Sustainability Communications for Tourism and Travel

The importance of communication in tourism and sustainability, plus 8 tips

Published May 10, 2023

The power of effective communication in your sustainable tourism strategy

If your travel business or destination is committed to becoming more sustainable and responsible, the importance of communication in tourism and sustainability cannot be underestimated. Sustainable travel is continuing to gain traction as travellers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that tourism can have on a destination. To attract visitors who prioritise sustainability and earth care practices, we need to find meaningful ways to tell our sustainability stories so that they resonate with travellers and inspire them to act.

Unlocking the power of your sustainability story

Effective sustainability communications are essential in order to showcase your organisation’s dedication to responsible travel and tourism. Sharing your unique, authentic brand story that aligns with the values of conscious travellers will help promote socially responsible travel while celebrating the positive impacts of your sustainability efforts.  

Whatever stage your organisation is at on the journey towards sustainability, communicating exactly what your business or destination is doing in a way that visitors can respond to and be motivated to learn more is vital. 

Here, we explore the importance of clearly communicating sustainability in tourism, and provide practical tips for tourism business owners and destination marketing managers to skilfully communicate their sustainability story in order to attract and inspire travellers who share the same values.

From eco-conscious to eco-confused: Why sustainable travel needs better communication

A few short years ago, convincing people that sustainability should be important to them was challenging. While they may have agreed with its principles, many saw sustainable tourism as being more expensive and only relevant to the extremely eco-conscious. In more recent times, numerous reports and research data shows how the rise of sustainability influences our decision making when we travel, from research and planning right through to the booking and experiencing stages of the travel journey. A Tourism Australia report indicated that *more than 75% of travellers are committed to sustainability in some way. It goes on to say that “sustainability is increasingly influencing traveller choices in terms of where to go, how to get there, where to stay and which experiences they engage with at the destination. However, it is not always easy for travellers to recognise sustainable options”.

Sustainable and responsible travel: The way of the future

Visitors are now seeking out more meaningful and authentic experiences and they want to book them with travel providers who share their values. But unfortunately, it isn’t always easy for them to validate a business as sustainable or responsible.  

Geoff Manchester, Co-Founder and Director of Intrepid Travel, shares “in this post-COVID era, travellers are looking to businesses that actually implement sustainable tourism practices. For travel companies, having sustainability policies and showing how they are implemented is advantageous in attracting the right sort of customer”.

Here are four other reasons why travellers need clearer communication about sustainability in tourism:

Greenwashing is a consumer nightmare

‘Greenwashing’ describes the intentional misrepresentation of an organisation, product or service as sustainable in order to take advantage of consumer trust. This often happens to leverage marketing campaigns that position a brand as authentic, trustworthy and committed to sustainability when this is not actually the case in reality.  

Travellers are cautious about tourism and travel greenwashing and need more to convince them than just a social media post or a verification logo simply stating that a business is sustainable. They want to understand how, why, when and what sustainability efforts the organisation is making—with examples of what these look like in practice and what they mean for the people living in a destination, the places they visit and the planet. They also need to be able to visualise the contribution they can expect to make, and positive experiences they can envisage having with your organisation. If they do decide to choose your brand, they expect the sustainability claims they have seen in your marketing messages to be fulfilled.  

Words mean different things to different people

Words like ‘sustainable’, ‘eco’, ‘responsible’ and ‘regenerative’ mean different things to different people and don’t describe how your business is making an impact in enough detail to influence or change the reader’s behaviour. Using these terms in isolation won’t help people to make an informed decision or give them a reason to choose your services over those of your competitors. 

Guests looking for more responsible options are much more likely to respond favourably when you describe the impact your business is having, instead of simply stating that your business is sustainable. Sharing stories about the effects of your actions creates a positive connection with your brand and helps people to visualise their personal contribution if they choose to book with you.

Lack of visibility and publicised measurement

Visitors struggle to identify whether a business is legitimately sustainable and what this means for them, the community and the environment in their host destination.   

This often happens because the impacts of sustainability practices generally aren’t communicated well. These efforts can’t always be seen at first glance, and measurement results are rarely publicised. This can include information such as overall energy consumption per guest, how and from where produce is sourced, and policies relating to staff. 

There are also several global accreditation programs that aren’t well-known to tourists travelling internationally. Visitors don’t know where to look to validate an organisation or destination as sustainable, nor is it clear what verification criteria are applied from one accreditor to another. 

It is therefore crucial for individual organisations and destinations to make it easy for travellers to understand the impact their businesses are making, using storytelling and real life examples that make sense to people from all walks of life.

