ANALYSIS: Travel PR set to sell on ethical ticket - As consumers start planning summer holidays in earnest, an increased interest in sustainable tourism has created fresh opportunities for travel PROs, says Ed Shelton

Travel PROs take note: the heady mix of corporate reputation and

ethical consumerism is feeding through to the holiday market.



Christian relief and development agency Tearfund reported last week that

52 per cent of people would be more likely to use a holiday company that

had a written code in support of the environment and good working

conditions for local staff.



According to the report, Worlds Apart, almost two thirds of holiday

makers (65 per cent) said they wanted advice from travel agents about

how to observe local customs and preserve the environment in

destinations they visit.



Tearfund policy officer Graham Gordon points to the increase in both

these figures as indicative of a trend. The 52 per cent figure, for

example, has grown from 45 per cent from the same research two years

ago.



The change, he says, presents tour operators with an opportunity to find

a point of difference in the market by introducing an element of CSR

into PR and marketing activities: 'The role of PR is significant. Even

tour operators that have some example of ethical practice are not doing

enough to tell anyone about it. We say this information should be made

available.'



The charity's target is not just small, specialised tour operators that

have sprung up in recent years to offer 'fair-trade' trips to more

enlightened backpackers. It also hopes to persuade mass market operators

to act.



Although the business case has yet to prove compelling to all, some have

taken on board the way the market is heading. Thomson Holidays has a

dedicated 'sustainability manager,' Hilary Robinson, to promote this

aspect of its work. Robinson sums up the scale of the challenge: 'We

have a responsibility to the environment and communities where we

operate. The nature of our work means we must ensure our activities have

the least possible negative impact now and in the long-term.'



Operators also enthuse about the opportunities being created in PR

terms. First Choice PR manager Emma Waddell says there is a significant

lack of information about what sustaiunability means: 'There is a role

for PROs to fill that gap.'



Waddell accepts sustainability is rarely a deciding factor in which

holidays people choose. But, she says: 'It can mean anything from clean

beaches to making sure locals benefit from your holiday. PR needs to

explain that.'



This is a view backed up by travel PR firm managers. BGB & Associates MD

Debbie Hindle says operators are taking seriously the effect this work

can have on corporate reputation: 'Several have started doing work to

understand sustainable tourism.'



Hindle lauds First Choice for showing in-flight videos about local

issues affecting its destinations. The firm also indicates the

environmental status of different beaches in its PR and marketing

literature.



Opinion is divided on how close such behaviour is to the norm. Marketeer

director Peter Hollioake says it is difficult to build a PR platform

just on the basis of sustainable tourism: 'Not enough people respond to

that.'



But Brighter PR MD Debbie Flynn, points out that the independent

travellers, who are more likely to respond to ethically-oriented PR,

represent a growing proportion of the industry. Because of this, she

says, there is a case for information about operators' ethical practice

becoming increasingly important within holiday PR material.



She believes there are good commercial grounds for offering, within mass

market packages, the kind of socially-responsible activities that

ethical tourism campaigners want. An example might be trips to local

development projects or activities that benefit indigenous communities

living near resorts.



'People will often choose a hotel with a gym because even if they do not

use it, they like the idea they might use it. Travel PROs should bear in

mind that ethical activities have the same effect: people might want

these as part of the holiday experience, even if they do not take

advantage of them,' Flynn adds.



In practical PR terms, the ethical dimension of modern holidays provides

something that can be offered to travel editors as an alternative way to

write about a destination.



Similarly it can be offered to freelance travel writers as a way of

covering a single location from more than one angle.



Gordon hopes using ethical issues within a PR programme will result in

operators reporting factors such as the environmental impact of holidays

and the number of local staff employed in high positions in resorts.



Hindle says that if such information is to be available, PR teams need

to be responsible for seeing that it is only used when it can be wholly

justified by the holiday in question.



'PR could emphasise what people are doing in this direction, but it

needs to be done ethically from a PR point of view, too. The PR team

needs to make sure it is being done thoroughly or it devalues the whole

industry,' she says.



Tearfund believes the cost of inaction on this subject could be just as

serious. Sources there go so far as to say that if the mass market does

not change, most destinations will not be able to sustain tourism at its

current levels. The quality of holidays will drop and people will simply

stop going. From a reputation point of view, that is a worst-case

scenario.



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