On Message: How the green lobby could win over a fickle public

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding


One of the biggest challenges facing the sustainable travel lobby is sustaining Brits’ interest, says, PR Week editor Danny Rogers


The week of June 26 – July 3 is Make Holidays Greener Week. But, as Michael Caine would say, ‘Not a lot of people know that’.


Why not? Well, for a start there are hundreds of these ‘sponsored’ weeks – from the well-known Mental Health Action Week, right through to Cumbrian spicy sausage week (I made that one up). But, more importantly, the message of sustainable holidays has rather slipped off the agenda of late. 


This is partly because the British public’s sentiment towards green issues tends to be cyclical. We’ve had peaks of interest in the environment, such as in the mid-1990s when Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were grabbing the agenda, and a few years ago when Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ changed the consensus for a while.


But unfortunately these peaks seem to coincide with economic boom times. When the economy switches to bust, as it did two years ago, companies’ and consumers’ thoughts tend to drift towards value for money instead. The challenge for the green travel lobby, therefore, is to build less fickle awareness and support.


The Travel Foundation is doing a reasonable job, bearing in mind its limited resources, but could still do with a serious marketing boost. While it has produced some rather nice consumer tips on how to enjoy greener holidays what it really needs is major conviction from travel brands themselves.


One can draw a parallel here with the big supermarkets. How, for example, can we ever really get consumers to stop using millions of environmentally-damaging plastic bags, when the UK’s biggest retailer Tesco continues to hand them out with gay abandon?


Today (June 26) the green travel lobby will get a welcome fillip. TUI UK is using Make Holidays Greener Week to launch what is says is a ‘sustainable tourism consumer brand’ – and seems to be putting some admirable promotional welly behind it.


And other holiday companies such as Thomas Cook, The Co-operative Travel Group and Teletext have signed up to a number of initiatives over the next seven days.


But what happens when the week is over?


One can’t help thinking that the answer, as in much successful brand building, is to make sustainability more ‘aspirational’. It will be interesting to see what TUI announces later today – it was tight-lipped at the time of writing – but if a company could make green holidays cool and desirable, it would give them more cache.


What I’d also like to see is all travel organisations – tour operators, airlines, cruise companies, destinations and trade bodies – harnessing social media to poll consumers on green issues. If these brands could successfully engage travellers in sustainability they could use it to real marketing advantage.


Could the Travel Foundation create, for example, a sexy green logo for ethical travellers to put on their Facebook pages, Twitter or Foursquare feeds? The first ‘green mayors’ perhaps?


Sustainable travel is an issue for us all. If we fail in this quest, the long-term consequences will be unthinkably dire, not only for travel firms but for the destinations themselves. Indeed, for our whole way of life.


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