Research shows that the majority of travellers want to make sustainable and ethical travel choices. But how can travellers and travel companies that provide these services find each other on the web?
To meet the growing demand for sustainably produced experiences and, of course, to ensure continuous and sustainable commerce, travel companies are investing in sustainable travel development and responsible travel services. The travel industry has also started to realise that more robust communication about sustainable solutions is needed. Many travel companies make sustainability part of their everyday operations because of their own values, rather than seeing it as a marketing asset. However, as responsibility surges in prominence because of Covid-19, it’s becoming more and more important to promote your sustainability efforts.
You also need to address your target group appropriately, and that requires understanding how consumers look for sustainable travel services online. As part of a data collaboration pilot for our digital development efforts, we set out to explore how sustainability manifests in web searches related to travel. Our partners include Helsinki Marketing, House of Lapland, Visit Rovaniemi, Visit Turku and Visit Tampere. We were particularly interested in how sustainability is reflected in the so-called dreaming stage; in other words, when the traveller is just choosing a destination.
The purpose of the study was to find insights on how sustainability should be communicated on digital channels, especially with travellers who are still daydreaming. The online survey was carried out by Visit Finland’s analytics partner Quru. The analysis was based on the following questions:
- How is sustainable travel reflected in search engines globally?
- What are the most popular themes and search terms related to the topic?
- What is the most popular content about sustainable travel in search engines in the UK and Germany?
The report prioritised four prominent search themes linked to common travel trends as well as sustainability:
- Literal sustainability searches (ecotourism, sustainable travel, responsible holidays, etc.)
- Local emphasis (tour by locals, like a local, travel local, local culture, etc.)
- Eco-friendly accommodation / Ecommodation (eco-friendly hotels, sustainable hotels, green accommodation, etc.)
- Meaningful travel (avoiding overtravel, off the beaten track, slow travel, undiscovered destinations, transformational travel, etc.)
The themes were selected based on Google’s published research and analysis on finding the most popular terms from search engine data.
What did we learn from the search engines?
Searches related to sustainability are on the rise and Google’s Key Word Planner predicts they’ll become more common in 2021. So we should invest in communicating about sustainability now!
The study showed that although the term “ecotourism holidays”, for example, shows a growing number of searches, the content should not focus solely on sustainability, but go beyond the surface level and into more concrete matters. In order to maximise visibility on search engines, it is, therefore, advisable to include related trends in addition to the literal term “sustainable”, “responsible” and “ecotourism”. At least for now, purely sustainability-related searches are not very popular.
Searches related to local services are especially popular among travellers who appreciate sustainability. Terms such as “tours by locals”, “live like a local” and “travel local” are much more popular than terms literally related to sustainability, such as “sustainable tourism destinations”. For example, program service providers should pay attention to local-themed content in their service descriptions, especially if their services include local encounters, local food, local guides, or other local services or experiences that are popular with the locals.
The search for new meaning in travel is also emphasised, as travellers are looking for experiences that play to their own values. The most popular search terms in this category were “off the beaten track”, “slow travel” and “undiscovered destinations”. The importance of meaningful experiences and transformational travel is also emphasized. This is one of the latest trends in responsible travel, i.e. trips that will change people’s behaviour in the long term because of their travel experience. When the traveller’s post-journey behaviour is changed to such an extent that it fully compensates for the environmental impact of the trip, it can be classified as truly sustainable travel.
Sustainable accommodation was the only category where terms related directly to sustainability were prominent. The accommodation industry should therefore emphasise the sustainability of their services by using terms such as “sustainable hotels”, “eco-friendly hotels”, “eco-friendly resorts” or “green retreat”.
Variation of search behaviour between markets:
In the UK in particular, searches revolved around eco-friendliness, energy consumption and luxury accommodation. This may be a sign of awareness within the travel segment, as sustainability has long been linked to a so-called new luxury. According to the study, people in the UK are particularly fond of rankings ( such as top 10 lists) as well as articles on sustainable accommodation. Sustainable accommodation websites are also popular. Listings and articles were important sources of traffic for sustainable luxury hotels. In Germany, sustainable accommodation options were accompanied by the word “bio”. Popular sites include Greenpearls.com and biohotels.info – the latter is a hotel chain.
In the UK, the need for local guides was particularly evident in searches by solo travellers, but international sites for finding local guides were also popular through terms such as “with locals” or “tours by locals”. The same sites were also popular in Germany, but the Germans favoured tailored “personal service” experiences. Thus personalisation and ease of travel are emphasised in marketing. As in the UK, apps are becoming more important for finding local guides in Germany.
Among those looking for meaningful holidays, adventure holidays emerged in searches, as tourists sought out new, tailored adventure holidays. If your company offers personalised experiences or adventures into the unknown, you should use terms such as “undiscovered”, “the unknown” or “tailormade” in conjunction with “adventure”.
The people seeking responsible travel experiences in the UK are also looking for spiritual growth and long-term changes. Established sources for transformational travel services were important for those seeking meaningful experiences. What we’ve seen gain prominence in both the UK and Germany are influencers from the Transformational Travel movement, such as Michael Bennet, the popular travel mentor and founder of Explorer-x, and the Transformational Travel Council, which is considered the official organisation of the movement. The slow travel theme also emerged among UK travellers seeking meaningful travel experiences. This theme was often combined with food and wine. Slow food is trending especially in Germany: search volumes are high and the term is used frequently. Train journeys have also been linked to meaningful travel. Somewhat surprisingly, various cargo and container ship journeys and sailing are also very much on the rise in Germany.
It’s therefore worthwhile to include search trends as part of your content marketing for sustainable travel by using keywords and themes that have emerged from our analysis. In conclusion, travellers are particularly interested in supporting local businesses. People use both search engines and applications to find local services and guides. With accommodation, sustainability is linked directly and literally, and especially in the UK, luxury travellers are also interested in energy use and eco-friendliness, while Germans are attracted to the slow trend, organic food and private, tailor-made services. Nature-related destinations emphasised mental well-being in their marketing. For sources, they relied on online visibility from influencers and pop media.
We conclude that in addition to references directly related to sustainability, such as certificates for sustainable travel, it’s worth promoting experienced local guides, eco-friendly hotels or wellness services, among other things. In essence, you should explain how your company practices sustainability.
Since even Google shows that sustainability-related searches are growing, now is the best time to ensure that our sustainability-minded travel operators promote their actions actively and diversely online!
Authors: Kaisa Kosonen and Liisa Kokkarinen
Kaisa Kosonen manages digital development and Liisa Kokkarinen Sustainable Development as Visit Finland