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Three Insights For Advancing Your Destination’s Sustainability Efforts

Current events and shifting attitudes have a big impact on travel preferences and force destinations to adapt and evolve. As the value of travelers change, destination organizations need to make sure they’re advancing those forward-looking agendas. With climate change and over tourism making headlines, tourism boards are viewing their travel strategy through a sustainability lens and trying to do their part to make the world a better place.

At the 2019 TMAC Conference in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Zack Metcalfe, an award-winning freelance conservation and travel journalist, discussed the importance of sustainability and why it needs to be more than a buzzword in the travel industry. He emphasized the need for destination organizations to not only understand the importance of sustainability but also develop creative strategies to implement it.

Here are three tips, inspired and informed by Metcalfe’s perspective, to help DMOs better understand the meaning of sustainability and incorporate it into an everyday destination strategy.

Tip #1: Define sustainability in an authentic way

With buzzwords such as green, environmentally friendly and low-impact being prominent in today’s messaging, we need to revisit the true meaning of sustainability, or ecotourism.  Metcalfe defines three key elements of ecotourism:

  1. Ecotourism actively promotes protection or recovery of natural assets.
  2. Ecotourism prioritizes the natural asset the destination is protecting above visitors.
  3. Ecotourism should always be in context.

How have some tourism boards put these concepts into practice? In Florida and parts of the Caribbean, such as Barbados, the oceans are overrun by an invasive species called lionfish. Florida has dedicated an entire fishery just to catching lionfish and selling it to visitors to take the species out of local waterways. Restaurant partners in Barbados are featuring lionfish as a staple menu item, training waitstaff to explain to visitors why lionfish ceviche is a sustainable choice and helping the industry.

“We shouldn’t be coddling visitors,” notes Metcalfe. “They should be made aware of the recovery of local ecosystems in any way possible. We need to explain what’s being done and why.”

Tip #2: Recognize the importance of a sustainability marketing strategy

Dynasty Travel notes that “ecotourism is growing at a steady rate of 5% per year, being particularly popular among millennials.” If you want to target this niche and grow market share among these travelers, recognize that they increasingly prefer a sustainable way of travel. Many tour operators share this ideology, such as G Adventures, whose clients largely include the millennial traveler.

Lisa Nisbet, an associate professor at Trent University, has dedicated her entire work in psychology to “nature-connectedness” — showcasing the real health benefits of being in nature. She believes that reconnecting people with the natural world will inspire them to think more critically about the environment, even if it’s only by doing something as simple as recycling.

Metcalfe offers advice on how destinations — and their DMOs — can become more focused on sustainability: “Find the underappreciated aspect of your destination story and look at what you are trying to promote and protect. Think of things that make you personally want to go in the outdoors, such as offbeat stories. For example, Redwood National Park fascinates me because of a book titled The Wild Trees that shows the history of the first people to climb those trees and explore the park that not many people know. Typically, travelers are really just looking for nature, some quiet and a bit of history. That’s the package tourism boards should be considering.”

Determine how your destination can package eco-conscious itineraries with unique nature offerings in your region.

Tip #3: Incorporate sustainability into your marketing strategy

The first step is to identify the sustainable attributes and practices of the destinations you represent. According to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), sustainable destinations:

  • Demonstrate sustainable destination management (for example, have a strategy, monitor progress and plan for climate change and crisis management).
  • Maximize benefits to the host community and minimize negative impacts (for example, encourage public participation, provide local access, facilitate tourism awareness and education and support local entrepreneurs and fair trade).
  • Maximize benefits to communities, visitors and cultures and minimize negative impacts (for example, protect attractions and cultural heritage, offer site interpretation and manage visitor behavior).
  • Maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts (for example, protect sensitive environments, conserve energy and water, manage wastewater and minimize light and noise pollution).

There are many ways that a travel marketing strategy can incorporate sustainability. Where to start? Get familiar with those who already have a deep connection to nature. Try the most obvious tool – a smartphone. There are two particular apps Metcalfe recommends – E-Bird and I-Naturalist. The impact of these communities runs deep — the apps allow users all over North America to share information and challenge each other. The City Nature Challenge invites cities around the world to compete based on who can make the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people — something destination marketers might want to consider, especially with the 2020 City Nature Challenge coming up.

DCI can help tourism boards and industry organizations improve their sustainability strategy. Here are three case studies that highlight successful campaigns targeting the eco-conscious traveler:

  • Barbados: As noted earlier, lionfish is an invasive species that has caused great damage to the Caribbean ecosystem. DCI leveraged the work of award-winning Barbadian chefs to use lionfish as a main feature in restaurant menus. Through an ongoing media relations campaign focused on the culinary scene in Barbados, DCI has garnered more than 30 million impressions in the U.S. and Canada markets related to Barbados’ sustainable dining practices.
  • Columbus: When Columbus won the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Smart City Challenge in 2016, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation awarded Columbus $10 million to lead the charge to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging and promoting electric vehicle adoption. Central to this goal is an ambitious challenge – to increase adoption of electric vehicles by nearly 5 times (from .37% of cars sold to 1.8%) in a Midwestern city that lacks EV incentives popular in California and the northeast. Through an ongoing media relations campaign focused on Columbus’ smart city progress in 2018 and 2019, DCI has garnered more than 78 million impressions in U.S. markets related specifically to Columbus’ electrification efforts.
  • Tahiti Tourisme: DCI leveraged the efforts of Coral Gardeners, a Tahitian youth organization committed to restoring the coral reef around the Society Islands, in a media relations campaign that highlights this sustainability practice. This campaign resulted in more than 3 million media impressions in 2018, and continues to be part of the destination’s key messaging to educate travelers and preserve the Islands of Tahiti for locals and visitors alike for years to come.

For more information on how DCI can assist in advancing your destination’s focus on sustainability, contact us regarding our tourism research capabilities.

Written By

Tania Kedikian

A communications strategist with a love for storytelling, Tania utilizes her skillset to connect Canadian media with fascinating travel stories around the globe.

More Articles by Tania Kedikian

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