Guest ExperienceMarketingProperty Management 12 mins read

Environmental sustainability and vacation rental businesses

By January 11, 2021 No Comments

Bob Garner and his husband Ian own and run Casal Dei Fichi. He operates six luxurious and environmentally friendly holiday apartments in Le Marche, Italy. Bob is passionate about helping vacation rental owners see the opportunities in achieving environmental sustainability.

A changing landscape

Is there a growing and increasingly important trend in our industry? Will it affect your business? And is it something you should take action on? I think the answer to all these questions is yes. And the topic is the unstoppable rise in sustainable travel.

Several key issues are intersecting to bring about a revolution in what travellers are increasingly looking for and what our industry is waking up to provide. Let’s look at some of these factors, what the implications are for your business and what you can do about it.

Traveller surveys

Booking.com has just released its predictions for travel for next year. One of the trends they call ‘Impact Awakening’ in their survey reveals that:

  • 44% of US travellers want to travel more sustainably in the future.
  • We should expect to see a more eco-conscious mindset in 2021 and beyond.
  • COVID-19 has increased travellers’ awareness about their impact on the environment and local communities. 
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options.
  • 46% of travellers believe in the importance of reducing waste and recycling their plastic.

This survey is noteworthy because it is not a one-off. Booking.com has been conducting these surveys for five years. Over the years, the data has consistently shown growth in consumer appetite for sustainable travel. 

Where is your Carbon Neutrality Plan?

Hardly a day goes by without a government, state, city or business laying out their plans to be carbon net-zero – essentially balancing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through elimination or offsetting. The trend is catching on in the travel industry. For example, these 50 travel companies have bold initiatives to cut their carbon footprint. And Intrepid is the first tour operator to submit science-based carbon reduction targets

Airlines are also charting a path to zero carbon flying. Airlines know they have to be part of the solution on climate change, and they are under increasing pressure, regulation and legislation. Norway has mandated that a percentage of aviation fuel be sustainable this year, growing to 30% by 2030. It wants all short-haul flights to be 100 percent electric by 2040. Canada implemented a carbon tax of 30 Canadian dollars per metric ton of CO2 based on the amount of leaded fuel for domestic travel.

Eventually, we’re bound to see the hotel chains make similar moves to connect with the eco-conscious travellers. It’s not a leap to assume sustainability will trickle down to vacation rental businesses, given how most trends that started in hotel chains make their way to vacation rentals (i.e., upsells, guest experiences). 

Eco certification

There are a growing number of certification schemes to help hosts assess their green efforts and promote them. A few of the popular ones include Green PearlsGreen Key & Green Tourism (the one I use). These certifications are very useful in helping a host score their progression to becoming more environmentally friendly. They also give guidance and support in taking the next steps. Of course, they also allow a host to brand a property as eco-friendly and attract those travellers looking for a green aspect to their stay.

To help popularize sustainability in the industry, Travalyst is developing sustainability frameworks across the travel and tourism industry. The first three frameworks are accommodation, aviation and experiences. These frameworks are intended to be the foundation of a scoring system across our industry to help guide travellers when booking a trip. Booking.com intended to introduce this framework on its platform. COVID-19 understandably delayed the rollout, but once Booking.com implements, we will surely see other listing sites and OTAs follow.

Eco OTAs

Eco OTAs are springing up to meet the increasing demand and changing consumer behaviour. Two of the major players on this front are: 

  • Responsible Travel: They have been running for 20 years, helping clients plan and book a sustainable holiday. They offer a hands-on approach to connecting guests with hosts.
  • Ecobnb: They have adopted the lean self-search look and feel found on the major listing sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. Ecobnb is now the leading eco OTA in Europe.

Whichever model you prefer, there are so many businesses springing up to showcase green places to stay. By adopting a sustainable approach, you can use your green credentials as marketing material – helping you reach a new pool of potential guests.

Media

Each week there is something in the press talking about what the tourist can do in choosing a greener holiday. For example, this piece defines responsible tourism for the traveller. Flight planning is essential, but so is the community in which you will be staying. This article breaks down some of the components of being a sustainable traveller, from location to accommodation.

More and more consumers read this type of media every day. Guests are starting to understand that there are greener options for their holiday. Not to mention that millennials – a generation known for eco-consciousness – have become one of the largest traveller demographic.

Implications for a host or property manager

All of the above, plus other factors, are changing the short-term rental industry landscape. As travellers connect the dots between their travel and the impact on the climate, they will expect more from hosts to make their stay eco-friendly. They are aware that they have choices and a role that they can play.

Surveys reflect this change of mentality, and businesses respond by taking green steps and then using the certification systems and green OTAs to capitalize on the market.

This is a trend that is only going in one direction. So what should you do to get on board?

The biggest thing you can do is commit to being a part of the solution and take simple green steps to adapt your business. Make a move before your competitors do. Most importantly, be sincere about it – your customers will see through any green-washing.

Five easy steps

When it comes to taking action, there are a few modifications to your operations that can help make your processes eco-friendly: 

1. Convert to a green energy tariff

Most of us rarely review our power supplier or our tariff with that company. Historically most energy comes from fossil fuels. But you’d be surprised to find out that you sometimes have a choice. Some companies allow you to switch to a green tariff. Switching is easy, sometimes cheaper, great for the planet and makes your business more environmentally sustainable.

