Published on Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Green is the New Luxury say Posh Travel Brands

Ritz Carlton-¬™s -¬Ë-Give Back-¬™ Logo

As part of the ITB CSR Programme a panel discussion -¬---Who is the EcoTourist-¬~ was held that yielded some interesting results.

Jurgen Maier of American Express Int presented results of research they conducted looking into the green marketplace, which suggested that a typical eco-traveller is around 30 years old living a broadly healthy lifestyle that is good for themselves and good for the world -" the -¬---Conscious Consumer-¬~. -¬---Green-¬~ says Amex is new luxury

Andrew Harding, founder of Nature and Kind said he believed that travellers desire more immersive and diverse experiences yet lack the time to research holiday options. Harding suggested here that green and ethical travel is actually not the luxury commodity; it is time that we crave..

The important point was made that going local actually costs less while being a more sustainable way to travel, and so the future of eco-travel may not be considered luxury only that it makes sense.

Going local makes as much sense to business as to the consumer by saving time and money while enhancing the overall experience. Harding also argues that -¬Ë-responsible tourism-¬™ often coincides with emerging niches in the market and is an effective way of securing new business in difficult times, a way of looking ahead to the future. So, if the eco-traveller is the ultimate prize, how do we go about winning that market?

Amex-ªs research found the key interests of this customer lie in a unique experience, value for time and money, access to valuable knowledge and the opportunity to be conscientious. Some established points here along with new ideas of building a holistic package that affords the customer that feel-good sentiment.

Consumers occupying these niches are loyal, passionate travellers, argues Harding, and there are rich rewards for any company that can strike a relationship with them.

So how to do this? Offering something unique, intimate and responsible. For inspiration look at Ritz-Carlton-ªs work in community participation. Sue Stephenson explained how the company-ªs hotels are all connected with local projects, supported actively throughout the year by their employees. Guests who show an active interest are invited to visit the projects and even be involved, proving a huge hit all round, not least with families. This initiative was enlarged after Hurricane Katrina boosted interest.

Ritz-Carlton suggests these breaks allow visitors to understand how their trip is making an impact locally.

The most interesting thing about this programme is that it is not marketed, promoted only by word of mouth and yet with 50% uptake.

Marc Aeberhard, founder of luxury Seychelles Fr-ƒ~©gate Island travel, adopts a similar approach. He says that the truly green credentials of their resort, which again are not actively marketed, are only fully demonstrated on a guest-¬™s arrival and this is where that message has its strongest impact. As with Ritz-Carlton-¬™s approach encouraging visitors to participate and learn during their holiday there is huge potential here to combine a strong sustainable tourism policy with a fantastic product and service.

What does this say for how -¬Ë-green-¬™ and ethical travel is combined into traditional travel packages? It seems customers don-¬™t want to be labelled as -¬Ë-green-¬™-" perhaps there are too many socialist connotations with the term, but this begs the question, as had been so often asked before, whether a change in language is required to stimulate a change in perception. Green washing agendas have demanded a chance in language and accountability, leaving the seminal question as whether eco travel is just the new form of travel.

The panel moderator concluded by suggesting that -¬Ë-conscience-¬™ as an attitude could replace the rhetoric of green to bring about a shift change in the way people travel and the way company-¬™s operate.

Sally Broom

Hugo Kimber of the Carbon Consultancy commented:

"The travel industry has a large "luxury" sector, in many cases selling commoditised luxury product such as resorts, a few of which are sustainable, but many of which are not . There is often a lack of understanding about what luxury is both within and outside travel. There are many who believe that there is such a thing as luxury toilet paper
because it says so on the packaging. This belief is central to the lack of distinction between luxury and prestige or "masstige" as it is known
in the luxury industry. The luxury industry has for a while been seeing a move from outer directed luxury purchasing to inner directed
purchasing. The latter is about how a purchase resonates with the purchaser's needs for self fulfillment, not shows of wealth and it is in
this area that sustainability is most relevant. Sustainable luxury speaks to the inner directed purchaser and with its values of limited impact, reduced waste without compromise on quality, is fast becoming the new luxury. The Posh Travel Brands that are identifying green as the
new luxury may be in danger of alienating the inner directed client and missing the real opportunity to reposition and thrive in these thrifty yet increasingly sustainability focused times.

On the subject of language, "green" is not becoming the new luxury, it is a core part of sustainable luxury product. Eco-luxury as a term has been heavily used in the industry and does not resonate with luxury consumers, as eco has connotations of deprivation and low quality,
whereas sustainable does not. The choice of language we use to communicate sustainable luxury travel is important, but also what we choose to communicate. Green should not be a product attribute that is
promoted heavily to consumers, firstly they are wary of these claims and as a survey last year found many result in greenwash, not because of deliberate intent to mislead, but because of a lack of clarity and understanding. Sustainability should be a core value that is embedded in
brands and products, because it relates to the trust between consumers and brands. Whilst any activity that may be used to promote travellers
engagement with their destination and environment are worthwhile, we should be careful not to over promote them or overclaim their benefits
in isolation. The idea that we should be "giving something back" may be construed as guilt abatement, when manifested in heavily trumpeted
initiatives. It would be much better if the companies focused on their overall sustainability, social, economic and environmental and undertook comprehensive and considered action/communication programmes, that
allowed consumers to understand that their purchase came with inbuilt, not sprayed on, green.

The current market condition and the increased focus on sustainability will create in a shift in luxury travel purchase and product. Luxury
travel that is sustainable luxury will prosper, whilst unsustainable masstige will wither, a result of effective action and communication by
suppliers who are adopting sustainability as a core value and consumer demand shift. Amex's Eco Tourist may actually be a real eco tourist,
looking for local experiences with an emphasis on minimal impact and this is a significant, growing market sector, but is is not a sustainable luxury one. Operators and suppliers will need to identify whether their market is the eco or luxury market - it won't turn out to be both. Irrespective of this, both have an important role to play in delivering a sustainable travel and toursim industry, lets just be careful about the language and communications we employ on the road to getting to that sustainable new world."

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  • The Eco-Guest does not have a profile

    I was at this interaction too, and it was very interesting. The one thing that really hit me was that no one really knew who the eco-guest was, and I love this fact. Gone are the days when you can profile a consumer based on how much money he/she has and what the education level is. I used to be in the consumer market research business several years ago, and it will be interesting to see how market research will tackle this new challenge. The difference now is that people are basing their purchases on values and principles (and this is not income or education driven). Its fantastic and exciting. We are so used to follow an old age approach of divide and rule (basically fit everyone into boxes and then market to them) that we forget that this is a wonderful opportunity to market to everyone. And the challenge to cater to such a vastly different clientele is awesome. The initiatives mentioned at this interaction were also wonderful, albeit a bit targeted to only the rich customer, whose eco/non eco balance might be a bit skewed, but it was interesting / inspiring to hear this prespective.

    By Raj Gyawali, Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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