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Doing Green Tourism
Bristol, arguably the UK’s ‘green capital’ played host to the inaugural Green Tourism Conference last week, organised by the founders of Green Tourism Business Scheme, Andrea Nicholas and Jon Procter. At Bristol (that’s the venue) was bustling with people from all four corners of the UK, converging to celebrate our successes and learn from each other. A host of inspiring presentations and case studies really brought home the fantastic results in cost savings, carbon reduction and water conservation that can be achieved through joining GTBS and partnering up with sustainable suppliers.
As impressive as this all was, the two things that stuck in my head at the end of the day though were: 1. That we should all bake homemade bread (according to Satish Kumar, Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine) and 2. That sustainable business should be more profitable than business as usual (Angela Reid-Nagy, Green Tourism Canada) – interestingly enough the two are perfectly connected and not just because baking bread saves money!
Satish Kumar was a breath of fresh air; twitter went mad during his presentation, he captured our imaginations taking us all on journey of what ‘green tourism’ can mean, from smelling freshly baked bread to cliff top walks and his version of the NHS the ‘natural health service.’ The message was simple though; make your business authentic, soulful and sustainable and visitors will keep coming back. In fact recent research from Harvard University has shown clear links between visitor satisfaction and loyalty, and businesses where there is a visible sustainability program with employee engagement.
So how does this work with making sustainable business more profitable? I couldn’t help thinking about Angela Reid-Nagy’s mission for green Tourism Canada ‘to make sustainable business more profitable than business as usual’ – that’s exactly what needs to happen in order to take the ‘positive revolution,’ that Jon Procter enthusiastically described GTBS as in his introduction, up a notch so that sustainable tourism businesses are the mainstream rather than the periphery of the industry.
There are two sides to this coin – one is the obvious way of increasing profits through sustainability via the myriad cost saving actions to be implemented form renewable energy sources to water conservation measures and heat insulation. These actions produce measureable, tangible results that end up saving businesses hundreds if not thousands of pounds each year – one very clear way to increase profits.
However, I see another side too and this harks back to Satish Kumar’s vision of the ‘authentic’ visitor experience. Being ‘green’ has often been tarred with the idea that this will mean a lower quality product because sustainability is all about ‘cutting down’ and ‘reducing’ things. This is absolutely not the case though and there are many businesses out there that are taking sustainability actions whilst maintaining and if not improving the quality of their product. Examples of this come in all shapes and sizes, from business who are raising money for local charities and giving the visitor the opportunity to learn more about the local area and get that ‘feel good factor,’ to those that are championing local suppliers with hand crafted furniture and prized local food at breakfast.
So shouldn’t doing all this good stuff increase profitability for the business too? There are small chunks of evidence here and there that suggest it can do, but one crucial part of the jigsaw is missing and that is communicating all of this effectively to the visitor. Doesn’t it follow that if businesses are committing to putting sustainability at the heart of their business, improving the visitor experience and looking after what’s near and dear to them, then this should be recognised and promoted to the visitor?
If we are going to make sustainable business more profitable than business as usual, then the power to do this ultimately lies in the consumer by choosing to frequent these business over all the others out there. Making a step change in the market can come from all of us involved in tourism working together to promote our green businesses, so that the ‘green tourism’ stars really do stand out, blazing a path for other businesses to follow and offering the visitor a sustainable and authentic experience as standard.