Hotels have been making lots of efforts to green up, but few communicate effectively about their green initiatives and sustainability programmes. Customers are rarely aware of their existence, although such actions could attract new clients and retain the existing ones.
So the question is: how to communicate efficiently a hotel’s sustainability credentials? The ResilieNtWEB project decided to explore this topic during a workshop organised in collaboration with the Brussels Hotels Association and the Green Key label, led by Stephania Gardini, www.atouchofgreen.be.
Tourism has always been a highly competitive business area. Nowadays, in a morose economic climate and with the arrival of new ways of accommodation such as Air B’n’B and Couchsurfing, differentiation and creativity are key elements to success.
It is also a field where environmental actions and initiatives abound, and yet they are rarely visible and few customers are aware of their existence. More and more hotels, for instance, have sustainability actions in place, and often have one or more green labels, such as Green Key, ISO 14001 or EMAS. However, few communicate efficiently on these actions and certifications.
Lack of visibility
This lack of visibility for the green credentials has various reasons; lots of environmental actions and daily activities are common sense, and hoteliers do not always categorise them as environmental work. There is also the fear to be accused of “greenwashing”.
Innovative approaches are limited, mostly due to the conservative mentality that is still dominant in this business field, and which is often strengthened by strict group policies.
Usage of new technologies and involvement in the internet-based economy are limited too, with only passive participation on sites like booking.com or Trip Advisor, and there is opposition to rather than adoption of websites promoting alternative and original accommodation.
Also, there is still simply the misconception that the green programme is not something customers are interested in. However, the 2012 Trip Advisor Eco-Traveller survey showed that about 71% of US travellers reported that they planned to choose hotels based on sustainability over the next year, compared with 65% in the previous survey.
Hotels need to engage into active communication and exchanges with their guests, in order to motivate them to participate to the green programme without taking anything away from the satisfaction of their stay.
Customers’ expectations and needs are closely linked to things such as more authentic and original experiences, ethical and social initiatives, community engagement and transparency, nature-friendly surroundings etc. Their experience during their stay should positively answer these expectations, while they should be encouraged to get involved in environmental-friendly activities..
In order to achieve this, communicating sustainability should be based on a few important ideas. First a hotel should communicate in a completely transparent way. This means not only informing about the work and investments done, but also showing the commitment to continuously improve and reduce the hotel’s environmental footprint. The message should capture the attention of the audience, appeal to the customers and create value for them. This means offering clear, interesting and useful content, from which customers can learn, and presented in such a way that it engages the audience and makes them want to explore further.
This brings us to the second important point: communication should engage one’s senses, be something one can see, touch, and listen to. It should be creative, interactive and enjoyable.
For example, online communication should use interactive features to provide readers with a compelling experience of sustainability impacts. Another effective action could be developing an identity that highlights a hotel’s green credentials, while remaining aligned with the hotel’s overall brand, further adding to its positive reputation.
The staff should know the green programme, present it to the guests and engage their interest whenever possible. Interactive “exhibitions”, where customers can test their knowledge or explore different sustainability aspects in a fun, playful way, updates on the hotel’s environmental performance in real time (such as energy and water consumption) in the lobby area or other dedicated spaces, either physical or virtual, are other examples of more visual and enthralling communication showing a hotel’s commitment to sustainability.
This also means taking advantage of the existing technologies, such as creating apps, using social media, gathering feedback from one’s customers in order to better tailor one’s green offer to their needs and expectations, creating contests with rewards for the “greenest stay”, etc.
All these actions involve the customers and imply their active participation: the customer should be the main actor, the one in the spotlight. The green choices guests undertake should make them feel special and as being part of something bigger and more important. These choices should add to their overall experience during their stay, make it more original, and make them want to come back.
A whole experience
This unique experience should start from the moment the travellers book their hotel; clear and compelling information should be easily available for them to make a choice that is in line with their convictions and image of an ideal stay. Guests should also have the possibility to evaluate the sustainability credentials themselves, the same way they do it for other aspects of their stay, to compare the message of the hotel with what they see and experience for themselves.
Stop being modest
Today sustainability initiatives proliferate in the hotel industry. They are supported and encouraged at the highest management levels, and carried out by passionate individuals. Our meeting with Brussels hotels showed that there are plenty of actions already in place, and that there is no lack of innovative ideas, including when it comes to communicating the green programme.
However, most travellers feel they are not informed enough about hotels’ sustainability practices. Hotels should therefore come forward and stop being modest about their green achievements. There are a few simple, yet important principles for good sustainability communication: know your green work and how it complements your overall hotel brand, and be transparent about it. Make your message positive, enjoyable and valuable; for this you need to get creative and use traditional and new media and technologies. And last but least, put your customer at the centre of your green communication strategy; make the customers feel they are the key players in order to engage them and make them want not only to know more about your sustainability work, but also contribute to it.
Efficient communication of a hotel’s sustainability credentials has become key to reach and engage a broader audience who is receptive to its message and will want to know more about its sustainability efforts. It is also the key to ensure customer loyalty, stand out in a crowded market and differentiate oneself in a positive way.
An article by Laura Rebreanu, BECI – Brussels Chamber of Commerce