Open suitcase on wheels, lying on its back with soil and a green shoot in it

We’re living in interesting times, especially in the travel and tourism sectors – and this naturally has a knock-on effect on sustainable travel content marketing. Today’s consumer is devoting much more attention to sustainable travel than ever and is going online to research – it’s a trend that is only going to grow.

What is sustainable travel and tourism?

Sustainability has become a nebulous term meaning different things to different people. Any travel or tourism initiatives must now ensure current and future economic, social and environmental impacts that they're having. This means looking at the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.

Initiatives can be reaching from solar power and recycling to handiwork and artwork from local communities. 

As such an all encompassing topic, what needs to be considered about sustainable tourism from a marketing perspective?

For content creators and marketing specialists, sustainability can provide new inspiration for content marketing and naturally attract new types of consumers, but it can also be a challenge: how do you get sustainable content marketing right and ensure that you’re not accused of ‘greenwashing’?

Of course, any content marketing approach has to be authentic, genuine and truly reflect the initiatives of the company you’re working for.

Why sustainable travel marketing is important 

In addition to traditional priorities like price, comfort and insurance coverage and more recent ones like COVID-19 safety precautions, sustainability is being routinely cited as one of the highest priorities for the new travel consumer.

In another recent article by one of Dialogue’s experts, Claire Hutchings explains why sustainability is important to the new travel consumer and hard numbers on why sustainability is of interest to travellers are plentiful.

One study by IBM found “nearly eight of out 10 respondents stated that sustainability is important to them”. Meanwhile, the Institute of Travel Management found that “influencing sustainable practice” ranks as the second biggest challenge that buyers will face when it comes to managing travel in 2022 – second only to “managing the return to travel” after the immense disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interestingly, this appetite can also be found across a broad demographic range. The same IBM study also found...

“that while Millennials are the most interested in sustainability awareness, Boomers (and all consumers in between) strongly consider it when choosing brands”.

Naturally, it’s likely those who can afford a sustainable option will prioritise it, while others may be inclined to sacrifice some aspects of their holiday to achieve the same thing.

Any tourism or travel business therefore needs to demonstrate its sustainability credentials primarily on its website, but also through social content too. This ultimately future-proofs the business, since sustainability is increasingly becoming part of the legal landscape too.

In an entertaining parallel, a zero-waste approach is good for the environment and for travel marketing too!

Creating sustainable travel content

As outlined above, the challenge can be a complex one, so some brands may have trouble crafting effective content as part of their sustainable marketing activities, while also balancing other marketing needs.

Sustainability has become a nebulous term, meaning different things to different people. At its heart, it’s about finding a way to encourage travellers and visitors, without harming natural and cultural environments.

According to the World Tourism Organisation, sustainable tourism is 

“development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support system.”

One size doesn’t fit all, so what works well for one brand in the travel sector might not work for another. As Travel Weekly’s Arnie Weissmann notes:

“The term ‘sustainable’ has become so elastic that, ironically, its continued effectiveness as an indicator of vital issues may not be sustainable.”

What information needs to be provided is likely to be diametrically opposite for a sustainable tourist destination in the Arctic Circle to one on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

The solution is to build flexibility into your strategy, so that you can tailor your sustainable travel content to the realities of the situation and the priorities of your audience. At the brand level, it makes sense to explain general principles and objectives of the organisation but when it comes to a specific location or service, the reverse is true. Staying clear and relevant is best.

For example, a hotel chain might have a policy of offsetting its carbon emissions. This should be explained on its main website to provide reassurance while a particular hotel in the same chain might be able to point to the exact reforestation project it is backing and celebrate that instead, keeping everything focussed. Backlinks between the two to explain how the one is relevant to the other may also be useful and will support your SEO efforts.

We can help you with any of your sustainable content issues, take advantage of our FREE accessible digital content consultation here.

‘Greenwashing’ and marketing

Creating great sustainable travel content takes more than just a brand’s marketing team. A sustainability strategy must be a whole-company effort, of which communications are just one aspect.

‘Greenwashing’ or overstating your approach can be detrimental to your business and brand – leaving you open to censure from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) or similar bodies and/or a trashing of your reputation on social media. The Guardian has an interesting article on what’s at stake, given in the reference list below.

That’s why your travel content strategy must be aligned with your wider organisational strategy and – most importantly of all – backed up by the truth. Of course, you think, but look at The Guardian article to find out why this isn’t always a reality.

Of course, sustainability is an evolving area, with organisations now at various tiers of development and education. If there’s a distance between where your brand is now and where it needs to be, it’s still possible to build audience goodwill with sustainable travel content: being up-front about a work in progress or a problem that you acknowledge but haven’t completely solved yet can be an acceptable option in the middle ground. Honesty builds trust.

As Smart Insights observes,

“The essence of sustainable marketing is that you position your brand as an active figure in an environmental or societal issue.”

This might sound strange to travel marketers who are used to taking care to present a completely smooth operation where every last detail is perfect, but most people do recognise that, in the end, we’re all only human.

Creating a sustainable travel content strategy

It makes sense to start with your brand’s own sustainability policy and an understanding of how and where that connects within your business and marketing plans.

We find the SOSTAC model to be a useful tool for the creation of your marketing strategy. It allows you to create a plan from where you're at now to execution via six actionable approaches; situation, objectives, strategy, tactics, actions and control. Having an action plan like this for the business and how it needs to communicate means any sustainable messages can be aligned naturally and help to brand build effectively.

Content marketing has to drive actionable business goals after all.

Understanding your organisation’s sustainability approach should be part of any situational analyses, business objectives and inform any competitor analysis undertaken at that analytical phase of marketing - and the SOSTAC model is invaluable here.

Using data analysis, audience insight and keyword research around relevant content areas will then help you create a communications and content marketing plan as well as provide you with the framework and KPIs through which to analyse success.

Key within this of course is understanding what information people need – as much as what you want to say.

Keyword tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest and AnswerThePublic will help you address FAQs and priorities when it comes to SEO content and sustainable travel social marketing. Other audience research and social listening tools can also be invaluable here for insight and inspiration, as are your staff, who are in contact with the public and on the frontline when it comes to questions about sustainability.

Finally, it is essential to recognise that this isn’t a box-ticking exercise and what sustainability means in the travel sector is going to change and evolve over time - as will the audience’s education, sophistication and requirements meaning that your content and strategy must adapt too.

Sustainable travel content is here to stay

People have always wanted to travel and that’s not going to change, but far greater attention is now being paid to the consequences – intended or otherwise – of doing so. If questions about that are being asked of your brand, it’s wise to have the right answers at the right time and in the right places in order to bulletproof your business.

We can help with that. If you would like to discuss sustainable travel content marketing and the best strategy for putting it to good use, you’re welcome to contact us for a free consultation here.


Institute of Travel Management
Travel Weekly
The Guardian
Smart Insights
SOSTAC model
Google Keyword Planner

We can help you with any of your sustainable content issues, take advantage of our FREE accessible digital content consultation here.

Contact us

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