Check your energy bill and see what it says about the energy-creation method. There may be a breakdown explaining the mix of resources used (i.e., coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar etc.) Some suppliers don’t provide that breakdown on a bill. In that case, their websites will likely list the information you need.

If you are not on a fully green tariff, contact your supplier and ask about a renewable energy one. They are familiar with these questions and should be able to explain your options.

If they don’t have an effective green tariff, look for an alternative supplier in your region. In the majority of places, there is competition, and other suppliers want your business. Search online for ‘green energy’, adding your city, state or country to find suitable suppliers or check out organizations that make comparisons for you.

Don’t be put off by warnings of the difficulty of changing suppliers. Carbon-emitting energy suppliers rely on inertia to keep customers from switching. But that same inertia allows suppliers to be unresponsive to changing market forces.

This article explains the different levels of green tariffs (some are better than others) and why choosing one sends a powerful message to your clients’ energy industry.

2. Move away from single-use plastic

Plastic pollution is perhaps the poster child of environmental sustainability. Increasingly, travellers understand the impact of plastic and are unforgiving when they see it’s profligate use. Plastic is ubiquitous, but that does not mean that you can’t be highly selective about when and why you use it.

Bottled water is a big one. Instead of offering bottles at check-in, have reusable bottles on hand with either filter jugs, fitted filters, or sparkling machines. To increase repeat bookings and listing site independence, you can also offer branded long-life water bottle as a gift to your guests.

If the coffee culture is big in your area, consider a branded cup as a gift for your guest. Half a trillion cups are thrown away each year. Your gift will be great for the environment and your marketing efforts!

Cleaning products usually come in single-use dispensers and are incredibly wasteful. Find a supplier that sells in bulk so you can reuse the dispensers. Even better if the product comes dehydrated, reducing the water transport carbon footprint. Stop using toiletries in bottles and instead fix permanent refillable dispensers in your bathrooms. In the long run, it’ll likely reduce your toiletries expenses too.

Look for other single-use plastic items that you provide, like straws or non-compostable bags. Find alternatives or eliminate them.

You’d be surprised to find out that most plastics are collected for recycling but still end up in a landfill. So, where you use plastic, find out which types are recycled in your area. Commit to only that type and recycle it. This article explains many of the issues around plastic and suggests changes that you could incorporate into your business.

3. Plant trees

Planting trees is one of the most straightforward actions you can take, one of the most beautiful and one with an incredible benefit for the planet. 

Trees are superb at sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it. Trees are the lungs of the planet and are essential for maintaining the healthy air that we breathe.

‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now’ (Chinese Proverb)

At your home or your business property, plant some trees. There are over 60,000 varieties to choose from. Most importantly, chooses a species that is best suited to your local environment. Ideally, plant quick growing trees so that they can start their carbon-negation process faster.

If you live in an urban area, planting trees may not be an option. In that case, you can dedicate a portion of your earnings to finance tree planting in your community. This makes for great partnerships with local organizations and could even result in increased marketing exposure.

Alternatively, you can introduce a carbon offset scheme for your guests. While this doesn’t absolve you and your guests of all responsibility, it’s a step in the right direction. Your guests will likely participate and will appreciate your efforts in helping to green their holiday. This article explains the science behind tree planting to combat the climate crisis. Note that you can upsell carbon offsets directly in your Hostfully digital marketplace, making it easy for guests to participate.

4. Get listed with an eco OTA

Sign up to one of the eco OTAs. They are specialists at showcasing eco hosts, and this is where increasing numbers of travellers are looking to find a place to stay. I have found Ecobnb to be very productive in my area, but there are many choices. Find one that has a strong presence near you.

You don’t have to be perfect to list with these types of OTAs. They will accept properties that are at different points on the green journey. But you do have to be serious and honest about what you have achieved and what you hope to tackle next. There is no point in promising what you cannot deliver – this will only result in low customer satisfaction, a bad review or maybe even delisting.

Remember to also list your green initiatives on all the regular OTAs you use, not just on the eco sites. Guests on Airbnb or Vrbo are just as likely to be eco-conscious and may use those platforms out of habit.

5. Environmental accreditation

Contact a reputable accreditation organization that will assess your progress and help you move to the next level. They will take you through an independent certification process. The discerning traveller is looking for evidence that you can prove your new shiny green claims. They will also give you a distinct marketing advantage over your competitors, helping you attract the green-minder consumer.

Remember, they are the experts and can guide you as you plan your next green steps. So lean on them; that is their job.

There are many excellent companies ready to help you. One that I recommend is Green Tourism.

Summary

It’s important to remember that the journey towards environmental sustainability in vacation rentals isn’t about perfection on the first day. Sustainability is a journey and not a destination. What counts are small improvements that compound over time. Equally important is to be public about the steps you take. Your actions will build momentum and others will follow. Write about them in your Hostfully guidebook, on social media, in blogs and on your website. Remember that you are branding yourself in a whole new way to tap into a growing market, while still keeping your existing client base.

Good luck with your environmental journey. I am here to help you, because this is important.