How did you hit upon the idea that wording the signs differently might be the key?
From a personal perspective, I simply find the messages like “Use your towel again and save the planet” very annoying and unrealistic. It gives you the assumption that by using your towel another day, you can save the planet. If it were only that easy! So, I thought that we could definitely find a way to make a more inspiring message. A message that’s both honest towards the guest, but also has greater effect. I then started digging into existing literature and found out that there have been quite a few studies about persuasive communication. Both in general as well as in the tourism sector, and even around the use of towels. But it also seemed that there was a gap in literature. No one tested the force of habits, nor the force of humour or fun. I then thought it would be worth to start an experiment and test that.
Were you surprised by the result?
Yes and no. I did expect there would be differences, but I was surprised that the results were so significant. Even though people are on holidays, I think that they also want some aspects to be ‘just like at home’. During interviews with guests I found out that on average people use their towel 3 to 4 days, so I was hoping to get some good results from the habits message, even before getting the actual data. One explanation that the humorous way didn’t work out might be my that my sense of fun is really bad. But there are better explanations. What is taken in fun by one person isn't automatically by another. Cultures may also play a role. And if humour doesn’t come off, it won’t be effective. I'm still sure there are ways that humour works, but we just haven’t found the right wording (yet).
What will happen with the findings of your study? Are there plans to replace the old signs with new ones one day?
I’m in touch with TUI Hotels & Resorts about expanding the experiment to multiple hotels. We can then test it for a longer period of time, in different environments, with different concepts and different types of guests. I’m confident that hotels will change their messaging if that shows similar results. It would be smart to do so. Investing in new messages would cost a hotel maybe a couple of hundreds of euros with a potential payback time of a couple of weeks. And that’s only the financial part. Do financial goals and sustainability go hand in hand? Yes. From a sustainability point of view, if you duplicated the results from this study to all TUI Hotels & Resorts we could be looking at saving over 17 million litres of water and over 400,000 kWh. Significant environmental savings as well as financial savings.
Why is sustainability so important to you?
After working as a travel agent, I changed jobs in 2011 and joined the sustainability team in the Netherlands. While working at the travel agency and during my travels, I started to think about the impact that tourism has, both from a negative as well as a positive side. Looking at tourism from a destination perspective can change the way you look at the impact of tourism. Remember that every destination around the world is someone’s home in the first place. I felt I could (and feel I can) do a good job about increasing the positive impact of tourism by making our business more sustainable. There absolutely no reason not to do so. We all want our business to thrive and we also want to live on a save, healthy planet. And remember there is no plan(et) B, so let’s take care of it wisely, in order to keep offering our customers the greatest holiday experiences and to make the world a better place. Hence our strategy ‘Better Holidays, Better World’. The decisions we take today shape the way the world looks tomorrow. So, we’d better take the right decisions.
What might the next steps in sustainability be – and what would you personally like to achieve?
Where to start?! First of all, we should definitely hit our 2020 goals in the Better Holidays, Better World strategy. We’ll be needing all our colleagues to engage in that in order to reach TUI’s targets. But if I had to pick one topic it would be energy. There are so many initiatives and technologies available already and even more to come in the near future. There are hundreds of next steps we can think of: like biofuel, which is becoming more important in aviation, or solar energy, which is getting cheaper – and the sun shines in our destinations. Together with my colleagues in the business and sustainability teams throughout TUI Group we are working hard to meet the goals set in our sustainability strategy. And I am sure we will keep improving our work in the future.