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  • Writer's picturesarahhabsburg

Important changes to sustainability listings on Booking.com


Booking. com recently announced they will eliminate the Travel Sustainable badge and the accompanying green leaves from their platform from 25 March, 2024.


Let’s take a look at why, and what this means for your sustainability initiatives.


First, let’s tackle the why.


Booking states that “[…] in anticipation of upcoming regulatory changes we’re adapting our approach to focus more on third-party certification from 25 March.”


We can assume that the upcoming regulatory changes they are referring to is the EU Green Claims Directive. Put forward by the European Commission in March 2023, this directive is designed to protect consumers from greenwashing by requiring companies to substantiate any voluntary green claims made in their commercial practices. The idea is that all claims are reliable, comparable, and verifiable throughout the EU. Do note that even if your business is not located in the EU, if you market to customers who are in the EU, you will also be expected to comply.

 

Of course, Booking. com is not just asking the properties listed on their site to comply with these claims. The very act of removing the Travel Sustainable badges and leaves that have, until now, been published, is part of their own company-wide commitment to ensure they too can comply with the terms of the Directive.

 

The reason this is being pushed through follows research carried out by the EU Commission in 2020 that found that over 50% of examined environmental claims in the EU were vague, misleading, or unfounded, and 40% were unsubstantiated.


The Directive is calling for a set of common criteria so that all claims are reliable, comparable, and verifiable. Their aim is for complete transparency and legal certainty. As discussed in this EU Commission short podcast episode about the subject, if the proposal goes through, “[…] the new rules would apply to all voluntary claims about the environmental impacts or performance of a products, service, or the trader itself, excluding of course, those already covered by existing EU schemes, such as the EU Eco label for example.”



So, back to Booking. com and what this means for your listing.


In the primary communication about this change, the text reads: “We’re removing the Travel Sustainable name and levels to help highlight the significance of third-party certifications. This shift ensures consistency and clarity to help make it easier for travellers to make informed choices that are more sustainable.”

 

 

So, to correct the detail found in a previous blog on how to list your property as sustainable on Booking, Google, and Expedia, you will now need a third-party certification to be listed as a sustainable property on Booking. com.

 

However, the time invested to complete your sustainability initiatives on that checklist in your dashboard will not be lost. Those “attributes” - or sustainability practices - will remain in place and will be visible to anyone looking at your property page. You will also be able to manage and update them as before and as required. They will not however, be linked to the search filter as the Travel Sustainable badge was. 

 

For properties who do have a third-party certification, this will continue to be displayed with “a clear label” and it will be featured on the search filter. According to Booking. com's Sustainability Report 2023, this is especially important given that "59% of global travellers want to filter their stay options for those with a sustainability certification next time they book."

 

A random search for properties in Prague carried out on the 13th March 2024, showed that the Travel Sustainable badge and leaves have already been removed in favour of a generic “Sustainability Certification” label as seen in the image below. I cannot say at this point if this is the way the listing will remain if you do hold certification, or if the name or logo of the certification you hold will be displayed.



 


To answer the next logical question of why is Booking. com keeping a label for properties with third-party certification?, I will quote directly from Booking’s own FAQs:


“Third-party certifications signify the highest standard of recognition of commitment to sustainability. These certifications enhance credibility and ensure confidence in the sustainability efforts of your property. Certifications help bring more clarity regarding sustainability communication and make it easier for travellers to make more informed choices.”

 

This of course leads us to the next question of, which third party certifications are compliant?

 

The most up-to-date list I have found is this one, of 62 certification bodies.  

 

So, if you have a third-party certification, check to see if it is already showing on your property page. If it is not listed or mentioned, keep checking until the 25th March. If it is still not showing as a “clear label” after that, follow the steps here (section is just under the list of third-party certification bodies).





This should then push through the data via a company called BeCause, a data management company that specialises in “collecting, coordinating, and communicating sustainability data.”

 

 

While you may still have some questions, that is all the information I have been able to decipher at this time. I’d like to add that it is of concern for SMEs that only financially strong market players will be able to access and comply with the complex and costly certification and verification process. There is also the time element at play for smaller businesses. Without a dedicated team to take the certification process on, it can get stuck indefinitely on your to-do list.


Should you make it a priority to search for a certification scheme if you don’t already have one?


The short answer is that if it is important to you to reach those conscious customers who are actively searching for more sustainable accommodation alternatives, then yes. The longer answer is of course more complex and involves budget, management capacity, and the availability of a certification scheme that makes sense where you are located and to your target audience.


I believe certifications must mean something to the consumer to have true value. For example, if there is a national certification scheme that features on Booking. com's list above, then that, to me, makes more sense than a global alternative that might not have as much regional nuance. This is however, a personal opinion. I would love to hear your opinion on this, so do post a comment at the bottom of the page, or share your experience with me via email at sarah@sarahhabsburg.com

 


An intermediary step that I can help you with in the short term is to begin to collect robust data of any sustainability initiatives you currently have running at your business.


An example could be “We have been measuring our food waste since 2022 and have reduced what we throw away by 22%”, or “Our continued support of a local entrepreneur to create baskets out of local materials generated a total income for him and his family of € 2000 in 2023.”


These are just a snapshot of the sort of compliant statistics that are needed to satisfy the EU Green Claims Directive as it continues to evolve. The logical rule will be “If you cannot prove it with data, don’t publish it!”.


The European Commission recently posted a light-hearted nod towards this line of thinking on LinkedIn. Using a meme from Netflix’s Beckham documentary they adapted a conversation where David Beckham is asking his wife about the make of a car that her father used to drive.




 

 

If you are totally lost about whether you should consider getting certified, don’t know how to evaluate your available options, or need some support getting started with collating reliable sustainability data, schedule a free 30-minute call here where we will discuss your sustainability needs and priorities in the context of your location, budget, and capacity.


Meanwhile, watch out for updates on this article as more information about Booking. com's changes to your sustainability listings come to light.








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