Sustainability challenges in tourism: marketing and lack of customer demand

Marketing and lack of customer demand is the focus of this fifth post of our special series on the key challenges preventing tourism businesses and destinations from becoming more sustainable.

In our interviews with tourism and sustainability professionals we often include a question about which they consider the main challenges regarding tourism sustainability. Among the many (and very diverse) answers so far, we’ve identified 10 themes and areas of concern. Marketing and lack of customer demand is one of them.

Below a few extracts and answers from our interviews, intended to offer you a snapshot of expert views on the topic. We strongly recommend you to read the full versions of the interviews. Sustainability challenges in tourism are very location-specific, and as such best understood in context.


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Marketing

Ross Lardner, Australia:

“It has been a marketing challenge to promote the hostel [Sydney Harbour YHA] as environmentally sustainable, mainly because there are so many other unique selling points about the property that the sustainability message tends to get lost! For example, our panoramic views of Sydney’s icons, the only budget accommodation in The Rocks, located on a significant colonial heritage site etc, tend to be the messages that stick with people.”


Lack of customer demand

Eduard Mueller, Costa Rica:

“As long as tourists don’t require [sustainability], companies won’t comply, with the exception of those that are already doing their activity sustainably because of their principles.”

Randy Durband, USA:

“To my mind the top challenge for both sustainability in general and travel & tourism in particular is that demand for sustainable product must shift from soft to hard. Ask most consumers if they care about doing the right thing for planet and people and they’ll say yes. But their purchase behaviors are based mostly on price and convenience to them. They need to factor in their good intentions at point of purchase more than they do now.”

Antonis Petropoulos, Greece:

“The truth is that few consumers (around 10%) would choose the more expensive but greener holiday option if they could find a cheaper, less sustainable or greenwashed one. This race to the bottom inevitably takes place on the backs of exploited tourism employees (and trainees, and interns) and small owners blackmailed by multinational tour operators. That said, I long for a world where quality tourism is affordable for all and accessible to all, but it just is not possible under the current global system.”


Thoughts:

No doubt, most of us make our travel decisions with price and convenience in mind. In this sense we are lucky because air travel has never been as cheap and convenient. The result is overcrowding during peak holiday season, and overtourism in popular destinations – a topic which has made headlines in the mainstream press over the last weeks.

From a destination perspective, waiting for customer demand to drive sustainability is too risky and thus waste of valuable time, especially in light of predicted strong tourism growth over the next years.

Destination marketing, which is about matching supply with demand – and sometimes vice versa – in tourism has long pursued priorities of visitor not value growth, which adds rather than takes away pressure from destinations. It is only recently that marketing organizations are rethinking their purpose and business models – proactively or forced by budget cuts and stakeholder pressure.

That said, marketers have all the tools necessary to help solve contemporary tourism issues. DMO’s can and will continue to be a great asset for destinations, so long as their (public) funding and objectives are geared towards benefiting local communities and residents primarily, and tourism businesses and travelers second. This will require some changes to current marketing practice, such as more destination management and less promotion – at least in popular, hyped destinations such as Barcelona.


Next:

Unrealistic expectations is the topic of our next post (#6) of our series on the key challenges preventing tourism businesses and destinations from becoming more sustainable.

Articles on sustainable tourism challenges published so far:


Please note that the information and views set out in this article are those of the authors (interviewees) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the organizations they work for.


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Sustainability Challenges in Tourism Explained: #5 Marketing and Lack of Customer Demand
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