Travellers won’t choose better until they know better

When given the option to choose a company that invests in helping the local community whilst offering authentic tourism experiences that benefit the local economy and natural spaces, people are more likely to choose one that communicates these efforts clearly and in measurable terms. When developing any successful sustainable communications strategy or content strategy for tourism and travel, it’s important to take the time to speak with your existing customers so you can find out what motivated them to choose your organisation. You may be surprised by the number of examples they give that relate to your sustainability work, but quite often they will not see the direct links to your sustainability practices. Once you have these insights, you can integrate messaging that will resonate with more of the same type of customers into your marketing and comms plan, whilst weaving in your stories of impact.

8 tips and sustainable communication examples to help tell your sustainability stories

If attracting more of the right visitors and tourists is important to you, the way you write and share your brand’s story directly influences the way consumers respond to what you say.
Although many tourism professionals are committed to sustainable practices, effectively communicating these efforts to travellers in a way that they can easily understand them is often a challenge. Here are eight sustainable communication examples with tips to help you successfully communicate your sustainability practices, whilst engaging your audience and inspiring them to choose your brand or destination. 

Steer clear of words such as ‘sustainable,’ ‘eco,’ ‘responsible,’ and ‘regenerative’ in your marketing messages entirely. These terms can be interpreted differently by different people, and do not provide a clear enough description of your activities to influence customer behavior. 

Travellers are more likely to connect with your brand through a story that explains the benefits of your sustainability efforts, rather than just seeing the word ‘sustainable’.

An effective way to promote your organisation’s sustainable practices is to share specific examples or statistics that demonstrate the tangible impact of your business practices. For instance, instead of stating ‘our hotel rooms are water efficient,’ share a story that shows how many litres of water per room your guests helped you save, and what this means for your region, the local community and the environment.

By showcasing the specific results of your sustainability efforts rather than just listing each action, you create a favourable connection with your brand and help guests understand how they can make a positive contribution to the world simply by choosing your business.

When we work in sustainability and tourism, we often forget that the language and terminology we use with our peers and other tourism industry professionals is very different to the language that our customers understand and relate to.  

While you may often use an academic or professional tone to explain your sustainability practices internally, consider conveying this in a simpler, more accessible and engaging way when speaking with guests, both in person and in your written communications. 

A great way to achieve this is through storytelling. Describe experiences using a conversational tone and in less formal language that appeals to a broader audience of travellers. Combine this with real-life examples and images of the people and places that your organisation has worked with and helped in some way in a storytelling format to better illustrate your efforts in action.

Avoid industry jargon, slang and long words that your readers may not understand. Write clearly and use compelling language and images to inspire the reader to learn more about your destination or experience. When you write, take your readers on a journey to help them imagine already staying in your hotel, experiencing one of your tours or driving through your region. Re-emphasise this by explaining the added benefits and advantages of choosing the more sustainable option you are offering—without saying it’s sustainable, of course, as it’s best to focus on the impact.

A combination of written, audio and visual content, is the best way to connect with a variety of audiences who absorb information in different ways. Capture their attention and get creative with your storytelling by using these different types of content to engage with readers in different ways.  

Use blog posts and case studies to share information about your organisation’s partnerships, impacts and sustainability projects in a more personalised way. Social media can also help you reach a wider audience and promote your sustainable practices through images, videos, and short, easily accessible messages. 

The way you visually showcase your brand can influence the viewer’s emotions and inform decision making. Original videos and photos specifically styled for your brand can be used to present your sustainable practices in dynamic, engaging and more memorable ways. 

Infographics are also an effective way to present complex information about sustainable tourism in a simple and easy-to-understand format. They are shareable and can be included within blog articles and social media posts.

By using a combination of these content types, you can effectively communicate the benefits of sustainable tourism whilst sharing your brand story and how your sustainability efforts support everyone involved. 

Engaging customers in sustainable travel activities during their trip will help them understand the importance of travelling more sustainably, while enhancing their travel experience. By showing them how to adopt sustainable habits whilst capturing behind the scenes content, you can show how your guests contribute to sustainability for your future marketing purposes.  

Make it easy for your guests to directly promote your sustainability efforts by providing them with hashtags and social media profile tags, which they can be encouraged to use in their own posts and stories! 

Your ultimate goal should be to inspire your customers to learn how to make sustainable choices during their trips to create an ongoing ripple effect that leads to more responsible tourism practices across the tourism sector.

As a tourism professional, it’s important to remember that travellers are seeking out authentic experiences that allow them to connect with a destination in meaningful ways. To leverage this knowledge, include messages that build a deep connection with place as a content pillar in your communications strategy. This will result in a more emotive and in-depth response to the destination through your marketing efforts and storytelling. 

Sharing information about a destination’s environmental, societal, and economic challenges also helps visitors to understand how your sustainability efforts contribute to solving them.  

For example, addressing economic leakage is vitally important to promote sustainable tourism and build strong connections with the local community. By highlighting this, you can describe the impact your organisation is creating by choosing to work with local partners, suppliers, farmers and transport companies. You can also explain exactly what keeping tourism dollars within the local community means for local businesses. 

