Consumer research suggests that customers want to engage with a brand that inspires and surprises them – brands that they can trust. Travelers, whether corporate or leisure, are becoming more focused on an experience and are looking to incorporate values such as life balance and well-being into their overall travel experience. Whether it is through healthy food options, access to workout facilities, better air quality, or non-toxic products, sustainability programs are one of the best ways to engage customers and to begin co-creating a “conversation” that will lead to greater customer engagement and long-lasting loyalty.

But can sustainability help unlock brand loyalty?

Marketing and messaging “sustainability” is difficult because it takes explaining, and for many customers, it ends up not translating to anything meaningful. On the one hand, marketing something that is “better,” speaks to customer demand. Take the hospitality industry for example, where you may read about a hotel’s efficient HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system, and how this helps the hotel save in resource consumption, energy and money over the long term. But how does this translate to value for the traveler?

What the traveler wants to hear is, “better air quality so you will wake up more energized,” “no noise, so you will get a good night’s rest,” or “better breathing for people with allergies.”

A further challenge is that many of our sustainability initiatives do not translate so easily into customer engagement, customer value or customer benefits or, if they do, honing the right communication language can be very difficult. But many travel companies are getting it right; let me share a personal experience with you.

First, given my involvement in Sabre’s Eco Certified Hotel program, I have learned a lot about hotels’ sustainability programs, and since we are technology leaders for the travel industry, I also travel frequently. Suffice to say, I am not surprised very easily. But I was when I stayed in a hotel that boasted having double shower heads. There was a note in the bathroom, communicating that they (the Hotel) cared about saving water, but that they also cared about my hotel experience, and so it was up to me to use both shower heads, or just one. Thus began the conversation:

Brand: “Hi there and welcome. I have a double shower head. Try using just one shower head, and you will be doing your part to help conserve an extremely precious resource.”

Me: “But I have to wash my hair, and it’s long. One shower head might not do the job.”

Brand: “That’s ok, we anticipated this happening. That’s why we have two, and want you to control your own experience. So what do you think?””

Me: “Well, one shower head is actually doing an egregious job. Let me try both. Hmm, it’s actually working just fine with one!”

Brand: “Good to hear. Are you happy?”

Me: “Yes. And I appreciate you letting me try this out rather than forcing it on me.”

Brand: “You are most welcome! Thank you for doing something positive for the planet.”

Me: “And thank you for trusting me to make the right choice without having to sacrifice my great experience here at your hotel.”

The brand delivered extra value by letting me co-create and control the experience. By demonstrating a commitment to sustainability, but not at the cost of the customer experience, brands also make the customer feel good about participating in their sustainability program. This was a great example of the kind of engagement that builds trust and long-lasting brand loyalty.

How have you been inspired by a brand recently?