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How to list your hotel as sustainable on Booking, Google, and Expedia


Before we delve into the “how to”, let’s first check in on three things:


Why do it?

What does sustainable mean?

Who is behind the sustainability labels?


The why is an easy one to showcase with these few stats, plus my own experience at World Travel Market London in November, where all the panel discussions on sustainability in travel were oversubscribed. The shift is happening and if you don’t get on board, you will be left behind. Oh, and it is also the right thing to do (the only thing to do) so we actually have a chance at leaving a recuperated world for our grandchildren. It really is that simple, and the stats back this up.


”Two in three consumers want more sustainability information from lodging and transportation providers to help them make informed decisions” ¹

“71% of travellers want to make more effort in the next year to travel more sustainably, up 10% from 2021” ²


“7 in 10 feel overwhelmed by starting the process of being a more sustainable traveller” ¹



Daniel Aronson, the author of the upcoming book The Value of Values, wisely quoted “If it feels like there’s too much going on, you’re right.” ³ Not only is the sustainability conversation filled with buzzwords and terminology such as “net zero”, “net positive”, “regenerative”, and the defiantly relevant “eco-friendly”; but tourism accommodation owners continue to battle with higher resource costs and staff shortages that exert added pressure on what to prioritise in the short term.


Finding calm in the midst of the storm can seem impossible, but it is essential for clarity around what strategic action you can take that makes sense for your skill set, your property, your location, and your budget.


Sustainable tourism means different things to different people. Just as what is enjoyable to me may not be enjoyable to you. That in itself is enough to freeze action. But, if you think about it, this is actually nothing new. Every package or service that you have created in the past has been crafted with a target audience in mind, according to what you have available to offer, as well as what you actually can and want to offer. Working out where to start with your sustainability endeavours is the same. Essentially it is about taking responsible business decisions.


If you don’t have a mountain close by, you can’t offer mountain climbing.

If you don’t have a spare 3000 to invest or access to funding, you can’t add solar panels to your property.


However, just as for sure there is some kind of walk from your door that you can offer; you also do generate waste that can be reduced through strategic action.

The alternative to starting small is not starting at all, and that is no longer an option if you want to stay in business.



So, what does it mean to add Booking.com’s Travel Sustainable label, Google’s Eco-Friendly badge to your profiles, or list your property’s sustainable amenities on Expedia.com?


It means you are part of the change. It means you appeal to conscious travellers. It means you have intentionally chosen to run a responsible business driven by values-led decisions.


It also means you have ticked a lot of boxes. I have spoken with a number of small and medium sized property owners, and this is where the questions get tricky. Here are the most frequently asked questions around the subject I have heard over the last few months:


The list of actions I am asked to tick seems very general; how can the same criteria be applied to property owners all over the world?


Is there a minimum number of attributes I need to tick to get the badge/label?


Do I need to have an independent sustainability certification to access these badges?


Why are the names of these badges different?


Do consumers understand what these labels mean and are they actively looking for them?


What does the consumer see about my sustainability actions once they are listed?


And the most popular one:


Is what I say I do verified by anyone?



There are a few things to explain first before answering these questions.


These badges have not been invented overnight by the individual companies that offer them. They are the fruits of a global coalition called Travalyst founded in 2019 by the Duke of Sussex. This non-profit organisation brings together some of the biggest brands in travel: Amadeus, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Google, Skyscanner, Travelport, Trip.com Group, Tripadvisor, and Visa. Not long ago I had a super informative meeting with Travalyst's Head of Product, Tim Loonen, where I brought to the table the frequent questions listed above.


Tim shared great insights as well as background information about the coalition's aspirations. Ultimately, Travalyst’s goal is to “bring credible, consistent sustainability information to the mainstream, helping both travellers and travel companies make better, greener choices.” ⁴


This means streamlining and scaling the provision of sustainability information to meet the growing consumer demand, and for the accommodation industry this has resulted in the creation of a framework made up attributes (aka criteria).


These attributes are the items you can click to confirm that you actively take that action at your property during the process of applying for the Travel Sustainable badge of Booking.com and the Eco-Friendly badge on Google. At this time, Expedia allows you to list your sustainability action under “More” in the Property Amenities section. I understand they are in the process of developing a badge like the ones available on Booking and Google.


Before I share the list of attributes, it is critical to note that each is weighted according to geographical location. This is super important as it directly addresses the question of “How can the same criteria be applied to property owners all over the world?”


In order to make this a truly global initiative, the list of criteria has to be the same. But Travalyst has mitigated the generalisation by weighting each attribute according to where you are in the world.


Why? Because some attributes such as water conservation matter more in rural Australia than in northern Scotland for example. This weighting system is not publicly available. It is calculated automatically according to your answers in each of the sections of the list.


It is also important to address the concept that sustainability in tourism does not just mean building a greener business or supporting local environmental initiatives. It is also about addressing inequality and becoming more inclusive whether that be for indigenous communities or towards marginalised groups due to social injustice or sexual orientation.


Here is the current list of attributes that have been devised by Travalyst:








Source: Travalyst

Please note, this is the latest version of the list and may vary slightly from what you see on your profiles.



So, moving on. You have taken a look at this list and can see that you could check off quite a few of those attributes. This leads to the next question I frequently receive:


Is there a minimum number of attributes I need to tick to get the badge/label?


