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  • Writer's picturesarahhabsburg

Sustainable Tourism & the 2022 Responsible Tourism Charter

Many of us have been talking about sustainability in tourism for quite some time, but it finally feels like the tide has turned in favour of less words and more action.

I just spend a wonderful fews days in London at World Travel Market 2022 and also at the signing of the 2022 Responsible Tourism Charter. Both events provided tangible evidence of this shift. The Responsible Tourism panel sessions at WTM were in so much demand that there were not enough chairs or headsets available for everyone to listen in, but not only that, sustainability in tourism played a major role in many other discussions that did not have the topic as a primary focus.

This is seismic. Why now?

We could debate this for quite some time, but ultimately it is because the pressure is on. From consumers, from investors, from governments.

Within Europe’s borders, reporting on sustainability practices is already a requirement for large corporates, but the drafting of standards with conceptual guidelines for small and medium sized business (SMEs) has already started. When (or whether) this will become a legal requirement at any time is not yet determined, however, a 2021 European Reporting Lab stated that “SMEs of all sizes and status will increasingly be exposed to sustainability information requests from their stakeholders”. ¹

This is important stuff.

Regardless of size, many hotels, lodges, and guesthouses who deal with international operators and/or corporate clients, are under increasing pressure to provide data on their sustainability actions. This is because the legal reporting requirements for larger companies are trickling down the value chain and now form part of any contractual agreements they make with suppliers.

In addition, a recent Sustainable Brands report that surveyed over 30,000 people in 30 countries revealed a startling statistic:

“44% of youth (those under 30) agree they don’t want to have children because of climate change”. ²

These Gen Zers currently make up 23% of the global population ³ meaning that what and how they think has major impact on consumer interest. The message is clear: the people who make up our emerging target audiences hold sustainability issues close to their heart.

While staying relevant as a consumer choice is important, some businesses continue to hide behind the fact that their customers are not (yet) from this generation. However, new staff members could quite well be. It will be a LOT easier to find and retain staff who seek employment in a company that has a clear sustainability agenda.

For many people I spoke to at WTM, being sustainable is a part of doing business today. It is expected, and you will be called out if you are not being seen to take care of your local community, your staff, and the local environment. I think we can also safely say that it is simply the right thing to do.

While we wait for a congruent international system that allows hoteliers to respond and report accurately to their stakeholders, the next best thing is to strategically follow these steps:

a) Identify the change that matters the most where you are,

b) Define the action you plan to take to achieve this change, and

c) Deliver data that shows progress made.

I took part in the panel discussion about Responsible Marketing on the Sustainability Stage at WTM on Tuesday 8th November. Alongside five other esteemed colleagues, we discussed how businesses can avoid greenwashing and confidently showcase their own responsible business decisions and achievements in a way that resonates with their customers.

Responsible marketing is all about building trust, and that cannot be done without vulnerability and confidence. That might seem polarising, but the fact is this:

There is not one business in existence today that can prove they have taken every single action possible to combat the challenges we face.

Everything we do is a work in progress, which means we have to admit we have not yet achieved our aim. This means showing vulnerability.

Many hotel owners I speak with are concerned that, despite being motivated to get started, they fear they will not be able to fulfil all promises they make around the sustainability topic over a sustained period of time.

How do we counteract this? By choosing actions that resonate with the owner, that generate small, positive impacts where they live, and that can be easily measured and reported on, consistently.

Factual data on progress made is the antidote to greenwashing. You can have an aspiration and eloquently put that into words and publish it all over your online assets, but there is no getting away from strategic action taking. Action that is relevant to your destination and that can be measured and monitored to show improvement and progress. It is quite clearly the only way to go. This is ultimately what counteracts vulnerability because, when coupled with confidence that your data is correct and your future path is on track, the sustainability journey is free to continue on its onwards and upwards trajectory.

As I mentioned in the panel discussion, we have to reframe the sustainability conversation into an educational opportunity to generate lasting change. This is no longer about your own business only; it is about educating others to encourage behavioural change so that we all make shifts to the current way that we do things.

A significant barrier to behavioural change is not understanding what to change or how to change it. This is where that educational opportunity comes in, especially for tourist accommodation owners. Buildings don't consume energy. People do. People don't just pop into your business for a steak and a glass of wine. They "live" at your property, and they consume resources as they do at home, often more impactfully. There is great potential here to integrate knowledge on how to use resources in a more sustainable way that not only saves costs at your own property but that generates a ripple effect as those “I didn’t know that!” moments are carried over into the homes of your guest’s post-stay.

It takes courage and time to unpick and rebuild your current operations and marketing strategy, but it can be done. It has to be done. Business as usual is no longer an option. It is of course easier with support and guidance. In my most popular coaching programme I work with hoteliers to determine their own values and motivations that in turn determine what sustainability means to them. It is different everywhere and for every business, but once action that makes sense to you has been defined, the way in which you market it ultimately determines whether you succeed or fail in resonating and connecting with your target audiences.

There is a long road ahead of us, and while it can seem like a gargantuan task, we can take strength from the Responsible Tourism movement that continues to grow and support our decisions with renewed insights as detailed in the new 2022 Responsible Tourism Charter.

I was honoured to witness and sign the Charter at its launch on 6 November 2022 in the Charter Room at Magna Carta House in London. The Charter Room is home to the stone on which it is claimed the Magna Carta was signed by King John of England in 1215.

"It’s surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home, not just for us but for all life on Earth". Sir David Attenborough

¹ Final Report Proposals for a Relevant and Dynamic EU Sustainability Reporting Standard Setting, p.52. February 2021, EFRAG (European Reporting Lab)


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