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Using Sustainability as a Key Driver in Your Customer Retention Strategy

Amy Wald

In the dynamic hospitality landscape, the overlap of sustainability and profitability brings a paradigm of consideration. It’s not just about shrinking carbon footprints; it’s also about broadening the horizons for revenue and loyalty. The quest to be green is now a golden key to customer retention, answering the call of the conscious traveler and carving out a market niche that marries ethical stewardship with business savvy.

We know that traveler demand is growing and according to Booking.com’s 2023 report, the commitment to answering the demand is on the rise: “over 400,000 travel partners have earned a Travel Sustainable Badge, with 78 percent integrating green practices property-wide.” Yet, the real question lingers: how do we transform one-time visitors into lifelong patrons through sustainability?

Our traditional thinking has us fixated on a clean room, quality service, and fresh foods. How do we build on that and redefine how loyalty is created? The secret lies in understanding that sustainability isn’t an extra assignment; it’s the essence of a brand and resonates deeply with guest values. It’s about embedding green practices into the very fabric of the guest experience and communication strategies. Knowing what your guests value—and integrating that seamlessly into every touchpoint—paves the way for genuine connections and a robust retention strategy.

Take Advantage of Each Guest Touch Point

From the moment guests step into your lobby, the journey towards retention begins. Each interaction is an opportunity to weave the narrative of your sustainability efforts into a compelling story that guests want to be part of. Yet, this narrative often remains untold in the hospitality sector. It’s time we leverage our sustainability milestones not just as marketing bullet points but as powerful storytelling tools that cultivate lasting guest relationships, allowing hoteliers to be seen as visionaries and changemakers.

Take, for instance, the experience of sipping a craft cocktail infused with herbs from your own garden. This isn’t just a drink; it’s a conversation starter, an experience enhanced by the tale of reduced resource use, narrated by your bartender, and underscored by a thoughtfully designed coaster. Every room can become a testament to your sustainability efforts, from offering a “greener stay” option at check-in to educating guests on the impact of their choices through engaging in-room content. Every achievement is worth telling, regardless of how “big” the perceived impact is.

Loyalty programs have long been a staple of customer retention, yet often overlook the potential of profiling guests’ sustainability preferences. By harnessing this data, hotels can craft personalized experiences that resonate with guests’ values, turning a stay into a partnership for change and a step towards sustainability.

Here are actionable ways to collect valuable data:

  • Offer a complimentary beverage for participating in a brief sustainability survey during check-in.
  • Use social media polls with incentives like a free additional one-night stay to gauge interest in green practices.
  • Leverage loyalty programs to offer discounts on sustainable products in exchange for feedback.

Data collection should be the gateway to insights, not an endpoint. It’s about tailoring experiences and communication to echo guest values, transforming sustainability from a background narrative to a driving force for direct bookings and repeat visits. Now the opportunity to profile guests based on sustainability interests and expectations exists. This also allows targeting demographic “alike” audiences with the same experiences and amenities.

Every Green Choice Should be Rewarded

In marketing your sustainability journey, differentiate between mere advertisement and creating a narrative that inspires action and loyalty. Train your teams not just on sustainability basics but on weaving these practices into the very core of your customer loyalty strategies. And remember, every green choice made by your guests—be it forgoing daily room cleaning, choosing eco-friendly menu items, or choosing low carbon transportation—should be rewarded, reinforcing their role in the collective journey towards sustainability. This is where leveraging a loyalty program is key. Offer points for engaging in these activities that can be used for traditional benefits, but also for donating to local nonprofits the hotel has a partnership with.

Consider your community partnerships: Are you supporting local farms, contributing to conservation, or aiding in the recovery of threatened species? These stories are not just about experiences; they’re about creating a narrative where guests see themselves as co-champions of your environmental efforts, building a bond beyond the typical guest-host relationship.

With tourism’s substantial contribution to global employment and GDP, our industry carries a dual responsibility: to protect our destinations and to guide travelers towards more sustainable practices. It’s not about preaching, but about partnering with guests to champion sustainability.

Ultimately, guest satisfaction extends far beyond impeccable service or diverse amenities. It’s about aligning with guests’ values and concerns for the planet, offering an experience that resonates on a deeper level. It’s time we redefine loyalty, not as a program, but as a shared commitment to a brighter, greener future.

About the Author

Amy Wald is the founder and President of Greenluxe, a full-service sustainable hospitality consultancy. After years of working on cruise ships Amy felt compelled to do more to help protect the places we love to travel to. Amy has traveled the world to discover the most innovative and sustainable hospitality and tourism practices. Her formal education consists of a Bachelors in Sustainable Business and Wildlife management in addition to a plethora of hospitality and sustainability focused accreditations such as: LEED, ISSP, GSTC, and WELL. This past year she launched the The Sustainable Hospitality Podcast with her partner Kathy Sue McGuire.

“Our approach at Greenluxe focuses on guiding hospitality brands to achieve their sustainability aspirations, heighten their market presence, and carve out a unique offering,” Wald says. “By deeply resonating with a brand’s core values and fusing them with sustainable practices, Amy and her team can enhance brand awareness, foster employee engagement, capture the eco-conscious traveler, reduce costs, and lighten a hotel’s footprint. Greenluxe looks for easy quick wins out of the gate, to gain momentum. We love to see the transformation that happens to an organization with intentionality and stakeholder buy-in and engagement.”

To learn more visit www.greenluxeinc.com and don’t forget to tune into the The Sustainable Hospitality Podcast.