A funny thing happened on my way to Kilimanjaro…

by KathyDragon on April 4, 2011

Kilimanjaro View

Several years ago I was in Africa for work and decided to climb Kilimanjaro before returning home. I have a small walking/hiking tour company and though I don’t offer Killi many of the guests who have trekked with me in Peru and Patagonia asked what I thought about the trek, what route I would recommend and if I thought they could do it.

A friend/tour operator of mine offered to assist and thus I arrive in Moshi having done only minimal research on the route and none on the ground operator. I’ll leave off the specifics, as it isn’t really relevant. Suffice to say they had a word in their name that involved eco/green/responsible/sustainable…the terms that consumers think should mean something but aren’t exactly sure what that is.

Around the second day into the trek I asked the guide “so, your company name is X-green company, what do you actually do to support Green, Eco, Responsible, Sustainable Travel?”  He looked at me as if no one had ever asked the question…clearly they hadn’t asked him….and replied “well, we pick up garbage along the trail”. Humm, Ok, well, I guess that is a commitment….but it wasn’t.  As far as I could see over the next several days neither the guide nor porters picked up any excess trash though they did remove the trash we made.

When I returned to Moshi having successfully summited Kilimanjaro I spent a day with the owner and had an extensive conversation about the trek.  I asked him what the vision for his company was, how he was sharing this vision with both his staff and his guests, and how he might be able to both monitor and execute his vision which did involve the words he choose in his company name.

What I’ve learned over the past few years is that companies and travelers need to understand what eco/green/sustainable/responsible means to them and then explore what piece of this they are personally most passionate about. This might be employing local guides, using regional food and recipes, focusing on green building techniques, protecting endangered species or minority groups, or any of dozens of other initiatives which fall within the umbrella of green travel.  They then need to consistently integrate this into their brand message —online (through their website, social media, confirmation documents etc) and offline (through their guides, office staff, partners and guests and ultimately through the experiences offered).

It is no longer a question of “what do our customers care about in terms of green travel?” (because we will write that in our marketing materials),  the new question is “what do you care about? What are you passionate about in regards to green travel? What inspires you?”. If you are unsure, work with your team, and possibly a coach or advisor, to figure out what vision you can all buy into and support.

Customers like to engage with companies (and people) who are passionate about something…it doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly what they themselves are passionate about.

So….here are a few questions, think about them in relation to Green, Eco, Responsible, Sustainable Travel

  • What’s inspires you? Your staff? The community around you?
  • What commitment do you make that inspiration? Is it measurable?
  • How do you share your commitment?
  • How does it fit into your “brand”
  • How does this contribute to sustainable, responsible development?
  • Is this inspiration integrated throughout the experience? Does it need to be?
  • How do you know share this with guest and partners? Do you need to?
  • How do you know if you have been successful?
  • What would success look like?
  • How to involved your guests, staff , communities and partners  in “live audits”

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