Consumers prefer emotional sustainability messages, risking being mislead by greenwash


Why are consumers not buying your sustainable tourism products? Quite probably, because the way you write your messages is not sufficiently attractive.

Starting today, our Head of Impact Professor Xavier Font, who is also Professor of Sustainability Marketing at the University of Surrey’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, will be reporting on the latest research into tourism, sustainability and communication.  If you want to know how the latest thinking can help your business, this is where you will find it.

Researchers have found that tour operators tend to write factual and descriptive messages in relation to their sustainability practices, which consumers cannot relate to. In their experiment, they found that relatively simple changes to the writing style can make a substantial difference to how consumers respond to the sustainability message.

Consumers prefer messages that are appealing – in an emotional way – over those that are simply stating sustainability facts. Appealing messages were found to be more emotional, enthusiastic, and experiential, because they make use of more adjectives that only implicitly spoke of sustainability.

Consumers also prefer messages that explicitly state how they will benefit from the sustainability action, over messages that show a benefit to society, the environment or to the destinations visited.

In addition, the research also found that consumers are driven by what they perceive their peers would also choose. Messages that said that their peers were already taking that sustainability action, or that their peers would recommend them to take the action, were also viewed more positively by consumers.

The challenge for the tourism industry, therefore, remains: how to communicate substantial sustainability messages when consumers prefer a message style that is easy to mimic and can suffer from several of the seven sins of greenwashing.

The results are a double edged sword. They allow genuinely sustainable tourism businesses to learn how to write attractive messages, but they also show opportunistic businesses the power of writing rather superficial messages with a powerful consumer effect.

Further research is now needed to see whether combinations of consumer benefits and emotional language are better received by consumers when supported by evidence that increases the trustworthiness of the message.

You can download the full article for free until November 8, 2016 at or search for Hardeman, G., Font, X. Nawijn, J. (2017) The power of persuasive communication to influence sustainable holiday choices: appealing to self-benefits and norms, Tourism Management, 59, 484-493

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