Sustainable Destination Best Practices: How to Find and Promote Your Message


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December 17, 2014

Sustainable Destination Best Practices


Destinations' Sustainability Stories

The Tourism Training Live session on December 8, 2014, by TrainingAid and Respondeco shared key insights into why effective sustainability communications can benefit tourism destinations’ marketing efforts.

Tourism Training Live Keep It Real for Destinations
Tourism Training Live session "Keep It Real for Destinations" (Dec 8th, 2014)

Through case studies and practical tips for destinations, this session discussed relevant consumer trends encouraging travellers to support sustainable and responsible experiences, and effective strategies that destinations can use to promote their sustainability stories in an authentic and engaging way.

Based on the "Keep It Real for Destinations" presentation shared during the live session, as well as related discussions on questions from our viewers and followers, the following are additional examples and ideas for successful sustainability communication approaches by tourism destinations.


Social Media Marketing for Destinations

What are some good ways to use word-of-mouth in sustainability communications?

Social media is a powerful tool for word-of-mouth marketing for your destination, and for spreading your sustainability messages to a wider audience. Cape Town Tourism's 2012 "My Cape Town Holiday" campaign is a great example of using social platforms to attract travellers and to raise awareness of some of the city’s less well-known attractions and travel experiences.

Destination Marketing Cape Town Facebook Campaign
My Cape Town Holiday app by Cape Town Tourism

Cape Town Tourism used an interactive travel game app called My Cape Town Holiday, which would send Facebook profiles on holiday (virtually) in Cape Town, with three winners receiving actual trips to Cape Town.

In addition to engaging potential visitors in a fun way, the campaign also succeeded in highlighting small communities and hidden gems, raising awareness of the tourism opportunities that travellers might not otherwise have known about, and in encouraging greater tourist spend in the places that need it most.


Targeting the Right Audience

Are most travellers interested in sustainability, or just certain types of travellers?

Different segments will respond to different messages, and not all travellers will be interested in or motivated by sustainability. It may be helpful, therefore, for destinations to identify the segments of travellers who are most interested and engaged in sustainability messages, to target them as "early adopters".

By focusing on those who are likely to respond well to your sustainability communications, you can increase the chance of your messages seen by more people through word-of-mouth, and of turning those early adopters into supporters and ambassadors who will play a key role in engaging other segments of your audience.

So how can you identify the market segments that are more interested in sustainability?

Here's a good example of market research conducted in the Lake District National Park in Northwest England, which aimed at reducing transport-related environmental burdens from visitors while maintaining economic benefit of tourism: "Reducing visitor car use in a protected area: a market segmentation approach to achieving behaviour change" by Davina Stanford (Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol. 22, No. 4).

The research first explored visitor transport behaviour using a social psychological framework, to understand what might best predict desired behaviour change such as reduced car use. Secondly, it used the persuasive communication strategy to develop and test different types of marketing messages with value propositions appropriate to different visitor types. And thirdly, it identified market segments with both a high propensity towards positive behavioural change and the highest economic contribution to the destination.

By monitoring visitor behaviour in areas such as spending patterns and environmental actions, as well as their response to your sustainability messages, you can identify the segments of your audience that you can focus on as the potential early adopter market. And remember: positive attitudes towards the environment don’t have to mean a loss in economic contribution.


How can we find the right audience to target for our sustainability communications?

Tourism New Zealand's "100% Pure" campaign is another example of identifying and effectively marketing to a target audience with sustainability-focused messages. Rather than finding existing segments that already embrace sustainability, the campaign focused on attracting travellers who form the most appropriate segment for the message of the "100% Pure" campaign, which encapsulates the essence of New Zealand's unspoiled landscape.

Destination Marketing Tourism New Zealand
Landscape, adventure, people and culture: Tourism New Zealand identified the "ideal visitor who would gain most from what New Zealand has to offer". (Source: "Pure As - 10 Years of 100% Pure New Zealand")

To target the "right" audience, Tourism New Zealand focused on a market they define as “The Interactive Traveller”, whose main characteristics include their desires to explore a wide range of tourism products; seek out new experiences; enjoy outdoor activity; interact with natural, social and cultural environments; and plan and book holidays directly.

This strategy has been effective in targeting those visitors that have values, expectations and aspirations that align well with what New Zealand offers. By taking an integrated approach to tourism development at the national level, Tourism New Zealand has been able to identify and then attract those tourists who contribute most to the economy, focusing on yield rather than merely on numbers of arrivals, and on spreading the benefits of tourism.


Sustainability Communication Insights

How important are data? Do we need to share proof or are stories more effective?

Data are important, but they are most effective when used in the right context. For example, this 2008 research examined the effectiveness of signs requesting hotel guests' participation in energy-saving programs: "A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels" by Noah J. Goldstein, Robert B. Cialdini, and Vladas Griskevicius (Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 35, No. 3).

According to this research, appeals using social proof (e.g. "The majority of guests reuse their towels") proved more effective than those that focused solely on environmental protection (e.g. "Help us save the environment!"). Moreover, the social proof-approach to these appeals proved most effective when describing group behavior that occurred in the setting that most closely matched individuals’ immediate circumstances (e.g. "The majority of guests in this room reuse their towels").

Storytelling is another great way of incorporating data to support your sustainability communications, placing your messages in the right context for your audience. Rather than telling the story of what you do and why your actions are important for the environment or for the society, for example, your messages will be much more effective in engaging travellers if you focus on stories that demonstrate the benefits of such action, and stories that illustrate the impact of your sustainability efforts in a tangible way. You want your visitors to feel good about being part of your sustainability stories, not just see your sustainability statistics.


Value-Driven Approach to Defining Your Message

What aspects of sustainability practices are most important?

It's going to be difficult to do everything and to do it well. Focus on what is important to you and what your priorities are, and try to do that well before moving on to other initiatives. An important part of prioritizing your sustainability practices is thinking about your destination's core values.

Ask yourself: What are the key values that define our destination? Which sustainability goals are most important for us and why? What actions take into account the needs and considerations of all stakeholders – including visitors and local businesses?

In identifying the range of actions that are relevant to your destination and the sustainability practices that you want to promote as part of your destination’s sustainability stories, it will be helpful to use some of the established guides for sustainable destination criteria, such as:

  • UNWTO Indicators of Sustainable Development for Tourism Destinations: This guidebook describes over 40 major sustainability issues, from natural resources management to cultural heritage preservation, with suggested indicators and measurement techniques for each issue, and a procedure to develop destination-specific indicators.
  • Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria for Destinations: Developed by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) these criteria for destinations were developed based on existing criteria and approaches including, the UNWTO destination level indicators and nearly 40 other widely accepted principles and guidelines, certification criteria and indicators.
  • Geotourism Charter: National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations defines “geotourism” as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” The Geotourism Charter outlines the key principles of a geotourism strategy for sustainable destination stewardship.
  • European Tourism Indicator Toolkit for Sustainable Destinations: The European Commission, in collaboration with University of Surrey, Sustainable Travel International and the INTASAVE Partnership, has developed this toolkit as a way to promote a locally owned and led process for monitoring, managing, and enhancing the sustainability of a tourism destination. (View on SlideShare / Download PDF).
  • European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas: Developed by EUROPARC Federation and its partners, this Charter is a practical management tool for ensuring that tourism contributes to a balanced economic, social and environmental development of protected areas in Europe.


What do YOU think? If you have any example of effective sustainability communication practices, or ideas and lesson learned for destinations, please share your stories and tips by leaving a comment here or by contacting us (media [at]!