Tell Better Tourism Stories

Andy Dumaine says being green is not enough:

The sustainable tourism community needs to wake up and smell the fair trade coffee.  After two decades of lofty ideals and breathless pronouncements, sustainable tourism remains a long way from achieving critical mass.  Although the need for sustainability grows ever more urgent, most sustainable tourism experts continue to operate in the background only to be trotted out when greenies pass through the office.

Andy Dumaine

This sad state of affairs is almost entirely self-inflicted.

Sustainability tends to attract highly educated idealists with a propensity for telling dull stories about salt-water swimming pools and low flush toilets.   The first rule of communications is that just because you care doesn’t mean anyone else will.   The reason sustainable tourism remains stunted in infancy is that the community has failed to tell stories that connect with real travelers.

Sustainable tourism isn’t about wonky improvements to infrastructure any more than fine dining is about smaller napkins and bigger forks.   The truth about certification standards or grey water recycling systems is that there is nothing inherently new or interesting in the story.  Sustainable tourism may have the noblest of intentions, but two decades of evidence indicates its tactics are not compelling to travelers seeking vacation excitement.  To win more fans and business, sustainable tourism must become more experiential and emotional and less intellectual and incremental.

The good news is that it is cheaper for a resort to change its story than its light bulbs.  Compelling stories generate more consumer interest with less media reach and frequency.   A great story will be shared.  A great energy audit will be forgotten.  If sustainable tourism is serious about changing the industry, then it must first get serious about changing the stories it tells and the experiences it sells.

Andy Dumaine is the president of shrinkingfootprint, a strategy and communications consultancy based in Baltimore, Maryland.    

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