I think so. In a number of different ways. When TripAdvisor launched its Green Leaders Programme in Europe on Monday, March 19, there was so much interest that their site crashed. Not perhaps surprising since all the certification schemes have struggled to put the green credentials of the businesses they certify before the travelling public, whether travelling for or leisure.
With 260 million unique monthly visitors in 2013, and more than 150 million reviews and opinions covering more than 3.7 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions the green credentials of businesses will be out there in the market place. That is a game changer. Achieving scale and reaching the biggest possible market matters.
The TripAdvisor Green Leaders Programme is free and it will have market reach – this will pose major challenges for existing schemes, some will probably cease to trade. Those that offer real benefits for the business from the advice and audit process will continue to provide a valued service. Their clients will be able to secure a much bigger market reach, they can list themselves on TripAdvisor at no additional cost, and with the security that their experts can substantiate their claims. Potentially a win win.
There are some major businesses already engaged: Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, Red Carnation and Macdonald Hotels. There will be more. The Greenleaders programme launched in the USA in April in 2013 and it already has 3,700 accommodations with TripAdvisor GreenLeaders status. A game changer in volume and reach – but much more besides.
The GreenLeaders programme is also transparent. Businesses will have to provide a full, publicly-viewable, detailed list of green practices currently in place. Travellers will be able to see exactly which green practices they can expect to see and experience at the property. There is a detailed survey guide available online.
Responsible Tourism values transparency. It is about businesses taking responsibility for addressing the triple bottom of line of sustainability and being clear about what they are doing to reduce their negative impacts and enhance hear positive ones.
Transparency is important for three reasons:
1. The consumer is able to choose between businesses knowing what responsibilities they take, knowing what they are doing to reduce water consumption or buy locally and the consumer can select to purchase from the business that is doing the things they want them to do. And where there are metrics, for example on water use per guest room, the consumer has the information they need to make a responsible choice.
2. The transparency ensures that the responsibility message carries meaning; it engages the consumer and educates them. When Justin Francis and I established responsibletravel.com, tourism businesses were challenged to tell consumers what they were doing to take responsibility for sustainability; and why it mattered to them, local communities and their environment.
3. Here is the bite. Whatever the business claims it is doing, has to be done – every day. If the business makes claims which are false then the consumer has the remedy of demanding recompense for breach of contract if the purchaser can establish that they chose the accommodation or operator because of their claims. That has not been possible over certification – the consumer has no contractual relationship with the certification body – the certifier cannot be held accountable for false claims. Individual businesses can and should be.
TripAdvisor has worked with the Carbon Trust, the International Tourism Partnership, EnergyStar, the UK Green Building Council and UNEP to develop the programme in Europe. TripAdvisor’s criteria are clear and transparently available to the consumer. They are encouraging consumer feedback and complaints and they’ve made it easy.
Many will protest that the GreenLeaders programme lacks integrity. I remain to be convinced of that. There will be independent audits of businesses that trigger customer complaints – and it is easy to complain on TripAdvisor. The businesses that make claims do not need to worry about the 90% of customers who are not knowledgeable enough to know whether a shower is aerated or the lights are eco-friendly. They need to worry about the 1% who do, and care enough to complain and possibly demand monetary recompense.
The terms and conditions are tough: I quote from their site.
Transparency: Travellers can see a full list of practices by clicking on a property’s TripAdvisor GreenLeader badge or icon. This ensures that travellers can see exactly which green practices they can expect at a business.
Traveller feedback: We place great value on the opinions of travellers. Travellers will be invited to comment on the green practices of TripAdvisor GreenLeaders and GreenPartners. They will also be able to report on false information, in instances where a traveller’s experience does not match a property’s claims. This feedback will be monitored by the TripAdvisor Responsible Travel team and, if necessary, will trigger a third party audit.
Audits: GreenLeaders Programme has partnered with an independent expert sustainability organisation, The Cadmus Group, to conduct audits of the GreenLeaders Programme. In addition to audits triggered by traveller feedback, there will also be a set of random audits conducted every year of participating properties.
Have I got this wrong? Challenge and comment below….