In the second of six articles based on the new white paper, Survival of the Fittest, Travel Foundation chief executive Sue Hurdle explains how sustainability can help you connect with customers

When talking to agents about the benefits of sustainability, one of the biggest barriers we come up against is the belief that customers don’t care, and are purely motivated by price.

While there is no doubt that present economic conditions have made everyone watch their pennies more carefully, there is a danger that customers not asking for sustainable holidays by name could be misinterpreted as disinterest, and therefore moved down the industry’s priority list.

We were keen to explore this situation when researching our white paper, Survival of the Fittest, and the truth may come as a surprise.

What we found was that, driven by improving standards in other parts of their purchasing lives, far from not being a priority, today’s consumers have an increasing expectation that companies will behave responsibly and sustainably on their behalf.

In fact, according to Tui Travel, a majority of consumers (70%) believe companies they do business with should be committed to preserving the natural environment and more than half (55%) that businesses should offer fair working conditions.

There is also evidence that today’s customers are often willing to pay a premium for an equivalent ‘sustainable product’.

With green retail products costing on average 44% more than their standard equivalents, who would have thought that Fairtrade and organic goods would be some of the only grocery sectors to grow despite recession?

Even value retailer Lidl’s own organic brand saw a 16% growth in 2011. We firmly believe that more sustainable holidays are better holidays. It just makes sense.

Here’s a test:  the next opportunity you get, why not find out whether sustainability actually does matter to your customers by offering them a choice.

For example,  hotel A, which does not appear to be making efforts to reduce its impact on the environment, support the local economy or hire local staff and which promotes its international status, rather than where it is.

Or Hotel B, which comes across as being sympathetic to the local economy and environment, has a real sense of place and communicates its efforts to  minimise negative impacts and to bring  maximum benefits it brings to the area through local employment, supplies or excursions. 

See which one they choose.

Clearly this exercise requires a bit of homework, but it will be useful in learning more about available products. 

An easy way to find examples of better properties is to look for those that participate in a certification scheme such as Travelife and you will increasingly find sustainability credentials on websites and in brochures.

In the above scenario, we haven’t used the term sustainability but, I hope you can see what we mean by it. In a market driven by price, agents must increasingly differentiate themselves and add value to the booking process.

Sustainability can help to create and cement relationships and show the customer you care about their experience. After all, it’s all part of the service.

As well as accommodation, there are other parts of the holiday you can look at to help your customers have a greener and better experience.

As well as providing product information, you can pass on tips and advice to customers about what they can do personally to ensure their holiday gives back more and how they will have a better time as a result.

While they may not be asking for it by name, customers do care about sustainability and by taking steps to incorporate it into your day to day operations, you can help to inspire change and create a lasting bond with customers that will keep them coming back for more.


You can find out how to get started using the Travel Foundation’s new Greener Retail tool for Travel Agents 

Check out the newly re-launched website for lots of resources, tips and guides to help.

To download a copy of the Survival of the Fittest white paper, visit the Travel Foundation website.

 You can also find the Greener Retail for Travel Agents tool on the Travel Foundation website. 

The Travel Foundation would love to hear your feedback on the report. Please email your comments and/or any of your own sustainability success stories to