In tourism, sustainable practices are not just commendable; they are expected. Yet, despite their significance, many tourist boards are struggling to make their mark in the crowded arena of sustainable tourism. It’s no longer sufficient to simply tout renewable energy or conservation efforts.
The main pain point here is differentiation: most destination brands are getting lost in a sea of “green noise,” blending into an indistinct chorus of eco-friendly messages that fail to attract or engage potential visitors.
Why sustainable tourism all sounds the same
Most destination brands often mirror the strategies employed by corporate brands, focusing on public pledges and operational changes. Countries frequently highlight their initiatives in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and nature preservation. As a result, our analysis found that in a world where every destination claims to be green, none can be truly seen.
This is especially evident when we take a look at what has become a common thread in the sustainability narratives of various countries. Using our smart tech, the team at Commetric reviewed 1,698 English-language articles published last year, to find this was ecotourism – a sub-component of sustainable tourism involving travel to destinations where the conservation of natural resources is the primary attraction.
This widespread emphasis on ecotourism, with its unspoiled natural landscapes and commitment to preservation, has led to a lack of differentiation among destination brands. As a result, many destinations are overshadowed and going unnoticed amid the media cacophony.
Going beyond green: destinations getting it right with adventure
However, our analysis found that some destination brands did manage to stand out in the sustainability debate, particularly those in Asia:
Digging deeper, our granular thematic and message analysis revealed that the top-trending destinations focused on promoting active engagement with nature rather than passive observation.
For example, when we looked at how India managed to emerge as the most influential sustainable tourism destination, our message analysis revealed that over a third of the media debate around the country was centred around adventure tourism, from trekking across the majestic Himalayas, Western Ghats, and verdant North-Eastern states, to the thrills of white-water rafting on the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Teesta rivers.
These adventure activities not only promoted the natural splendour of India but also underscored the importance of preserving these terrains, thus fostering a sustainable tourism model that appeals to the thrill-seeker while reinforcing environmental stewardship.
Our analysis offers an interesting PR lesson: destinations that promote not only pristine natural resources but also experiences, effectively merging sustainability with adventure tourism, tend to achieve greater media traction.
This niche not only attracts visitors outside the conventional peak seasons, thereby alleviating pressure on natural resources, but also significantly highlights the unique natural and cultural values of a destination, advocating for their preservation.
Consequently, this alignment generates increased media attention towards the destination, spotlighting the sustainable efforts and unique experiences available, and enhancing the overall appeal of the destination in the competitive global tourism market.
To take another example, the second most influential in our analysis was Thailand, where the Tourism Authority of Thailand managed to generate media buzz by partnering with the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association to create a series of ‘Amazing Organic Trips’.
Even a country like UAE, whose tourism branding has relied primarily on luxury experiences in Dubai, has started promoting desert safaris to position itself more firmly in the sustainability map.
Latin American destinations also managed to make good use of their adventure offerings to gain media exposure – for example, countries like Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama focused on water-based activities like diving, showcasing their rich marine biodiversity.
The bottom line
Integrating experiences into sustainability campaigns presents a significant opportunity for destination brands that may not currently dominate media trends.
Against this backdrop, media analytics can be invaluable, particularly through the use of white space mapping, to identify untapped opportunities and narratives.
White space mapping deep-dives into a set of topics to pinpoint areas where there is little to no media coverage or conversation, offering a “blank canvas” for strategic messaging. By filling this media “white space,” not only do PR and comms bring attention to their destination’s offerings, but they also contribute to shaping the conversation around the sustainability issues of the day.
For example, Indonesia, which is known primarily for its resort island Bali, could enhance its visibility in the sustainable tourism debate by promoting its nighttime hikes into Ijen Crater to witness phenomenons such as the Blue Fire.
Meanwhile, our analysis also revealed that in Europe, destinations like Albania, Slovenia, and Croatia, despite their strong focus on ecotourism and the heavy promotion of their natural resources, still find themselves trailing behind the enduring popularity of traditional tourist hotspots such as Spain, Italy, or Greece.
For such emerging destinations, a strategic PR approach would be to capitalise on experiences that are specific to their natural landscapes. This focus on unique, nature-based experiences could be the key to elevating their appeal and attracting a new wave of eco-conscious travellers.