Social Media Uncovers Divide between Tourists and Ecotourism Industry
When you go on vacation, are you concerned about the environmental friendliness of your hotel? Chances are, probably not. But for a small but significant portion of travelers, choosing environmentally conscious travel providers that go beyond energy star ratings and reusing hotel towels is key to their choices about where to go and what to do on vacation. Several major hotel chains, including Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, promote and advertise their green initiatives.
For non-profit organizations looking to connect with these travelers, an engaged and active social media presence makes them a visible presence despite being only a small part of the ecotourism conversation. By encouraging and promoting past volunteers’ experiences, these organizations are able to overcome inconsistent website design and a lack of centralized places for discussion.
Ecotourism: The Divide Between News and Experience
Using the ForSight™ social media analytics platform, we looked at over 30k tweets, blog posts, and news articles discussing ecotourism over the past year. We found that 62% of the conversation consisted of news about the ecotourism industry, and 38% of the discussion addressed planning or recently returning from an environmentally conscious trip.
A closer inspection of users’ tweets and blog posts reveals an interesting divide between the ecotourism industry and what environmentally conscious travelers are looking to experience. While news about ecotourism tends to cover tips for finding the greenest hotel or reducing waste while traveling, those travelers looking to make an impact on the environment are more interested in more immersive types of travel that allow them to experience the natural beauty of their destinations first hand or positively affect local communities through volunteering.
We found that 22% of ecotourism conversation on social media expressed a desire to experience the beauty of nature first hand, either actively through hiking, climbing, and other adventure sports (17%) or passively through meditation and yoga retreats (5%). Conversation around voluntourism (9%) was particularly lively, and WWOOF-ing was at the forefront of many of these conversations.
For the uninitiated, WWOOF-ing refers to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a loose collection of small organic farmers across the globe that open their homes to travelers in exchange for free labor. Heralded as a chance for both cultural exchange and an opportunity to further the ideals of the organic food movement, it’s an inexpensive option for travelers who want to see the world and learn about the range of growing techniques that fall under the umbrella of “organic” and come face-to-face with the other — perhaps less familiar, in this age of sprawling, well stocked grocery stores — end of the industrial food chain.
While the official WWOOF-ing site allows interested travelers to search for volunteering opportunities in various countries, it’s more of a loose collection of non-profit organizations, each with it’s own site. Design and policy are inconsistent across countries. Some sites require travelers to pay just to look at listings, while some only require them to register. There’s no easy way to ask questions if you’re unsure about where you’d like to travel or share positive and negative experiences, and it’s difficult for each organization to publicize to potential volunteers.
@sheldenlea thanks for the Norway inspiration, I think I'm going to wwoof there next summer!
— Jane Mitchell (@janemitchell93) July 23, 2013
The end result is that travelers and organizations alike turn to social media to talk about their experiences, ask and answer questions, and promote opportunities. While WWOOF-ing may be unknown to many travelers, the lively discussion pays off–while only 9% of ecotourism conversation is related to volunteering opportunities, #wwoof is #4 out of the top 5 hashtags and @wwoof is the most mentioned handle in the ecotourism conversation.
While most ecotourism news focuses on the efforts of large hotels to manage their impact on the environment, travelers interested in environmentally conscious travel are more likely to seek out more immersive experiences. For non-profit organizations such as WWOOF, an active social media presence consisting of organizers, hosts, and volunteers can boost visibility despite a small share of voice in the overall ecotourism discussion.
For more insight into advantages of social listening for the travel and leisure industry, download our cruise industry study.
Editors’ Note: Aliyah Bilal-Gore, Johnny Coster, and Jennifer Tierney collaborated on this analysis.