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
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
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
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
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
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
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