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Planet vs Profit: Are your hotel guests becoming sceptical about your sustainability claims?

  Posted in Travel Trends  Last updated 1/12/2023

By Clare Riley, Content & Editorial Manager, SiteMinder

As many as 79% of travellers worldwide say it’s important for them to book a hotel that has implemented eco-friendly and sustainable practices.

But despite the widespread use of signs encouraging turning off lights and reusing towels, some hotel guests are becoming sceptical, and a new report suggests repeat custom could be at risk.

‘Greenwashing’, according to Washington State University’s Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, is when a hotel promotes an environmentally-friendly programme while hiding ulterior motives.

After studying 3,000 consumers, researchers from the university concluded that they’re becoming more savvy to these practices, and found a majority are willing to boycott a hotel if they feel misled over the hidden motive of profit.

So what causes a guest to question the authenticity of your hotel’s corporate social responsibility policy?

  • Simply hanging a sign that says ‘we’re green!’
  • Failing to integrate green practices throughout – for example, advertising a linen reuse programme, but not having recycling bins available
  • Discarding disposable toiletry containers
  • Only changing the bedding and towels less often to prove eco-friendliness
  • Being a member of a sustainability accreditation scheme that doesn’t inspect the credentials of hotels

Interestingly, the university’s researchers found that consumers with a strong concern for environmental issues still felt morally obliged to engage with a hotel’s green practices – despite being suspicious about greenwashing.

One of the researchers, Christina Geng-qing Chi, said it is crucial for hoteliers to prove that their property’s CSR policy is genuine and well-executed.

“Our results showed when ecologically conscious consumers know a hotel is not truly green, they will still use the linen reuse programme but they will not revisit the hotel. Today’s consumers are not always buying the green claims made by hotels. It is imperative that hotels go the extra mile in integrating environmentally-friendly practices to develop credibility in consumers’ minds.”

The university’s research paper – Consequences of ‘Greenwashing:’ Consumers’ Reactions to Hotels’ Green Initiatives – said hotels wanting to build credibility should look to develop a positive image – through certification by independent, approved associations such as the Carbon Trust in the UK, and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) in the US.

“Having a comprehensive green programme, certifications by independent and widely accepted green agencies and communicating the message to customers are key strategies hotels can use to appear more credible in the eyes of consumers,” added Chi.

Additionally, the researchers suggest hotels use positive word of mouth to attract customers by posting favourable reviews on social media channels, and by training staff to follow the green practices and inform guests about them.


By Shine Colcol

Shine is the SEO and Content Manager of SiteMinder, the only software platform that unlocks the full revenue potential of hotels. With 5+ years of experience in content strategy, Shine has produced informational content across various industry topics, mostly about operations management and continuous improvement. She aims to share well-researched articles for hoteliers to discover how to optimize their time and increase room revenue.


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