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  • Writer's pictureJoAnna Haugen

Three Things Travel Companies Should Know About Responsible Marketing

Updated: Jul 11

by JoAnna Haugen

If there’s one thing we’ve heard in the tourism industry over the last few years, it’s that “business as usual” is no longer acceptable.

Forward-thinking travel-related companies are creating more sustainable products and services, yet an ethical question about how to deliver them to travellers remains: If marketing serves as the interface between production and consumption then what role does it play in today’s more conscious ecosystem? And given the state of the world, is “responsible marketing” even possible?

Yes, it’s possible – and it’s necessary. Here are three things your travel company should know:

1. Marketing needs to evolve beyond the bottom line.

Historically, marketing’s focus has been strictly on financial success and profit while overlooking the consequences of the production and consumption of the products and services it promotes. Responsible marketing in the tourism context must consider how its intention holistically impacts the planet and long-term wellbeing of all living things. Further, those engaged in tourism-related functions in tourism must take full responsibility and be held accountable for the economic, physical, psychological, cultural, social, and ethical impacts of their work.

This means, for example, that marketers need to think carefully about how promoting a destination could contribute to overcrowding or what the negative impacts are of an itinerary encouraging inappropriate contact with wildlife. It’s not enough to get the booking; it must be done with integrity and consideration of all impacts.

2. Marketing should reflect ethical business practices.

If “business as usual” no longer works, it’s not just marketing that needs to change. The purpose of the tourism industry – and the marketing functions that support it – must be realigned to ensure it is operating as responsibly as possible. Marketing, like any business function, does not exist in a silo, so travel-related companies must evaluate what they offer, how they produce and deliver, and what needs to be done to mitigate negative impacts while maximising positive ones.

Companies need to thoroughly evaluate everything from carbon emissions to employee relations. Measure what can be measured, and be transparent about what is being done to become more responsible and sustainable. This matters, otherwise companies risk greenwashing (communicating false or misleading information about a company’s environmental and social impacts).

This is a circular situation: Acting as an ethical company is supported through responsible marketing, and responsible marketing supports and holds companies accountable.

3. Marketing is essential for building a better future for tourism.

People will continue traveling, and marketing is key for helping them decide where and how to travel. Marketers are influential storytellers; this is their superpower!

With a critical eye on how they approach their work, marketers have the ability to highlight the positive impact of tourism. Marketing can emphasise inspiring stories of active hope and the power of tourism to empower and support people and the planet. It should consider how collateral and content encourages behaviour like overconsumption or the desire to tick off “bucket lists.” And, marketing should help people imagine and understand how they can participate in travel experiences while ensuring they, too, leave a positive impact (or at least a less negative impact) on the world.


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About the Author

JoAnna Haugen is an award winning writer, speaker, consultant, and solutions advocate who has worked in communications-related positions in the travel and tourism industry for 15+ years.

She is also founder of Rooted, a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact, and storytelling. Through Rooted, JoAnna helps tourism professionals reimagine travel experiences and support sustainability using strategic storytelling.

An international election observer and curious traveler, JoAnna is always on the hunt for her next great adventure.

Follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn.


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