When you offer tourism experiences that reflect a destination’s heritage and cultural significance, use your marketing communications to also educate guests about First Nations people, traditions and culture. This helps visitors to develop a deep respect for and a true appreciation of the destination and its people, while enhancing their experience.

More than just a badge in the footer of a website, an eco or sustainability label confirms that your organisation has been vetted by an external accreditor who deems your business to be sustainable.  

Although many travel providers, hotels and destinations undertake significant amounts of work to be independently verified as sustainable or eco-conscious, they struggle with communicating what this means and how it impacts the destination, the local community and the environment, as well as the many benefits for guests. 

Once verified, many organisations fail to share information about their sustainability credentials publicly—a huge missed opportunity to attract new customers who care about sustainability! Having verification and a communication strategy to effectively promote your sustainability efforts will give you a big advantage. A good communications strategy and targeted copywriting will make it easy for guests to differentiate your business from that of your competitors. 

Transparency about how your organisation is contributing to a more sustainable future isn’t always communicated, even if your efforts and their results are clearly articulated in your business planning and reporting documentation. But being transparent about what your practices have achieved can make the difference between potential new clients choosing what you have to offer, or going elsewhere.  

While undertaking sometimes rigorous processes required to attain sustainability accreditation, verification or certification, organisations often review and update their business model and business practices to strengthen their commitment to more sustainable outcomes. However, while these changes often result in significant flow-on effects for guests, employees, local communities, local service providers, local economies, local culture preservation and environmental conservation, they are not always communicated to potential customers. Summarising this information into clear and easily understandable marketing messages means possible new clients are left in no doubt as to what you have achieved and what you plan to achieve.

By publishing and regularly updating information that clearly communicates your sustainability practices, targets and achievements, you build trust and credibility in your brand and offer potential new customers insight into your mission, vision and values. When your targets aren’t met, use this as an opportunity to share insights into what happened and how your business is planning to achieve them in the coming 12 months. People appreciate transparency and honesty, so this will work in your favour.

With such a high percentage of travellers now seeking out values-aligned organisations, easy access to this information on your website and social media platforms is imperative in helping them make the right choices, and selecting your business over a competitor.  

Every small step towards sustainability counts, and as a tourism professional, you have the power to drive positive change. 

We all have an important role to play in educating and raising awareness about sustainability in tourism. While it may seem daunting to take on the responsibility of being a sustainability ambassador, remember that you don’t need to have all the answers right away. Simply sharing information about the benefits of responsible tourism with your employees and customers will go a long way towards creating awareness and longer term consumer demand for more sustainable options. 

Each destination is unique and all places have individual issues. It’s important to inform visitors about these, including an explanation showing how your organisation is directly addressing environmental, economic, cultural and community challenges with solutions. 

Focus on the ‘why’ and provide concrete examples of how your business is making a positive impact. Over time, as you continue to learn and implement sustainable initiatives within your business, your knowledge base and advocacy role will become stronger and more effective. 

Get started with your sustainable communication strategy today

Sharing stories to emphasise the benefits and advantages of the positive impacts your business is making are the key to successfully communicating your sustainable practices, experiences and partnerships. By understanding the importance of communication in sustainability and sustainable strategies for tourism and travel, you can start developing a sustainability communications strategy that focuses on what your customers need and want, first and foremost.

If your organisation needs help with communicating your sustainability efforts, talk to an expert team of content marketers who can help you tell your brand story.

Mankind Digital goes beyond sustainability. We offer content marketing and customised copywriting services for tourism organisations, brands and destinations who prioritise sustainable, responsible and regenerative tourism. Contact us on +61 (03) 9114 9749 or send us an enquiry through our website today.

Published May 10, 2023

Share this article:

Other articles we think you'd like:

Unveil key elements for crafting compelling narratives and discover the essence of writing a captivating travel blog. Words inspire readers to journey beyond their screen and into the world.

Learn more about greenwashing in tourism. Discover what it is, see examples of the telltale signs of greenwashing & find out how you can avoid it.

Skål International has awarded Mankind Digital as the Educational Programmes and Media category winner at the 2023 Skål International Sustainable Tourism Awards for the second consecutive year.

What are there tangible benefits and advantages for travel businesses and destination marketing organisations who prioritise sustainability?

Understanding what drives sustainable travel decision making is essential for effective marketing. Here are 8 tips to get started.

Learn why Mankind Digital was recognised as an industry leader at the Skål International Sustainable Tourism Awards & the benefits of sustainable tourism.

Calculate your business’ carbon emissions with this travel carbon calculator

Social media can help you execute an effective tourism marketing strategy, keeping your business connected to your audience.

Content marketing is one of the many effective ways you can promote your travel business and attract new customers.