How to engage guests and visitors on your sustainability journey

This year, in the spirit of World Tourism Day, we were challenged to rethink tourism. 

This theme builds on the global effort to spark productive conversations about rethinking tourism for development, the impact tourism has on our planet, and to motivate leaders to find opportunities to continue to grow the industry in a more sustainable direction.

One of the most powerful ways tourism businesses and destinations can inspire change is through engaging guests and visitors along your sustainability journey. In looking at the most common recommendations made by our team, as outcomes of our sustainability assessments, strategy development, and certifications, these are some of the top tips to involve your guests on your sustainability journey.

  1. Share Your Commitment

Let your guests know that sustainability is important to you and your organization. Share your sustainability commitment in places that are visible to the public,  and remind guests of the sustainability-related initiatives, actions, or practices that you have taken at various stages throughout their experience with you. All types of businesses and destinations should include a dedicated section on your website, and then depending on your organization, this can also be included in the following was: 

  • Pre-arrival communications
  • Upon arrival through signage and interpretation
  • During the stay or experience
  • Post-visit communications such as surveys

Many visitors will be interested to learn more about actions you have taken, as well as broader sustainability issues that are affecting your community.

  1. Encourage Guest Participation

Guests can get involved in both reducing the negative impacts of their experience, as well as making positive impacts through regenerative tourism. Consider how you can encourage guests to: 

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Provide durables instead of single-use plastics
  • Choose low carbon transportation options during their visit 
  • Reduce water consumption during hotel stays through linen reuse programs
  • Water bottle refill stations (an alternative to plastic water bottles)
  • Rescue energy with switch-off reminders for lights, televisions, etc.
  • Partnerships with local volunteer opportunities and non-profit organizations
  • Support local businesses during their visit 

Brainstorm your own ideas that make sense for your business or destination.

  1. Develop a Responsible Visitor Charter or Pledge

Looking at the ideas generated in the above step, create and publish a Responsible Visitor Charter or Pledge to highlight your commitment to sustainability and share the ways in which your guests can contribute to your company’s sustainability goals. This charter can also include ideas on how the guest can contribute to your community before and after their trip, through the types of transportation used, supporting local businesses, monetary donations, or even volunteering in community events. 

  1. Promote Monetary Support from Guest Contributions

There are several ways you can support your guests in becoming financially involved in supporting your own or other local sustainability-related projects. Visitor contribution programs can encourage or require guests to make a contribution while they stay, with proceeds going to local projects. 

A great example is Sustainable Tourism Platinum Certified business, Eagle Wing Tours. A $5 per passenger fee is collected, with 100% of funds raised going to support projects directly related to protection and research to support the southern resident killer whales through the Centre for Whale Research, The Pacific Salmon Foundation, and the Wild 4 Whales Foundation.

A different approach is the GreenStep EcoFund Verified program, where guests pay into an EcoFund. Participating businesses gain expert guidance from a Certified Energy Manager to measure their carbon footprint and get support in prioritizing how to use their EcoFund to directly invest in large carbon reduction projects at their own business, which also drive down operating costs. Participating businesses can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in projects such as electric vehicles, LED lights, low-flow showerheads, solar panels, high efficiency boilers, and more.  

Next Steps

Don’t make your guests check their values and green habits at the door when they visit you! Likewise, don’t miss out on the opportunity to help educate and inspire those guests who may have different cultural norms. Giving your guests opportunities to learn and get involved can go a long way to creating enjoyable and memorable experiences as well as contributing to your sustainability goals as a business, and supporting your community. 

As always, we’re here to help. Let’s have a conversation if you’re interested in learning more about how to build a more sustainable tourism industry. 

GreenStep works with tourism businesses and destinations across Canada and globally to help them measure, improve and certify their sustainability performance.