Greenwashing in Tourism: What is it and how to avoid it
Misleading corporations have adopted green traveling as a marketing strategy with the purpose of enhancing the way travelers perceive them and attract green consumers. These companies have made it difficult to differentiate legitimate companies that protect the environment from others who are using greenwashing campaigns to grow their profits.
Due to the rapid growth in popularity of the responsible travel industry, many businesses have focused on promoting ethical tourism through “green” advertising and marketing. The negative outcome of this is that these companies don’t focus on implementing the business practices they publicise, so they don’t really contribute to minimising environmental impact while traveling.
What does Greenwashing mean?
In a few words, companies that claim to have 'green' credentials that are unfounded, misleading or inflated adopt this unethical behavior. “Greenwashing” portrays a ‘green’ (environmental, ethical, responsible or sustainable) glow over tours and holiday accommodations amongst others.
Greenwashing uses marketing to portray and promote products, activities or policies as environmentally friendly when, in fact, they are not. The deceived travelers, with the intent of supporting sustainable practices end up spending their money on misleading advertising.
An example associated with the travel industry would be tour operators that make trips look more ethical and sustainable than they truly are. The tours trick consumers into believing that they somehow benefit a local community or environment by participating in the particular activity that got sold to them.
How to identify it?
First, let's review the purpose of sustainable tourism, the Global Development Research Center (GDRC) defines it as a movement that attempts to minimize tourism's impact on the environment and local culture so that it will be available for future generations while contributing to generating income, employment, and the conservation of local ecosystems.
Commonly used terms to define the above concept often get misused in the industry, to mention a few, we have eco-tourism, responsible tourism, and ethical tourism. This makes it challenging to spot greenwashed tours, nonetheless, there are a few things you could point out to test the accuracy of the eco-friendly approach that your partners embrace.
- Vague claims: Their claims are poorly defined or too broad, possibly making consumers misunderstand the real concepts. That a travel business promotes natural, clean, and well-preserved destinations, does not mean that they are contributing to the protection of these areas or that there are sustainable initiatives getting implemented.
- Missing proof: Represented by an ecological allegation that can not be backed by easily accessible supporting information, this factor also misses any reliable third party that acknowledges it. It’s necessary to investigate sources of information and evidence of how the results of such eco-friendly efforts can be measured.
- Leave no trace policy: Their concern for having minimum impact whilst enjoying guided outdoor tours responsibly, could speak for this company's eco-friendly commitment. The Leave No Trace foundation set 7 core principles connected to this topic, their mission is simple and straightforward: Leaving the places you enjoy as good or better than you found them.
- Local economic and socio-cultural benefits: The income that these tours generate should help make a positive difference in the local community. This could be done in multiple ways, including employing local people, buying locally-sourced products, getting involved in community-based initiatives, and more.
- False third-party endorsements: The product offered to travelers gives the impression of third-party endorsement by either words or images, when in reality, there is no such endorsement nor is credible, simply put, fake labels. Once again, a little research is necessary, this time to find out about the achievement process and auditing stages of the "green" certification.
At this point, you may have realised that the point is to research beyond the jargon and to dive in as deep as necessary to picture the pillar of positive actions and results for eco-friendly missions, goals, and beliefs; all of this based on real data, case studies, and statistics, if applicable. In any case, it's easy enough to put claims out there, right?
What are the negative effects of this?
It’s important to draw your attention to the fact that greenwashing doesn't just affect customers that undertake it. Irresponsible organisations that adopt this practice can cause negative impacts on the entire travel industry: environmentally, socially, economically and in terms of credibility.
With the purpose of getting more information about their purchasing choices, consumers often rely on advertising and other corporate means of communications. Greenwashing puts into question the trust in ethical products and services and could end up causing travelers skepticism in the whole sustainable movement.
Without trust in the claims of organisations, consumers cannot decide on their green purchase because they don't know who or which sources to trust. As a result, this could jeopardise the whole sustainable market, apart from this, it could also produce a negative effect on the marketing efforts of travel companies.
What can tour operators do to reduce it?
Partnering up with organisations that use terms like ecotourism, ethical, green or sustainable don't actually mean that they could contribute to the core values of these concepts. You should take the time to investigate their authenticity and ask the necessary questions before your business gets involved with them.
Due to the fact that, certain companies don’t entirely support sustainability doesn't necessarily mean that they are unethical either (maybe they could be a little more enthusiastic about their initiatives!). In spite of that, there should be no possibilities of overlooking shameless greenwashing.
You have the power to help stop greenwashing and drive sustainable innovation in tourism if you take the time to promote informed travel decisions to your potential and current clients. One of the most meaningful things tour operators can do in their reach is to share ethical tourism experiences.
Regardless of the size of your tour operator business, choosing the right booking software is an important step to make the process of promoting ethical tours and more business management aspects far easier, especially if the software shares the same ethical values your company has set.