Not the ‘Right’ Traveller, but the ‘Right’ Communication Strategy

swiss train travelling over viaduct

You’ve put a lot of investment into adapting your tourism offering to support sustainable development goals. Now, how can you maximise the potential of these changes and engage tourists?

In our final instalment in our series on the ‘Right’ Traveller, we are focusing on communication strategies, to share ideas that can drive meaningful behaviour change. Promoting the right traveller behaviour needs a different kind of approach, one that doesn’t focus on why your destination/tourism business is the most sustainable choice. Wait, a campaign that doesn’t shout about all the sustainability investments you’ve just made?

There’s a good reason many destinations and tourism businesses’ marketing strategies focus on communicating their sustainable attributes to travellers who care about responsible consumption. There’s plenty of desire to do the right thing in this target market, and they generally are willing to spend more on an experience that aligns with their conscious values. After all, a holiday with sustainability credentials promises less guilt. But as we’ve previously discussed, simply targeting this small percentage of the market alone won’t deliver the sector-wide shift we need to put our net zero targets firmly in reach for the next decade. What’s more, pro-environmental messaging can even drive potential tourists – who feel hesitant because of the costs, perceived sacrifices and feelings of responsibility – away. So how can we use our campaigns to successfully promote sustainable travel, without the educational messaging?

Case Study: The Swiss Route

This year, the Swiss Tourism Board launched a smart marketing campaign for the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, featuring retired tennis star Roger Federer and comedian Trevor Noah. The Grand Train Tour connects 11 lakes and 5 Unesco World Heritage Sites in one breathtaking rail route around the country, taking in 1280km of spectacular panoramic views and vistas along the way. The video campaign captures a mix-up which leads the two friends to set off on an adventure together, with no phones or distractions, just them and some fellow passengers enjoying the journey — with some funny twists and turns along the way! With nearly 83 million views at the time of publishing, the video is a brilliant example of how sustainable travel options (travelling by train, in this instance) can be framed and presented as exciting and appealing without advertising it as the sustainable choice

Here are the five behaviour-smart tactics this campaign uses to effectively communicate why travellers should choose to travel Switzerland by train.

Make it about the experience

The masterstroke of this campaign is that it goes beyond promoting the Swiss Pass ticket, which makes travelling by train the easiest, most desirable and affordable way to travel the country, but positions travelling by train as a central part of the tourism experience — the best possible way to travel Switzerland. The dialogue between Noah and Federer in the campaign focuses on their appreciation of the scenery and the enjoyable nature of the train ride, while the video frequently cuts to snapshots of the stunning mountain scenery in between.

This is a powerful strategy towards promoting sustainable choices because every traveller’s number one priority is to have the best experience possible. By presenting the sustainable attributes as part of the destination experience, campaigns can drive sustainable tourism behaviour across target markets, beyond just the segment who intentionally pursue options with a low tourism footprint.

swiss train passing the Matterhorn

Use authority figures

With a professional career spanning 24 years, Roger Federer is the tennis great and Swiss national with global notoriety and appeal. Likeable and respected, employing Federer to be the face of their campaign gave the Swiss Tourism Board the opportunity to capitalise on authority bias, a well-understood cognitive bias. Cognitive biases’ are shortcuts in our brain that help us make decisions faster, without weighing up all the options at every choice we have to make. Authority bias means we are often influenced by the behaviour of authority figures, irrespective of their actual expertise on the subject.

Federer may indeed love travelling by train around Switzerland, but his appearance and performance in the campaign are influential enough to encourage the audience that it is indeed a must for any Swiss holiday.

Add comedy value

Also with global appeal, Comedian Trevor Noah brings some lightheartedness to the campaign, although it has to be said he’s not the only one adding comedy value. The campaign makes fun of the quirks of Swiss nationality and culture, which is generally being straight-to-the-point, serious and efficient. This makes potential travellers watching feel like they’ve already got a glimpse into the culture and experience on offer, and that they’re in on the joke too.

Double down on the desired behaviour

Don’t show people what you don’t want them to do. This campaign doesn’t put Federer and Noah in a traffic jam, or on a plane, and portray these two modes of transport as negative in any way. It focuses purely on the train experience, and at the end, the two friends run off to catch another train before the film crew can catch them.

This extra emphasis at the end reinforces the desired behaviour, and the joy it brings, leaving the viewer feeling inspired and convinced that simply the only enjoyable way to travel Switzerland is by train.

Show the benefits to the individual, not the wide-scale environmental impact

It may sound selfish, but when travellers go on holiday it’s all about them and their experience, not about the world at large. This campaign clearly communicates what travellers have to gain from this experience; panoramic views, a relaxing journey, pleasant hospitality and company. All without a single mention of the train being a sustainable, low-impact mode of transport.

Choosing to eschew any kind of pro-environmental message is smart because individual benefits are relatable and tangible, unlike facts about reduced emissions and lower carbon footprints. Undoubtedly, a traveller’s choice to travel by train will reduce their emissions, but by focusing their communications on the experiential value, this campaign will drive the desired behaviour change far more effectively.

If you want to learn more about how BehaviorSMART supports leading tourism destinations by applying behavioural economics, and how this can support your own sustainability roadmap – contact our team to learn more.

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