July 16, 2020

On 15th July, ABTA held a virtual webinar around the “Consumer Attitudes Towards Sustainability Post Covid-19” with a range of expert speakers giving their insight into the topic.

Panelists included Clare Jenkinson the Head of Sustainability ABTA, Sarah Long, Partner at Finn Partners, Stuart Baker from GlobalWebIndex, Borbala Jandrasics from the Hungarian Tourism Agency and Hugh Felton Senior Sustainable Tourism Executive at ABTA. The webinar gave in-depth insights into how consumers are now thinking about sustainability post-COVID-19, and how brands can react and reshape their business to be more sustainable.

Here we recap some of the key themes and insights from the session:

Rethinking tourism

The pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way that consumers think about tourism, with 48% saying that the pandemic has made them more concerned about the environment and 40% are more determined than ever to make sustainable travel choices. Destinations are also rethinking tourism, examples include New Zealand who are using lockdown to create a more sustainable destination, Milan who have created new cycle paths in the city and the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl who are moving away from their party reputation. Now is the time to reset, and COVID-19 has provided a sense of urgency to do this like never before. COVID-19 have shown us that travel was not only an entitlement, it was a luxury that we would have to treasure in future times.

Defining sustainability

A key part of the conversation around sustainability is defining what the word “sustainability” means, what it actually means to travellers, and how it may differ to each person and demographic. What sustainability means is very personal, and brands who can connect these definitions will reap the benefits. For some, sustainability is environmental, for others it is about the social and community impacts of visiting a destination, and for some it is both. At the moment there is a trend towards the social and community side of sustainability - these aspects are resonating more with consumers who want to leave a positive impact on the local people and economy of a destination. Brands need to communicate what sustainability means to their target markets, weave this into their communication plans and demonstrate tangible ways they are becoming more sustainable. It is important to have an umbrella view in your communications strategy  – different facets will trend at various points but it is crucial to not just focus on one area and take a holistic approach. James Thornton of Intrepid Travel defines sustainability as “balancing profit, people and the planet – meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.  

Sustainability and age

Sustainability differs by demographic, not only in the meaning of the word but also its importance. Research has shown that 64% of consumers think it is important that brands behave more sustainably and when broken down into age groups, Gen Z felt its importance the most at 80%. For the 18 to 34 age group, there is general expectation that brands behave sustainably, whilst for the 54 to 64 age bracket it isn’t so much on their radar. There is also difference in the meaning of the word for different age groups and older generations do not connect in the same way to term sustainable tourism.

What can brands do to communicate their sustainability story

The first thing a travel brand can do is review the business and do a product audit of sustainability policies, initiatives, products, see where there are accreditations in place or work towards accreditation i.e. ABTA Travelife, B Corp etc, and work out what their aspirations are to do better. Brands need to ensure that their products and experiences convey a sense of place – do products reflect the culture and community that they operate in? Once these aspects have been looked it, then it is time to review the existing plan and ensure that the sustainability message is woven through the entire plan, maximising the opportunity to promote your stories through all existing  tactics e.g. press trips, pitching, events. Every press trip should have a green sustainability thread running through it, and events need to reflect the brand ethos, whether that’s locally sourced food, recycled materials or no single use plastic. COVID-19 has become a hook, and if a business has evolved or implemented a new sustainable strategy post COVID-19, that is a great hook. It is also important to designate a spokesperson for the brand who can be a passionate and authentic voice. A storytelling strategy is crucial to inspire and inform consumers and in turn drive bookings, and COVID-19 is a story that we are all united in. Ensure the sustainable story is interesting with detail and local personality and most importantly; be honest, be true, be transparent and be authentic.

Leaders of the pack

There are a number of travel brands who are leading the way and have put fantastic sustainable tourism product and initiatives in place already. The Hungarian Tourism Agency for example has launched the Kisfaludy Tourism Development Programme for smaller businesses, a fund for accommodation with up to 8 rooms who can receive up to £20,000 per hotel to improve energy efficiency, standard of service, capacity, operational efficiency, decrease seasonality and create jobs. Other sustainable product examples in Hungary include the Vali Vineyard, a sustainable winery producing organic wine using a local workforce, as well as providing mentoring and employment to trainees, and Matyondesigh a business that offers work opportunities to local elderly women and offers tours for tourists to experience the Matyo culture and learn to sew. Intrepid Travel recently launched Intrepid Retreats where all trips are 100% carbon offset and embody the spirit of working with communities and providing authentic experiences. Other initiatives include Intrepid’ s Earth Project, the Jordan Tourism Board’s Meaningful Map and Promote Iceland’s “The Icelandic Pledge” which encourages tourists to explore the destination responsibly.

At Brighter, sustainability is a top priority for us and we have a Global Tourism Responsibility Division, designed to provide strategic guidance and viable solutions to support the global travel industry’s urgent need to develop a robust sustainable tourism strategy. We believe the sustainability conversation has taken on a new and urgent direction as a result of COVID-19 and we were delighted to take part in this important webinar hosted by ABTA.  


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