A once-rare creature has been spotted lurking around hotels across the globe more and more in recent years.
It looks like a regular hotel guest, sounds like one, has money just like one — but this species doesn’t ask you about all the things you’re used to getting questions about, like how late room service is available, whether they can get some extra towels, or whether they really have to pay a fee for valet parking when they’ve already ponied up for the room upgrade.
Instead, this guest is asking cryptic questions about where you get your produce, what your carbon footprint is, and even asking you NOT to clean their room every day of their stay. Crazy!
Congratulations: you’ve spotted the elusive ecotourist, and they have decided that your hotel is someplace to consider spending their money. That’s pretty awesome news, and if you play your cards right, this individual represents a big new opportunity for your hotel. Why? Because ecotourism is in, big time.
What exactly is ecotourism? Instead of being hyper-focused on comfort and checking out the best shopping and dining the area has to offer, the ecotourist is more concerned with visiting fragile and undisturbed natural areas, interacting with and supporting the local culture and community, and disturbing the surrounding environment as little as possible while appreciating its beauty. Ecotourists simply see themselves as responsible tourists, and they’re willing to do with less as long as they know you, as a hotel manager, are willing to do the same.
Ecotourism is a rapidly growing segment of tourism, so it’s in your best interest to be prepared to meet ecotourists’ needs. A 2012 TripAdvisor survey of 700 travelers found that 71 percent planned to make more eco-friendly choices in the next year, up from 65 percent a year before. And 57 percent of travelers said that they often made eco-friendly travel decisions, which included choosing a more environmentally conscious hotel.
How do you rope this potentially lucrative new group of guests to your hotel, while helping out the planet in the process? After some deep digging, I’ve come up with some tips that, if followed, will have flocks of ecotourists migrating to your door.
1. Make your hotel environmentally friendly
If you do absolutely nothing else, do this. You have zero chance scoring ecotourist dollars if you skimp on this step, as a hotel that is not green will get passed over by this finicky group of people. Your environmentally conscious guest may forgive you if you replace towels every day or don’t drive a hybrid, but if you claim to be green, you’d better show it.
Sure, this seems like a mammoth task, but take heart: simple steps taken right away will make your hotel a lot greener for absolutely zilch, nada, nothing. For example, swap out your chemical-packed cleaning products with environmentally friendly options. Or leave a note for your guest asking them to reuse towels in order to cut down on the amount of water that must be used for washing, and make housekeeping only available by request if the guest is staying for more than one day — along with a note explaining why so your guest doesn’t think you’re just being a cheapskate. You may need to get some hotel management software with a good housekeeping system as this may make your routine more complex, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Buying recycled toilet paper is one way you could save money right away while making your hotel more environmentally friendly at the same time. Other efforts to “green-ify” your hotel will cost some money up front, like installing solar panels to provide electricity or only provided hybrid vehicles to the staff for hotel use, but often will end up saving you in the long run in terms of lower energy costs, in addition to making your property more attractive to ecotourists.
Feel like you’ve REALLY gone the extra mile and your hotel is about the greenest place in the whole tri-state area? Go ahead and take a shot at getting LEED certified, which really will send ecotourists into a booking frenzy.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the gold standard in determining whether a building is truly sustainable and Earth-friendly. Click here to learn more about their standards and how to start the process for getting certified.
Whatever you do to make your hotel more environmentally friendly, take great pains to toot your own horn by leaving notes in the hotel room and on your website explaining in detail your efforts to make your property an environmentally friendly place to stay. Don’t worry that people will think you’re bragging, as ecotourists will be looking for these confirmations that they’ve made the right choice.
The greater the lengths you go to, the more impressed an ecotourist is likely to be — and trust me, they’ll do their research.
2. Highlight local parks and wildlife
Your ecotourists are not coming to your hotel to watch TV or get a rubdown at the spa. They want to explore the area, so if you want ecotourists to be interested in staying at your hotel, create an entire section of your website that is devoted to the natural beauty of the surrounding area. We’ve got lots of software options for designing a beautiful website for no cost at all.
Point out local parks and nature preserves, along with detailed directions to them. You might even offer to comp the entry fee — if it has one — as an incentive to book at your hotel. Yellowstone National Park Lodges in Wyoming, for example, takes advantage of the hordes of ecotourists who come to the area by offering special packages for guests. Their spring package includes in-park transportation, an “Old West” stagecoach ride and other perks to help their guests get the most out of the experience.
If your hotel is in an area with lots of wildlife, highlight that to your guests as well. Take some photos of birds, animals or interesting plants that would be of interest to an ecotourist, and post them on your website to give them a taste of what kind of experience they can expect when they stay there. That’ll whet the appetite of any ecotourist.
Don’t have a park right next door? Buy or rent a shuttle bus to carry your guests to local nature zones that you know will knock their socks off, and you might be able to make a little extra cash by charging a fee for that service.
Hey, why not get in on the fun yourself? After all, nature is awesome, and it sure beats being stuck in the office all day. Organize a hike or a bike ride along a really cool trail that ecotourists might not know about, and they’ll be sure to look you up the next time they’re in your neck of the woods.
Another possibility is to host an an annual Christmas bird count, which will pack your hotel every holiday season with birdwatching enthusiasts. Every year thousands upon thousands of bird-watchers all across the country gather in droves to count bird species in their area, both for fun and as a vital conservation effort to monitor local species, according to the Audubon Society. Click here to find out how to conduct your own Christmas bird count.
3. Connect with the local culture
Ecotourism isn’t just about the critters — it’s about people, too. Ecotourists want to connect with the local culture, which means they’re looking to buy a beautiful handmade piece of jewelry created by a local artisan rather than a cheap trinket made in a far-away factory. They also want to feel like they make a difference in the world around them by contributing to causes that will help the local community, so help your guests make this happen.
Invite indigenous artisans to showcase their wares at your hotel with an open market, perhaps in your lobby or in an outside space, and make it a regular event that you can advertise on your website. The locals will love you for it, and ecotourists will talk about your hotel for years to come.
Another option is to organize a donation drive for a charity that is aimed at helping local communities. Ecotourists want to give back, so don’t be afraid to ask for even more of their money, as long as it’s for a good cause. You’ll feel good about yourself as well, and bring some much needed help to the community that helps you.
You need to know where you stand with your guests and whether ecotourists think your heart is in the right place, so explore software with good guest experience management options, which will help you get helpful feedback and engage with your guests in a positive way.
You see, it’s not that hard at all to grab the attention of ecotourists, and it’s a whole new pipeline of customers into your hotel you probably weren’t taking full advantage of. Got any tips on how to make an ecotourist happy? Let us know in the comments below.
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