Building an Online Marketplace for Local and Sustainable Travel: ecomadic Case Study
- Be honest. Transparency is key when communicating about sustainability. Focus not just on the what (specific sustainability practices you’ve implemented) but also on the why (why sustainability matters to you).
- Building trust takes time. Effectively communicating about sustainable local businesses and marketing sustainable experiences requires trust. Invest time in building a brand that your partners and customers trust.
- Avoid greenwashing. Many businesses are engaged in greenwashing practices intentionally, or sometimes even unintentionally. To avoid greenwashing, it’s important to understand tourism businesses’ sustainability practices and goals. And personal conversations are among the best ways to gain meaningful insights.
- Help travelers book consciously. Many travelers, Millennial and Gen-Z markets, are actively seeking to support businesses that reflect their social and environmental values. Help educate and empower them by providing relevant information on the economic, social, and environmental impacts of tourist activities on host communities.
ecomadic Vision and Business Model
Jaclyn Yost started ecomadic as a blog in 2018 after moving to Southeast Asia and recognizing the negative impacts that were occurring due to mass tourism. At the same time, Jaclyn enrolled in an MSc program in International Business, with a research focus on greenwashing in tourism and hospitality.
Ecomadic describes “greenwashing” as marketing tactics used by businesses to deceive consumers into believing that their products and/or practices are sustainable when they are not.
Ultimately, the combination of the personal experience as a traveler and the research insights led to the ecomadic business model, prioritizing working with local SMEs and sustainable businesses, and focused on giving all businesses a fair playing field regardless of their size.
Offering curated collections of sustainable travel options, ecomadic serves as a platform to connect sustainably-minded travelers with responsible local businesses and experiences that support the health of destinations and communities.
To be featured on the ecomadic platform, accommodations, experiences, shops, and eateries are evaluated based on their environmental, socio-cultural, economic and supply chain practices, as well as their future goals. This is done through a survey designed to better understand what practices they already have in place within their business and the motivation behind why they choose to implement sustainability steps.
These providers are not assessed purely on whether they have a eco- or sustainable label, rather, ecomadic focuses on educating about sustainable business practices, as well as linking businesses with sustainable solutions.
The assessments are conducted in person where possible, and if in-person visits are not possible, businesses are also asked to provide additional information on their sustainability practices to help verify their claims.
Understanding the why (why the business is choosing to implement sustainability practices) is just as important as learning about what they do. And that’s why conversations matter. These personal approaches to evaluating businesses require time commitment, but are a key part of avoiding greenwashing.
Lessons on Greenwashing
Jaclyn’s research found that greenwashing can occur for various reasons such as:
- Presenting a positive image: Green- and eco-marketing tactics (e.g. using a misleading label, making vague claims about sustainability) are purposefully used as a tool to deceitfully reap socio-economic benefits that come along with being perceived “sustainable” (i.e. competitive edge, cost/profit advantages, higher perceived Corporate Social Responsibility, niche opportunities).
- Failing to tell the whole story: Some companies, on the other hand, may be self-motivated in implementing sustainable practices with good intentions, yet they can unintentionally be creating an imbalance. This is often seen with smaller businesses working to implement sustainability practices without the technical ability or proper knowledge to carry out their initiatives in a way that is truly sustainable (i.e. considering all spheres of sustainability - people, planet and profit).
In the same study, when surveying the market, 82% of participants had not heard of the greenwashing phenomenon, whereas 98% stated that it is a company’s responsibility to ensure sustainable practices and communications are accurate.
Those travelers (especially Millennial and Gen-Z travelers, which are ecomadic’s main target markets) who are actively seeking to support businesses that are committed to sustainability find it frustrating when they encounter greenwashing, intentional or not. As a platform it has also been important for ecomadic to gain the trust of these markets. And this takes time and patience: building social media presence and branding, investing in quality informative content, focusing on partnerships, and committing to a rigorous sustainable business assessment process.
Growing through Partnerships
ecomadic works with tourism boards and destination organizations to develop a curated collection of local and sustainable businesses, as well as partnering with local consultants and creatives to build content to assist with marketing efforts, which helps create local job opportunities and enables access to invaluable local knowledge.
ecomadic has recently completed a pilot with Dubai Tourism through the Intelak Incubator, successfully onboarding a collection of 21 local and sustainable accommodations, experiences, shops, and eateries in Dubai, and is continuing to expand into further destinations.
It’s these partnerships that will allow ecomadic to grow, while remaining true to its values focused on transparency, trust and honest commitment to sustainability, and to continue to cater to the growing community of conscious Millennial and Gen-Z travelers seeking authentic, sustainable travel.