Realizations and musings from the sustainable tourism front

I’ve been involved in the business of sustainable tourism for the past five years. Some of the tasks and projects I’ve done include staff training in environmental practices and nature interpretation, direct guest interaction via nature tours and nightly talks at the beach bar, organizing the publication of a book, getting our department website up and running, and writing, editing, producing, and directing an online nature show. As a person, I love what I’m doing. I get to share El Nido’s unique flora and fauna with people from around the world (people always laugh when I tell them that our white sand beaches are actually piles of parrotfish poop), meet scientific giants (hi Dr. Gerry Allen and Dr. Mark Erdmann!), and become famous on the Internet (watch our show!). But from a business perspective, is it worth it? Does our reputation as a sustainable tourism company help us keep our current customers and attract new ones?

My realizations after more than seven months of maintaining and monitoring our social media presence (yes, it’s another thing I’m doing on top of everything else):

  1. Most guests and potential guests don’t care that we’re an eco resort. I say most because there are definitely some that do (I love them so!), but they’re in the minority. This is because…
  2. The top considerations in booking a holiday will (almost) always be the cost and the hotel’s facilities. Us being an eco resort is the icing on top of the cake – it’s not the cake itself.

What’s my basis for these realizations?

  1. I’ve represented our company at several conferences, including ones on green business, green urbanism, and corporate social responsibility. I came prepared to enthusiastically share the things we’re doing and to learn from other participants. Instead, the Top 2 questions I got were “How much does it cost to stay in your resort?” and “Can I get a discount?”
  2. On our Facebook and Twitter pages, the posts that always get the most “likes” and “shares” are the ones about the scenic views and the luxurious hotel facilities. A sunset photo? Fifty “likes”. A hammock on the beach with a writeup on swaying with the breeze? Seventy “likes”. A feature on our Earth Day cleanup events? I’m lucky to get past 25.
  3. In the questionnaire that our guests fill out before they leave, they hardly ever praise our environmental initiatives. It’s always the service.

Lesson learned: it will never be enough to just be a responsible tourism company. You need to have the better product, better people, and better environmental profile than the other guy if you want to get ahead. Let’s face it: concern for the environment will always be secondary to whether the product works. We’re an eco resort because we believe in it, but our guests aren’t likely to care about that if our waiter messes up their drinks order.

Say it now!