Understanding Responsible Travel from Data & Behavioural Insights through to Marketing & Product Development

Vicky Smith's own personal experience of visiting a resort in Kenya turned out to be a real eye-opener, what she describes as 'the penny drop moment'.

We have spent our entire careers responding to consumer needs at a profit. For tourism, this means it becomes very much demand-oriented and primarily driven by profit. So when research shows us that people primarily are driven by sun, sea and sand, this is where the market will take us.

We have spent our entire careers responding to consumer needs at a profit. For tourism, this means it becomes very much demand-oriented and primarily driven by profit. So when research shows us that people primarily are driven by sun, sea and sand, this is where the market will take us.

Vicky Smith's own personal experience of visiting a resort in Kenya turned out to be a real eye-opener, what she describes as 'the penny drop moment', when the company she was working for was creating and facilitating all-inclusive package tourism with almost no contact or connection with the destination they're in. This was the moment that Vicky took to go and do something more purposeful: seeing local people excluded from the tourism enclave juxtaposed with a tourism market driven by cheaper and better value experiences.

This naturally leads to exploitation of local people and whilst none of us want this, we find ourselves invariably participative in the process because the forces at play are often bigger than the role we can play individually.

If we bring forward the topic of over-tourism, this is really the tipping point, impacting the consumers of tourism themselves. The protests we've seen in places like Barcelona, where the housing market is inflated, cities are overcrowded and the overall social dynamic is disrupted, really illustrate this issue.

Add into this the respect for the environment, the world around us and the challenge of climate, we have an even bigger problem. The issues again here are bigger and complex, where we see a set of trade-offs and an incredibly challenging picture which everyday tourists struggle to fully grasp. Whilst many tourists want to be responsible tourists with a positive impact, their ability to work through the complexity of all these issues is nearly impossible. That's where the term responsible tourism, at least for consumers, allows us to see it framed in a way which is accessible and easy to understand. Many of us, would like to be responsible tourists.

The Triple Bottom Line, economical, environmental and social balance, is where we have to look at these issues as an industry.We must take responsibility for the decisions, the impact we create and look this through the eyes of all stakeholders and how we can play our role in this. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a great step towards achieving this; they allow us to break down the macro issues into 17 clearly defined goals, creating a call to action and an invitation for the world to act.

Things like poverty, water, energy, climate action and many more are all there and tourism often transcends many if not all of them. The SDGs achieve the benefit of breaking this down into easy-to-understand chunks, that we as an industry, or our customers as consumers, can start to notice the positive impact and contribution.

Pre-pandemic and mid-pandemic research show us that increasingly consumers are very concerned about pollution, biodiversity, protection of endangered species and many more things related to the planet and the environment. However, coming out of the pandemic, one would expect the importance of those issues to taper away, but in fact, this turns out not to be the case. Whilst fewer consumers might be interested in 'sustainability' per se, they are in fact deeply concerned about many of the issues which fall under the frame of sustainability - such as being concerned about good quality food or scenery and landscapes.

So looking forward, we are likely to be seeing a bigger connection between issues which really matter to people and the bigger issues and interest related to sustainability.

Booking.com show that more than 86% of consumers are concerned about sustainability and whilst they want to be more sustainable they don't necessarily know how to do this. Lots of other research backs this up. Greenwashing is a force, which often works against this, where companies and brands tout green credentials when actually the hidden reality is that such campaigns are about image or costs and not environmental matters.

With research showing that many consumers are expecting sustainability to become more critical after the pandemic, the next question is wherethis will take place. More often than not, we focus on aviation and yet, as a sector, on a bigger scale, it is often getting a bad reputation. However, whilst it isn't as bad as perhaps many people think when considered alongside other contributors to global greenhouse emissions. Still, the critical concern is that it is on the rise and that's where the issue needs to be addressed. What we have seen with the pandemic is that we don't always need to fly for meetings, for business travel and for trips, which just no longer seem essential. What we will likely see, however, is a stronger appreciation for more meaningful travel to get away, to discover and to spend time with friends and family.

A recent report by Euromonitor now shows us that consumers are increasingly ready to sacrifice their luxuries, such as the frequency of bed linen being cleaned, whilst research shows that carbon offsetting is one of the least favoured commitments, because of the direct cost implication. What we can see however from consumers is that there are things that people don't want to give up, things that matter for them, which is where the industry needs to respond with a different proposition and a more sustainable offer.

This is where we get to 'regenerative tourism': this is very much about taking these big issues we face in the world today and address them through tourism. What is really at the root of this is looking at the systems and structures that are driving our industry. With regenerative tourism, we're looking at things being a constant living system, where there's a dynamic. It's not a specific structure but a holistic process which is about creating better environments - better places to live in, to visit and ultimately creating a value beyond economic growth. It's not, as the SDGs', about separating all the issues, it's precisely about the connections between them and the need for systemic change. Today, the systems we have are very much about the consumer-driven product, marketing and ultimately profit. The question to ask post-pandemic is, 'how do we define success?'. By pursuing our previous targets we are only going to continue making things worse - but if we revisit targets, looking at things like happiness, social cohesion and the positive contribution, we can see a more holistic picture and redefine the metrics upon which we measure our success.

We have an opportunity to look at these key issues, address and correct where we've gone wrong and set new targets and success metrics which define the future we want for ourselves and our industry.

Key Takeaways

1. Detach yourself from the usual way of considering tourism. We work in one of the most beautiful industries and we need to remember the important role we play in society.

2. We need to reconsider our role and actively work to change the industry and society we work and live in, a bit like Vicky has done.

3. Switch to regenerative tourism instead of bare promotion: take big issues we face in the world today and address them through tourism.

4. Look at things like they are in a constant living system and dynamic, rather than just simple processes.

5. Revisit targets, look at things like happiness, social cohesion and the positive contribution holistically and redefine the metrics upon which you measure success.

Published on:
November 2020
About the contributor

Vicky Smith

Vicky’s headed up destinations abroad, marketing and eCommerce for tour operators, travel agents, media and NGOs in mass-market tourism, ski, tours, volunteer tourism and sustainable tourism accreditation.