Conscientious Consumers Seek Transparency; Tourism Industry Responds
by JoAnna Haugen
Today’s consumers expect brands to do more than simply exist. They’re fed up with greenwashing and performative acts. They increasingly expect the companies they support to act with responsibility and integrity.
What does this have to do with tourism?
“Travel businesses can and must be part of the solution for dealing with serious issues such as the climate crisis and tourism leakage, and customers are rightly demanding and expecting more transparency from the businesses they use,” said Sam Bruce, co-founder of Much Better Adventures.
A departure from “business as usual” can be tough; companies already leaning into more transparent practices offer tips for those getting started.
1. Publicly state commitments and share status updates.
It’s not enough for companies to state their intended impact. They also need to be clear about what their commitments are, measure progress regularly, and honestly report on their status. This isn’t only a transparent practice; it also offers an incentive for ongoing improvement.
“Being honest and sharing the result of our impact not only helps us to build trust and loyalty with our staff, customers and client partners. It also guides our efforts and shows us why some of these goals are really difficult to achieve and what we would need to change to get there — perhaps coming about things in different ways, redoubling efforts, or identifying collaborators that could help us,” said Rochelle Turner, head of sustainability at Exodus Travels. The company publishes an annual impact report detailing goals, progress, and opportunities for improvement.
Image: Exodus Travels
2. Don’t fear progress.
Becoming a more responsible brand isn’t a one-and-done project. There is a cycle of setting benchmarks, measuring and sharing progress, and continuing to improve. Sometimes brands fall short of their goals, and that’s okay.
“Being transparent means that sometimes we won’t always hit the goals that we’ve set out for ourselves,” said Claire Copeman, co-founder of Adventure Tours UK, which publishes carbon labels for its trips and has ambitious climate-related goals. “They are big goals at the end of the day, and there will be times where we don’t hit them. But the important thing is we own up to them. We understand why we didn’t hit them, and we make every effort we can to get back on track.”
Image: Adventure Tours UK
3. Unlearn. Relearn. Repeat.
We might talk about “brands” in an abstract way, but companies are powered by people. And as people attempt to address global challenges like the climate crisis, reassess the way they’ve communicated, or retool how they deliver products and services, grappling with complexity and finding solutions requires asking a lot of questions and learning along the way. “I think the world is prepared to accept that we’re all human. I think the world wants to see that we’re all human as well,” Copeman said.
“Being transparent means a willingness to being humble — acknowledging that your company sometimes can’t have all the answers and that it can be difficult for one company to do everything,” Turner said.
4. Collaborate with others.
The good news is the tourism industry is learning together — and no one has to do everything on their own. As part of their transparency journeys, some travel companies have created tools to support other companies. Much Better Adventures, for example, shared how it calculated its carbon footprint, and Intrepid Travels developed a guide for tour operators to set science-based targets.
Joining Tourism Declares, signing the Glasgow Declaration, or applying for B Corps certification makes it easier for travel companies to find and access tools like these. They also offer a reminder that companies aren’t going it alone. “Joining these communities opens up a supportive network in which you can share your own learnings and learn from others,” Bruce said. “Recognise that it’s a journey, but starting it all stems from being open, transparent, and accountable.”
About the Author
JoAnna Haugen is an award winning writer, speaker, and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for almost 15 years.
She is also founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact, and storytelling.
A returned U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer, and intrepid traveler, JoAnna is always on the hunt for her next great adventure.