One of the twenty-first century's biggest gifts to mankind is cheap travel that has fueled mass tourism. However, just like anything else that comes cheap (for example, cheap fashion), there's always a higher cost that we haven't yet fully discovered. Hang on a minute, actually, we have.
Here's a deep dive into the Responsible Tourist and what your tour or activity company can do today to respond to their travel goals.
Who are they?
No they aren't just your average hippie tree-huggers, they are mostly middle-class and highly educated. Yes, they do recycle, they prefer organic and they probably followed the negotiations around the Paris climate-change agreement. They believe in spending more for something that was sustainably produced or that offers a positive social impact, is of higher quality so that it lasts longer and, ultimately, reduces their impact on the environment.
They come from all walks of life. They don't belong exclusively to one demographic, they subscribe to a lifestyle around sustainability and environmental conservation and are willing to pay more for it.
What do they want?
Sustainability. According to the International Ecotourism Society, this refers to "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education." Here, education is aimed at both guests and staff members.
Sustainability can be defined as "development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", according to The Brundtland Report. The definition covers sustainable travel in three main areas, namely the environment and ecosystem, the local culture or social structure and economic empowerment.
So what do they actually want? Well, they want to be able to travel and see the world in an authentic manner, while ensuring that the ecosystems they visit remain intact for future generations. They also wish that the locals they meet can reap the benefits from local tourism.
What can you do?
This growing market for sustainable and responsible travel reflects the changing mindsets of today's travellers. As more and more people set out in search for untouched and unique places, they learn to appreciate the world for its natural beauty, not just towering man-made skyscrapers. Through this appreciation, they begin to understand the importance of sustainability and are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Plus, it makes good business sense.
So what can you do? Here are a few suggestions.
This sets you apart from other tour or activity operators who merely throw this term around as another "angle" to market their tours.
2. Educate your team on the importance of sustainability
Make sure that your team understands that sustainable tourism is the only way to ensure that future generations will get to see the same beautiful mountains and coral reefs they get to witness everyday.
3. Include an educational element in your tours
For example, Captain Tony's in Abu Dhabi runs some of his boat tours using low-emission boats accompanied by a marine biologist who tells guests about the local fauna. While a marine biologist might not always be readily available, you could enlist the help of a local club or society and have them introduce your team to the local fauna which can, in turn, benefit your tours.
4. Remind customers about the importance of sustainability
Before a hiking trip, for example, you could remind your guests not to litter. Or you could remind customers about the cultural practices of the local village you are about to visit so they can be respectful and truly experience another culture as it should be.
5. Partner with a local NGO to fuel social impact
There are many local NGOs who work in different areas of sustainability and it is up to you to decide who you want to work with. Including a social element to your tours not only fuels social impact, but it gives you a great angle to market your tours.
Not sure where to start? Why not download the TIES certification guidelines to learn more about this growing market and how you can participate in it too.
I'd like to know what you thought about this article. Do you have any other tips to help tour and activity operators become more sustainable?
At TrekkSoft we live and work in the heart of the tour and activity industry. Request a software demo with our team in Interlaken, Switzerland and learn from our expertise:
Written by Nicole Kow
Having graduated from the UK, Nicole travelled around Europe before joining TrekkSoft's marketing team. She is now based in KL and regularly blogs about her travels at Next Train Out.