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I recently wrote a primer about inbound marketing, what it is, and how to go about initiating a content strategy for a travel business. With this foundation in place, I want to explain how to use this sort of marketing strategy to be more responsible in how we communicate to and with our audiences and how to promote sustainable travel in our businesses.
Earlier this year, I was discussing my travel agency’s content strategy with my team. It came up that we should talk a bit more about sustainability and what goes on behind the scenes at our company and on the ground with our partners.
Before implementing this strategy, I reflected on why it is important for us, as a travel agency, to talk about sustainability and responsible travel in our marketing. And, more importantly, how to go about doing this.
Historically, companies have avoided talking about and publicizing their sustainability efforts in marketing materials. They may have noted a few sentences about using solar panels, donating to communities, or cutting plastic use on their “About Us” webpage, but rarely do they lead with their sustainability efforts. Perhaps the reason for this is because they don’t want to be perceived as greenwashing (deceptively promoting an organization’s products or policies as environmentally friendly) or “trying too hard.”
Further, travel companies often avoid discussing things like climate change and impoverished communities on their websites and in overall communication when it comes to the destinations they promote. After all, negative or controversial topics don’t appear attractive to someone interested in “getting away.”
It may seem like it’s more appropriate to make passing mention of what companies do for the environment or communities because, ultimately, travelers want to know how travel-related companies are going to make their vacations better for them. Promoting sustainable measures as a more peripheral marketing tactic keeps greenwashing at bay, but it also encourages travel companies to focus on what we think matters most to the client, which are the products and experiences. However, if sustainability has anything to do with ameliorating experiences for travelers, as marketers, we need to convey this message better. We need to say more than, “By booking with us, we won’t change your towels every day to save on water!”
Since we usually focus on inbound for our content marketing strategy, I decided to explore this balance of facts and appeal in developing content for our company’s site. The goal was to help engage users in understanding sustainability, why it’s important to them, and how it will make their trips — and my destination! — better overall. This also got me thinking that whether users who encounter our content book a trip with us or not, maybe sharing content related to these topics is a way to educate users on the importance of sustainable travel and contribute responsibly to the industry as a whole. Most importantly, we wanted to remain honest, transparent, and as responsible in our communications as we are in our operations.
With this perspective in mind, I focused my attention on our inbound strategy. Like any inbound strategy, it’s important to start with understanding who the users are and what they want to learn.
A recent report published by Booking.com showed only 50% of travelers understand what they can do to travel more sustainably. According to the research, 72% of global travelers seek authentic experiences representative of the local culture and 41% request that travel companies offer tips on how to be more sustainable while traveling. Additionally, 56% of respondents to the survey say that, if there was an option to offset their vacation accommodation’s carbon footprint, they would do it. Recent research from Exodus Travels confirms this interest in more responsible travel; its findings indicate 91% of travelers believe it’s important to take ethical trips.
So, how do we get potential travelers to understand the importance and practicality of sustainability while appealing to their growing sense of ethical travel and market our offerings in an engaging way?
As noted in my previous article, there are four phases in the inbound strategy when communicating with clients: attract, convert, close, and delight. Based simply on the statistics above, we can begin pulling out content ideas related to the first three phases.
- Attract: Tips on how to be more sustainable when traveling.
- Convert: Access information on authentic experiences and local culture.
- Close: Take a carbon neutral trip (or close to it!) when you book with us.
In order to attract users, we can easily show them how to be more sustainable while traveling with educational content. Examples of what my company would be able to share include:
- Stay in shape on vacation: Rio de Janeiro by bike.
- Which routes are worth taking a bus versus flying in Brazil?
- How community-based tourism is supporting sustainability in Brazil.
- Instagram posts celebrating important dates and feats related to sustainability.
You can essentially use any of the above topics for several other destinations.
Once potential clients are in the consideration phase and ready to convert, it’s time to build landing pages with enticing information that encourages them to provide a way for your company to communicate with them (such as an email address) so you can make an offer. Perhaps these landing pages can highlight the local culture in your destination. Or maybe they can pertain to the type of tours your offer. Some types of content to use in this phase are:
- A PDF guide detailing the unique culture of your destination and how to respect it as a traveler.
- A podcast or video with an interview with a local host and tips for travel and activities offered in the location.
- A newsletter that includes sustainable travel tips. Don’t forget to include authentic experiences your company sells.
Once travelers are to the point where they only need to choose a company with which to book, it’s time to help them choose your company because you’re offsetting your carbon footprint and/or doing something particularly notable related to sustainability.
- Highlight the accommodations’ sustainability features, and explain how this doesn’t compromise comfort.
- Show your expertise with advice they can use once they’re traveling, such as tips for eating at local restaurants during free time and organizations they can visit or contribute to on their trip.
- Create a sustainability or responsibility page on your site with testimonials from past travelers, and how this aspect of your company positively impacted their travels.
Even if your company hasn’t specifically thought through its sustainability efforts yet, if you’re working in adventure travel, chances are there are aspects of your company that already fall within this area. For example, if your tours include hiking and biking between towns, not only are your clients getting a great adventure experience, they’re keeping their carbon footprint to a minimum.
Once clients book, this brings us to the final phase of inbound, which is to delight. You may recall that the delight phase involves a post-sale strategy, and that is to keep people engaged with your brand, even after the sale. Adding a few more content nuggets on how to travel responsibly once in your destination or incentives allowing the experience to be more enriching are ways to build brand loyalty with travelers. These are a few things bound to delight and promote responsible travel:
- Emails prior to the trip with final packing tips on how to travel light, or coupons for sustainable travel accessories.
- Contact from a company representative prior to travel to go over trip logistics as well as provide more cultural information to make travelers feel more comfortable when traveling.
- Remind them of how their travel investment makes a positive impact once they’ve arrived by pointing this out during activities or with notes or signs in the hotel room.
Notice that not all of these topics have the words “responsible” or “sustainability” in them. Some may just allude to these ideas. This is important to note in any content strategy. There is no need for overkill or greenwashing your way into users’ hearts and minds when it comes to responsible travel as long as you’re straightforward and honest about what you’re doing and how you work.
There are very important and more subtle ways to communicate sustainability, just as there are more subtle and informative ways to sell your services through any inbound strategy that focuses on educating and less on forcing products and services on users through ads. If you focus on your company’s strengths and are transparent in your content, you will attract potential clients. Your company’s genuine actions will seem like an added bonus and even more of a reason to book with you. A responsible approach toward marketing is more than possible for responsible adventure travel companies that have crafted a thoughtful inbound strategy.