Peoples ethical spending has always been of great interest. After meeting a particular customer I wondered if sustainability was finally becoming part of consumerism… Could it be possible that people are beginning to think of ethics first?
The customers very first question was;
‘I am looking for a responsible holiday where I can make a positive impact on Namibia, how does Responsible Travel’s holidays provide this?‘.
Sustainability and social consciousness has suddenly been given a competitive advantage. So perhaps it is time for businesses to move fluffy, tokenism charity work into real business practices?
The answer is yes according to Nielson, a leader in consumers behaviour analysis. Brands that demonstrated a commitment to sustainability grew by 4% in 2015 whilst those without grew by 1%. However, the question of cognitive dissonance always creeps in. There is a strong temptation to appear a good citizen when answering a questionnaire investigating ethical spending. Although, Nielson’s Sustainability Imperative report looks multilaterally, investigating over 30,000 peoples opinions globally, actual retail sales and analysed companies marketing strategies.
Even after these results, I still continue to be a cynic. I do not believe it’s just a result of conscience as Nielson suggests. It needs to be more than that if people are going to part with their money. Yes, they are interested and care about sustainability; the rise of B Corp certification exemplifies this. BUT when there’s a better and cheaper product I know what most people will opt for…
This change is because sustainable and ethical products are just getting better and better, but importantly becoming more desirable. When a Tesla outperforms a Lamborghini or Patagonia offers to fix your favourite jacket people begin to think ‘hey, maybe I want to hang with these guys now!’. Although, it’s not necessarily the physical object people are looking for. Fairphone admits its product is not going to be as good as an iPhone however, over 100,000 have bought it! There are some very cool features like the easily replaceable parts giving the phone an endless life. Alt ugh, consumers are not really purchasing the physical product, they are buying the story and with that comes image and lifestyle.
Working in the tourism industry this change in mindset has never been clearer. The search for deeper and more meaningful experiences has really picked up pace. With AirBnB leading the way in more immersive accommodation experiences and homestay.com providing not only a more authentic experience but a route for local people to access the tourism economy.
Arguably these products are getting better because customers needs and wants are evolving. Skift recently released a report discussing the rise of the geopolitically-aware and immersive traveler. It highlights how connectivity has made the traveller braver but also desire richer experiences that provide greater stories. The accommodations or transport may not be physically better but the experiences will be far more engaging and interesting, not only to the tourist but importantly to those who will be listing to the stories in the future. These shifts have slowly given responsible tourism added competitive advantage.
Revisiting my Namibia customer, I still think she is part of a small but growing crowd. Travellers are about experiences first, social and environmental responsibility second and I think it will stay this way. But the desired experiences have evolved. People are searching for trips that can only be provided by responsible and sustainable tourism, transforming it into the better product.
So to conclude, its not enough just to pronounce yourself as a sustainable/ethical company. You need to create a story, a way of life and identity for people to buy into…