Sustainability was the hot theme of this year’s AITO Agents’ domestic conference conference and Dr Xavier Font, co-director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University, educated delegates on how to use sustainability to gain a competitive advantage.

He said: “Sustainability is about the experience you are offering and you are missing the opportunity to tell your clients some of these things. People are looking for holidays that are no longer vanilla flavoured. The beauty of going to small travel agents over online bookings is that you can tell your clients something really interesting about destinations, and yet too many agents are missing the opportunity to tell clients how their experience will be enhanced.

“Recent statistics show that if two holidays are the same, the customer will prefer to book the one that is sustainable. However, statistics from VisitEngland also reveal that 46% of your customers don’t want to think about being green – they just want to relax and that 15% think that a hotel that is run sustainably will be less comfortable than the one without green credentials.

“The message to agents is not to patronise their clients and not to sell green as guilt. If you are going to sell sustainability you need to sell it with humour and sell it in a way of telling people what they are gaining not what they are losing. Think of ways you can unpack sustainability into different elements that will be meaningful to your customer. Customers won’t change their behaviour unless there’s a clear benefit for them so it’s not enough to say ‘I am sustainable’ – find a way of turning the customer on and you can do this by highlighting factors such as the fun factor, the cultural immersion and better service.”

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