This is a tricky question to answer due to the weighting system. Each property is awarded a score based on the attributes they tick, and in some geographical areas it could mean you need more “actions” to secure the badge than in others. I do understand this may sound a little vague, but let’s not forget that this initiative is essentially still in its early stages and with time and experience comes clarity. For now, you will have to see what happens when you tick your unique set of attributes. Feel free to share your experience in the comments at the very bottom of this page.


Now onto sustainability certification. Travalyst seeks to unite sustainability efforts by offering this weighted criteria system that can be applied throughout the world. Sustainability certification is often more regional, which on one hand is good, but on the other hand means that the certification label is not immediately recognisable by consumers from different countries. I think we can safely say that certification holds greater value when the consumer recognises what it means. Without this understanding, it loses importance.



So, do you need to have an independent sustainability certification to access these badges?


No, you do not. External sustainability certification is not required to successfully list your property as Travel Sustainable on Booking.com, or to add the attributes to your property listing on Expedia.


Google is slightly different. You can successfully showcase your sustainability actions on Google by checking then from the list of attributes, BUT, the Eco-Friendly badge will only show for properties who are certified by a third party.


Showcasing your attributes on all channels does serve as an additional indication to the consumer that you are serious about your sustainability endeavours and is seen as a leveller as consumers learn that the attributes on these travel platforms are the same across the world due to the weighting system.





Why are the names of these badges different?


Each company has its own brand identity and as a result Travalyst took the decision to allow each company to decide how they want to name their labels. While admittedly this could mean that not all consumers realise the badges have been awarded based on the same criteria, this is a work in progress and educating consumers is high on Travalyst’s agenda.


This segways nicely into the next question:


Do consumers understand what these badges mean and are they actively looking for them?


There is a long way to go in this area, and if you have been following me for some time, you will know that I am an advocate of lifelong learning and encourage business owners to embrace the educational opportunity that is in front of us. Particularly accommodation owners where people don’t just pop in for a cocktail or a pint. They “live” at your property, consuming resources as they would at home. People learn best from experience so asking them to participate actively in your actions - or at the very least to experience them passively - is helping the industry move forward even if that momentum is just one step at a time.


As for Travalyst’s role in this. A section of their website is dedicated to consumer education. It is a place where travellers can find answers to their questions and sign up to a newsletter where they get relevant information sent to their inboxes that helps them make better choices for less impactful travel.



What does the consumer see?


Below you will find screenshots of how the user views the sustainability attributes that you have checked. Booking.com and Google.com have entered their badges into the filter system so it can be used right up there among “Breakfast Included” or “Child-Friendly” as a search criteria. Expedia is not yet there, but that will come.



Booking.com



Google


Expedia.com





And onto the most popular question:


Is what I say I do verified by anyone?


Yes, but not always. I know, that is not the answer you wanted to hear for your efforts, but we have to accept that this initiative by Travalyst is a major move forward and, just like consumer education around the topic, it is a work in progress.


Booking.com can – and do – survey guests post stay to ask questions based on the attributes that you have confirmed you actively participate in. They might ask if the guest saw any plastic bottles or straws at the property, or if they have observed recycling facilities in all rooms etc. The fact that this is possible is arguably better than an annual audit to check if your sustainability certification can be renewed, and it is definitely better than nothing.


Travalyst is aware of the limitations of this verification, and are working towards improving it, but as with all great change, it takes time, and let’s not forget that sustainability is part of a journey and not a finite end goal as demonstrated here:


Source: Bill Reed (2007) ⁵



Which sites currently allow me to list my property as sustainable?


Booking and Google launched last year, and Expedia has rolled out the criteria listings in the last few months.


Follow these steps to get started with the process of listing your property as sustainable:

Booking.com: Extranet > Property > Sustainability Practices

Expedia.com: Extranet > Property Amenities > More

Google is done through your Google Business Profile (formally Google My Business page).



So, I hope that has answered your questions around the topic. If you have any others, scroll right down to the bottom of the page and pop them into the comments section, or send me an email to sarah@sarahhabsburg.com


I agree with Tim Loonen who, in our meeting, said that we need to move away from a binary yes or no to sustainability. The choice is no longer black or white, it is not even when should we get started, it is how we get started in a way that maximises positive impact. Listing your property on Booking.com, Google, or Expedia as “sustainable” according to the list of criteria is not a finite process, it is just the start of responsible business decision making that is consistently woven into everything you do from now on.


A final thought from Chris Oestreich, Linear to Circular Advisor, summarises the challenge we face with an unequivocal “What’s the ROI of an unlivable world?” ³





EDIT (30/11/22): This article was updated to include the following detail in the section Do you need to have an independent sustainability certification to access these badges? "Google is slightly different. You can successfully showcase your sustainability actions on Google by checking then from the list of attributes, BUT, the Eco-Friendly badge will only show for properties who are certified by a third party."



¹ Expedia Group Media Solutions, Sustainable Travel Study, 2022

² Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report 2022

³ https://sustainablebrands.com/read/behavior-change/for-sustainable-behavior-change-brands-must-cut-through-the-marketing-noise-to-the-hearts-values-of-consumers

https://travalyst.org/about/

Is Sustainability a Lie?





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