producing enewsletters and press releases
- How to get the most out of networking and trade events
- Working with other businesses for mutual benefit
- Making the most of your local area to attract visitors
- How to incorporate your destination into your visitor experience
- Tips on producing engaging local itineraries
Saving money & sustainability:
- Ideas on how to address seasonality
- Tips on making savings on energy, waste and water
- How to calculate your carbon emissions
- Understanding your team’s skills and potential for growth