The weak pound and the credit crunch means more of us are going to holiday at home this year, but will a 'green' break hold any appeal in these austere times? Paul Rainford reports.
A recent survey of potential British holidaymakers by Travelodge
, the budget hotel chain, found that 54 per cent of those asked planned to take their breaks in Britain this year rather than jetting off to distant climes. Hardly surprising, given the credit crunch in general and the weakness of sterling in particular.
It’s news that should please both environmentalists and the UK hospitality industry alike. But, running those two strands together for a moment, how is green tourism set to fare in the new stay-at-home climate? Will it prosper, or will it be seen as a fancy-dan fad that has no place in 2009’s mood of austerity?
There are many environmentally aware tourism schemes running in the UK, but the most widely recognised is the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS)
. Originating in Scotland, this body now certifies holiday accommodation and attractions all over the UK. Eco-points
are given to businesses for everything from simply replacing standard light bulbs with low-energy ones right through to involvement in local community eco-projects, and when those points are totted up the business receives either a gold, bronze or silver award, which it then proudly touts on its website.
According to Andrea Nicholas, managing director of GTBS
, green certification is now almost expected by a certain section of the market. “For some people there’s the suspicion that maybe it’s not such a good business if it hasn’t got the green award,” she says. “This is particularly important when would-be holidaymakers are comparing like with like.”
One of the strongholds of the GTBS is the South West
, where around 500 tourism businesses are certified.
Neil Warren, sustainability strategist with South West Tourism, believes that green tourism companies are well placed for the future, but not necessarily because of their green credentials.
“Research has found that people consider businesses that are green to be of a higher quality,” he says. “The businesses that have tended to take action – and we can best identify those as those who have gone for green certification – tend to be those at the higher end of the quality spectrum. So although they are not necessarily going for a higher market, the reality is that they appeal to that area of the market, not because of their green credentials
but because of the type of business they are.”
Hill Cottage, a 200-year-old self-catering property close to Dartmoor, is a prime example of what Warren has in mind. Elaine Green, its owner, is rightly proud of her GTBC gold award.
“It is an important reflection of our business and the way we prioritise things,” she says. “It’s not an easy business to be in at a good level. We work very hard all year round. We’re here all the time – if somebody rings up and says they’ve run out of dishwasher tablets, we can deal with that as we’re on the ground.” This approach is clearly working: Green reports
that bookings are holding up well for 2009, despite the downturn.
Jason Freezer, sustainable tourism
project manager at Visit Britain, agrees that green tourism is frequently synonymous with quality: “Most people think that green places to stay are places where you’ll be going back to basics, when the reality is that a number of them are fantastic places to go and of a very high quality.”
In March of last year Visit Britain launched Green Start, a sort of ‘stepping stone’ programme for tourism businesses that were ready to dip a toe into going green but didn’t feel ready to commit to the expense or upheaval of full inspection and certification from the likes of GTBS.
Strattons, an upmarket small hotel in the Norfolk market town of Swaffham, needs no such help. Over the next couple of weeks, the hotel’s owners will be completely rewriting Stratton’s environmental policy. It is something they do at the start of every year, and forms part of a no-holds-barred approach to green principles that includes weighing and recording every bag of rubbish that the business produces.
Strattons’ marketing manager, Hannah Scott, believes that it is the combination of style and green commitment that has been the secret of the hotel’s success for almost 20 years.
“If I look at our website search stats I can see what people are looking for and the green issue does crop up a lot. People are looking for the more boutiquey places and because we fit that criterion and we’ve got a strict environmental policy people come to us,” she says.
Staying in a plush Palladian villa in Norfolk is one thing; a yurt on the Isle of Wight is a different prospect altogether. The Really Green Holiday Company
, based on the more rural west side of the island, started renting out its yurts and bell tents to holidaymakers last year and, as the name of the company makes clear, it nails its green credentials firmly to the mast. We’re not just talking recycling bins here; compost toilets lurk and solar showers feature, while wood for the yurts’ heating is supplied from sustainable woodland.
Anthony Davies, who runs the company with his partner Alison Martin, reports that bookings for 2009 are up on this time last year. “We’re thinking with the credit crunch and state of the pound, we should have a better year. I think fewer people will be going abroad,” he says.
Again, Strattons-style attention to detail would seem to be the key to success here, even if the ambience is a little more rough and ready. Says Davies: “We carried out three years’ research into the market before launching the company, and spent eight weeks living in a yurt with a compost loo to try it out and make sure everything worked.” Also, the fact that it has something that marks it out from your average campsite has earned it coverage in widely read aspirational magazines such as Country Living.
But it isn’t just cosy small hotels and hippie-tinged campsites in rural idylls that are exploiting the power of green tourism. Industrial-scale hotel chains including Marriott and Best Western are also in on the act, not least because they often have to be if they want to considered as venues for corporate events.
Deborah Evans, senior tourism manager at the London Development Agency (which administers Green Tourism for London, a GBTS off-shoot), explains: “Green tourism is important in the corporate market. We’ve had a lot of interest from those involved in business tourism, from hotels that are trying to attract meetings, because many corporations now insist on seeing a hotel’s environmental policy before they allow it be booked for business. In fact, going green is seen as a really useful way of saving money for management and also a new way of attracting corporate customers.”
In an interesting twist, the owner of Strattons, Vanessa Scott, has been busy giving talks to several of the big hotel chains on how to ‘do’ green tourism properly – a nice case of quality coming from the bottom up rather than being imposed from on high.
Certainly, if quality is the key to survival, as all businesses are told relentlessly, it seems green tourism operators have a better chance than most of making it through the credit crunch unscathed.
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