For some years now we’ve been trying to convince hoteliers in Greece that tourists are willing to pay the price for experiences. We’ve also endeavored to transform thinking in favor of developing truly sustainable practices. New research suggests, travelers are willing to pay (WTP) the price it takes to support hotels that are genuinely committed. The implications need to be fully understood, and applied in order to ensure the Greece of tomorrow.
A recent report via HospitalityNet discusses a survey showing that the vast majority of travelers want hotels that adhere to the sustainability trend. The HN post refers to Willingness-to-stay (WTS), how hoteliers can capitalize on the trend through transparency, and how the industry has been slow to react to the possibilities.
Guests Are Willing to Pay
The post also deals, superficially, with how sustainability plays out in the traveler decision making process. In the end, a guest’s willingness to pay a price premium is directly linked to the level of environmental concerns showed by individuals. And for travelers to Greece, there is a huge demand for experiences dependent on green factors. I will discuss this later on. For now we need to take a look at the experts HN quizzed on the subject. Marloes Knippenberg, who is the CEO of Kerten Hospitality, says eco-friendly and sustainable choices have to be made prevalent. She says:
“The adoption of farm-to-fork approaches, alternative power generation, the use of smart utilities and technology that connects it all and delivers to all.”
Megan Epler Wood, of EplerWood International says the industry needs to launch an information campaign to educate consumers on how guests benefit from sustainable practice. She says the campaign would need to be a “multi–brand commitments to sustainability and measurable progress using the same indicators.” The sustainability expert went on to suggest making such commitments in specific destinations, which leads us to the special importance for the Greece of tomorrow and sustainability.
This educational aspect reminds me how much tourists value Greek touristic values like Blue Flag beaches, untouched nature, and the seclusion and remoteness some of the islands represent for those desiring such. Unspoiled Greece should be a major Greek Tourism Ministry campaign, joined by any hotel or resort owner who cares about tomorrow.
Epler Wood, who is director of Harvard’s International Sustainable Tourism Initiative (ISTI), is big on data-driven decision making. She reiterates what we’ve been saying about overtourism in Santorini, Crete, and other Greece destinaitons, that “vercrowding at tourist destinations is lowering their desirability while increasing the demand on local resources.” She also says this metric is currently unaccounted for in the policy process. What’s needed, acording to most experts, is a real effort to manage not only demand, but the supply of touristic offers. I’m no economist, but it seems to me that lowering the supply of rooms and acces to places like Santorini, would go a long way toward true sustainability.
The View That Counts
From a local perspective, here on Crete most of the sustainability effort being reported amounts to little more than lip service and PR fluff. One big development of late, a presidential decree allowing a highly sensitive region of the island betrays the reality of sustainable Greek hospitality so far. In Lassithi, one of Greece’s most pristine natural environments, Athens officials inked approval for a 6,000-acre project to the east of Sitia by Minoan Group that flies in the face of any notion of what’s sustainable practice.
Thankfully, the people behind have not yet been able to secure the necessary funding, because the golf course and other features of this massive resort would not only upset the ecology of the region, it would set a precedent for ruining the rest of Crete island. The area around the ancient Minoan port at Itanos is special, with a capital “S”, a place where a million tourists running back and forth is the farthest thing from environmentally friendly. Crete has many such places on the south coast, and in other remote areas.
A study published by the International Journal of Hospitality Management entitled “Consumers’ willingness to pay for green initiatives of the hotel industry”, shows that many potential guests are fully ready to fund sustainable practices. The report also revealed that that luxury and mid-priced hotel guests are more willing to pay premiums for hotels’ green practices than economy hotel guests.
This finding goes a long way toward proving my contention that Crete and other Greece destinations are radically underpriced. Big tour operators like TUI are part of the problem there, since their efforts drive down prices for everything, which in turn puts downward pressure on hoteliers. Put simply, TUI and budget tourism should probably die a horrible death, sooner, rather than later.
Following the Science
Finally, a report by Pique Newsmagazine hammers home the situation. No matter how we manuever the question of sustainability for travel and tourism, the greenhouse gases and other environmental negatives the industry creates are the core problem. Rodney Payne, CEO of DestinationThink! framed it like this:
“The elephant in the room is that travel is built almost entirely upon fossil fuels … [If you] fly more than once a year, especially if you take an international flight, you’re causing a huge amount of greenhouse gas pollution.”
Returning to Megan Epler Wood’s recommendations, she says what’s needed is a destination-specific, science-based data hub that includes regular monitoring and local participation. She’s correct, and here on Crete local scrutiny for projects like the Minoan one would surely have nixed the approval of such an eyesore for sustainable practice. The decision on that one should be reversed, tomorrow. Greece should consult with Epler Wood and others to make the genuine effort. Some of the decisions will be tough at first, but in the end her recommendations are the only way forward. We must know the real cost of tourism, one tourists at a time:
“Once we can put some numbers around that I believe we should go for what I would call recovery packages that essentially invest in a more low-impact and lower greenhouse gas emission economy.”
As I’ve suggested to all-inclusive resort owners here many times, pushing for a limit on new mega-resorts is in their best interest for a multitude of reasons. From a business standpoint, limiting competition and maximizing revenues is the game anyhow. So, why not be sustainable, charge for it, and create a win-win, a Greece of tomorrow and a world of tomorrow inititative? Greece should consult with Epler Wood and others to create sustainable practices that will take the country in the right direction. The alternative is a disaster no one has envisioned.
Photo credits: Many thanks to professional photographer Marco Verch for his amazing photographs.