Q&A: Make the Most of Your Destination’s Sustainability Efforts

We answer your destination's biggest questions about sustainability.

December 14, 2022

Destination marketers implementing sustainable initiatives must find the balance between growing visitation and creating a relationship with local communities. The challenge that comes with bringing in new travelers is trying to minimize the negative impacts of tourism while taking care of the environment. As you work to put together your sustainability plan, check out these five questions from destination marketers looking to make the most of their sustainability efforts.

How do we educate and engage with travelers who don't understand sustainability or aren't excited about it yet?

It's about creating messaging for the travelers that want to come to your destination overall, even if they haven't necessarily shown that they're looking for sustainable travel. We know that 87% of travelers are interested in sustainability, so allowing your sustainability message to be shared with mass audiences will improve your sustainability efforts.

Let’s say someone is looking to travel to a particular destination, but they've got four or five in mind. If the messaging you get in front of them is around how they can do good for the environment by traveling to your sustainable destination, that just might be the hook to influence them to come to your destination rather than a destination that isn’t working towards sustainability.

Another thing to consider when pitching content around sustainability is incorporating a broader travel message. Whether your goal is to drive regional dispersion or to educate travelers to be more responsible–what you’re trying to do is change traveler behavior. 

Do we have any insight into what the target group demographically is for sustainable travelers? 

In terms of filling the funnel and finding the right people, it’s less about the demographics. We often tell destinations to focus less on specific pre-determined demographics and open up their targeting to drive more travelers. When you let the data do the talking and don’t constrict your targeting, you can get in front of the right travelers and drive more visitors.

Activating campaigns using only a few contextual parameters and automated, machine-learning algorithms allows destination marketers to identify, reach, and scale sustainability messaging to the right audiences. By targeting those who have shown intent and sustainable behaviors, no matter their demographics or where they are in the world, you can use your marketing budget efficiently and effectively.

To inspire and attract those travelers where sustainable travel isn't the driving goal for them but they may be interested to learn more about it, simply tell your destination’s story and bake sustainability into it. You don't need to promote strictly sustainable content, but find a way to weave sustainability into all of your content. For example, if you're promoting whale watching tours, you can share guidelines for sustainable whale watching in your messaging. Even if it seems obvious, remind your visitors not to feed or touch the wildlife, to keep a safe distance from them, and other tips so they are fully aware of how they can support the cause. Or, if you're promoting city tours, you can share user-generated content that showcases bike riding routes, travel maps, or local transportation.

How can a destination understand that its efforts are fruitful?

Before looking at insights and analytics, establish what you consider success. It comes down to what your destination’s key performance indicators (KPIs) are. It could be clicks or engagement on a specific advertisement focused on sustainability, or understanding when people arrive, and how they're moving around the city. It could even be how much recycling you collected. There are many different ways to measure success, and you can use the data and insights you collect after your efforts to analyze your next steps. You can then ask the questions:

  • Did it work? 
  • Should we keep doing more of it?
  • Are we reaching the right people?

When you understand the specific goals to track, you can identify the digital metrics you’re looking to improve. When you post the type of content you believe travelers want to see, you can track those metrics and see if the numbers reflect that interest.

How do we think about the host community as an important audience?

When DMOs move forward with practices that don’t include their host community, they’re missing an opportunity to build social license with their locals. We know that sustainability goes way beyond just the natural landscape. It means supporting the social, cultural, environmental, and economic components of the community. It’s a delicate balance, and sometimes those four pillars can be at odds with each other. Every component of sustainable travel has to consider those different lenses.

So from a marketing perspective, you should build marketing plans to address each one of these pillars. You can start to ask questions like:

  • How do we give back to the community?
  • How do we lift up the voices in the community?
  • How do we learn from locals and incorporate it into the content we’re crafting?
  • Can we hire writers from different groups to be the voice of the community?

If your tactics are rooted in the local experience, and locals aren't at the forefront of that, you could be missing the mark. The cultural piece is critical to any sustainability efforts that a destination is working towards. Having local buy-in is vital to ensuring your destination is not only promoting as a sustainable destination but is proving it when travelers arrive. If locals aren’t bought into the concept, then a traveler’s expectation and their reality are going to be very different.

Not all travelers are interested in sustainability in the sense of camping and nature-driven trips. How do we promote offerings that maybe aren't nature-specific but keep travelers excited about sustainability?

When we talk about sustainable travel, we tend to default to nature-based experiences and environmental conservation. When you look at the broader picture of what sustainability looks like, it goes back to those four pillars–social, cultural, environmental, and economic factors. When those are out of balance, you’re not really being sustainable.

Reaching these types of travelers means targeting them with the right message and leaning into specific keywords, affinities, or categories. But that list could be thousands of words long because you're talking about recycling, transportation, being eco-friendly, and more. There are many different words, concepts, and behaviors that could show someone is interested in traveling sustainably. This means there are many different ways to identify and reach those consumers.  You can also try to drive new interests. Instead of focusing on hiking and the outdoors, focus on ways to be conscientious about our planet.

Another piece to consider is the cultural experience you’re sharing. When you're looking to attract those travelers, you're looking for someone who has that mindset. It goes back to integrating locals, then telling the story of your culture. You can work with creators that speak to your offerings and create a layer of authenticity that has to happen when you're marketing a cultural experience. For example, leaders in the tourism industry including the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, are sharing culture-based experiences which require a lot of care.

Resources for keeping sustainability top of mind in your strategy

In our sustainability series, you’ve learned how to implement sustainability, build authenticity with user-generated content, showcase sustainability initiatives, utilize data and a full-funnel marketing approach, and got answers to your questions about sustainability. 

Can Sojern support your efforts to attract sustainable travelers? Connect with an expert today to learn more.

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