Travel companies warned to expect scrutiny of ‘green claims’

Travel companies should expect scrutiny of ‘green’ claims and recognise they are responsible for “whatever” is in their marketing, including consumer reviews.

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) operations manager Justine Grimley told an Abta Travel Regulations Conference in London last week: “It is important claims are based on reality and people can understand what you’re talking about [when] people’s understanding is not that high.

“It’s important for brands to be trusted to tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate.”

Grimley reported ASA research found consumers “felt misled” when claims of ‘carbon neutrality’ were based on carbon offsets and said: “Make clear exactly what you’re talking about. The key is not to over claim.”

She warned: “It’s difficult to substantiate a full lifecycle claim. Absolute claims have to be supported by evidence. To date we’ve not been presented with any evidence on a lifecycle claim that we’ve accepted. The bar is very high.”

For example, in advertising an overseas holiday, the ASA would “require a company take account of flights even if they don’t sell them”.

The authority upheld a complaint against Intrepid Travel in May over an advert featuring the Giza Pyramids in Egypt with the text “People & planet-friendly small group adventures since 1989”. The ASA ruled it “misleadingly minimised the impact of Intrepid Travel’s holidays”.

Grimley said a claim that a trip is ‘environmentally friendly’ would be “very difficult to substantiate”.

She added: “Whatever you put in your marketing material is your responsibility. An advertiser who uses a Tripadvisor review in advertising needs to make sure it’s genuine and have the person’s contact details, which generally they don’t.”

Industry lawyer Alex Padfield, director of Hexstalls Law, told the conference: “You don’t have to say nothing about the environment, but it must be realistic and honest. You could say something true, but if you don’t provide the context the regulator could say ‘It’s not enough’.

“The more you claim, the higher the level of substantiation needs to be. You must not omit anything. If you say something that leads a customer to make a choice, it could be an offence.”

The ASA offers free advice to companies and will review any advert in advance of release with at least 24 hours’ notice.

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