Brand Purpose Tourism Travel

Sustainable travel is good business, and it starts with your website

By Ethan Koehler, Vice President of Digital and Technology

June 15, 2022 | 5 min read

Many people have begun looking at brands’ commitments to sustainability (or lack thereof) when deciding whether or not to make a purchase. Here’s how that should affect the website development strategy for brands in the travel and tourism industry.


Sustainability is an important purchase consideration in the travel industry / Adobe Stock

It’s no secret that sustainability is a hot topic. The Global Sustainability Study 2021 revealed that sustainability is an important purchase consideration for 60% of consumers. That consideration is even higher within the travel and tourism industry (62%). Research from Accenture points to a trend that suggests the importance of sustainability could get even higher, with 74% of consumers reporting they make decisions on where to shop based on a company’s values and ethical practices.

In other words, sustainability is good business.

The travel industry is embracing this reality, and your organization’s website is the ideal place to help communicate and reinforce a responsible travel ethos. Here are five suggestions for helping destination marketers to become more sustainable citizens:

1) Think of yourself as stewards rather than marketers

A destination’s long-term goal is a sustainable tourism economy – not just driving short-term tourism and visits. Done well, this should translate into longer stays, increased spending and dispersed visitation throughout the destination. Every interaction is an opportunity to instill a respectful mindset and appreciation for the lands, culture and communities being visited. In short, focus on quality visitation, not simply the quantity of visitors.

2) The destination website is your organization’s hardest-working tool for influencing the behaviors of potential visitors

Complement inspiration with education. Sustainability requires making well-informed decisions. Have your site function like a local guide, helping visitors understand what it means to be a responsible traveler, how to explore areas safely and thoughtfully, and how to preserve natural resources. At the Utah Office of Tourism, for example, we launched the initiative ‘Forever Mighty’ to reinforce this ethos, and our website is where visitors learn how to join our commitment to ensuring a resilient destination.

3) It’s not enough just to provide information – the website must also empathize with users by practicing human-centered design

When we redesigned we recognized a beautiful site is only as effective as its content is helpful, intuitive and accurate. To ensure visitors are able to engage deeply, we optimized clear and fast paths to sought-after content based on extensive user research. We also integrated feedback touchpoints, Google maps, real-time weather and travel alerts – all optimized for mobile use. By putting the user first in all of our design choices, we are manifesting the same level of mindfulness and care that we invite visitors to bring with them on their Utah travels.

4) Sustainability should not be considered a ‘one-off’

The principles of sustainable tourism should be incorporated throughout the site rather than isolated on a sustainability landing page. We ensure consistent levels of visibility for responsible travel content by using structured metadata, dynamic card systems and recurring banner components.

5) It is, in fact, possible to create a more sustainable website

The internet currently produces approximately 3.8% of global carbon emissions. Tom Greenwood’s ‘Sustainable Web Design’ from A Book Apart identifies page weight (ie the transfer size of the page) as one example. Reduce page weight and you can reduce carbon emissions. Another way: get rid of out-of-date content, including useless images. You can get a quick Ecograder report of your website to get started.

While your organization’s sustainability efforts can begin at the website, it shouldn’t end there

We encourage any destination marketer who is serious about sustainability to find like-minded partners and follow industry best practices. The Utah Office of Tourism is a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, which establishes and manages global standards for sustainable travel and tourism. This and other partnerships have helped us perfect our message and embark on meaningful change.

As published in Skift, the leading news source for travel executives, “Sustainability can no longer be an afterthought for travel companies. Those that make bold moves now to redefine how things work for a reemerging sector have the potential to become industry leaders in an altered world.”

It’s good for business now and in the future.

Ethan Koehler is vice-president, digital and technology, at Hanson Dodge, an independent, digitally creative agency based in Milwaukee, WI. HD is the digital creative agency partner for Utah Office of Tourism.

Rosie Serago, who also contributed to this article, is the design and content strategist at the Utah Office of Tourism. UOT’s website redesign was awarded the US Travel Association’s National Council of State Tourism Directors Mercury Award for Best Travel Website in 2021.

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