Consumer Behaviour,Marketing

Different shades of green of hotel guests

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eco-hotel. sustainable tourism

Sustainable hotels are on the rise, ushering in a fresh approach to their promotion. The key lies in matching the correct environmental cues with the right guests

Sustainability has been the common goal across industry sectors. In the hospitality industry, sustainability does not only translate to making impacts but also profit. While the demand for eco-friendly qualities increases, hotels benefit from long-term cost savings by simply reducing energy and water consumption. It’s a win-win solution.

No wonder eco-hotels are gaining popularity. From installing filtered drinking water, embracing new technologies, using reclaimed building materials, to disclosing social impacts, these hotels boast their eco-efforts to appeal to guests. Additionally, having eco-certificates from international institutions like Green Globe, EarthCheck, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and the like is also important to provide further assurances.

Guests who focus on outcomes tend to prefer hotels with eco-certificates, while those who focus on processes lean towards eco-efforts.

However, not much is understood about how to promote green hotels effectively. According to the 2023 Sustainability Travel Report from, 65 per cent of 33,000 surveyed travellers across 35 countries would feel better staying in accommodation if they knew it had a sustainable certification or label. Amid the growing concern about greenwashing or misleading environmental claims, a well-thought-out message is crucial to catering to sustainable-minded guests.

“The factors influencing tourists’ preferences for pro-environmental hotels are multifaceted and can differ significantly across demographic groups, but how eco-information is presented on booking platforms plays a crucial role,” says Lisa Wan, Associate Professor of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management and Department of Marketing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School.

Along with Assistant Professor Elisa Chan from the same department and doctoral student Xue Nan, Professor Wan looked into different types of information on sustainability practices that influence guests’ preferences. It turns out that guests who focus on outcomes tend to prefer hotels with eco-certificates, while those who focus on the process lean towards eco-effort information. Additionally, demographic and geographic factors also matter.

“Younger people tend to prefer eco-hotels when the eco-effort information is highlighted, whereas older consumers are more influenced by eco-certificate information,” Professor Wan adds. “Other hotel segmentation bases—such as whether travellers are solo or in groups, or their cultural backgrounds—may also act as indicators of cognitive decision habits.”

Giving the right keys

As outlined in the paper titled How eco-certificate/effort influences hotel preference, the CUHK team analysed data across five studies deploying mixed methods to learn how eco-information influences tourists’ decisions. The study was based on the implicit theory of intelligence on whether or not intelligence or abilities can change, which explains two prominent cognitive decision habits: entity and incremental.


Entity theory views personal qualities as fixed, and those with entity decision habits tend to focus on the outcome. Meanwhile, incremental theory sees personal qualities as changeable and people with incremental decision habits are more likely to pay attention to efforts and intermediary processes.

When deciding on lodging, those with an entity decision habit lean towards hotels with eco-certificates as they value formal recognition and status. On the other hand, people with an incremental decision habit tend to prefer hotels that highlight their eco-efforts as they appreciate specific actions being taken.

Intriguingly, for those with incremental decision habits, the analyses also show that the perceived difficulty in obtaining eco-certificates may reduce the influence of eco-information. In this case, incremental thinkers acknowledge the extra miles needed to earn the certificates, which leads them to view certified hotels positively. This is reasonable as they appreciate process and dedication.

Another factor that comes into play is processing fluency, which refers to how the customers process the information. Customers would find it easier to grasp and engage with the information that matches their own decision-making style, and as a result, sway their preferences. In practice, eco-certificate cues will go well with entity thinkers and eco-effort messages will match more with incremental thinkers, thereby enhancing processing fluency.

Designing suitable strategies

As mentioned above, crafting a green campaign needs to consider the cognitive decision habits and processing fluency of the customers. However, Professor Wan notes that it is not strictly necessary for eco-hotels to promote both eco-efforts and eco-certificates to all guests universally. “The more effective strategy would be to tailor the promotion to align with customers’ cognitive decision habits,” she says.

Younger people tend to prefer eco-hotels when the eco-effort information is highlighted, whereas older consumers are more influenced by eco-certificate information.

Professor Lisa Wan

Previous studies have indicated that age can be a proxy for decision habits, with older people more likely to resort to an entity decision habit and youngsters leaning towards incremental decision habits. Moreover, people in Western countries tend to hold entity beliefs while those in Eastern countries tend to have incremental beliefs. The team’s follow-up studies confirmed these premises.

With that being said, Asians and young customers are more likely to focus on eco-efforts as they resonate more with process-focused information. In contrast, Westerners and elderly customers would appreciate eco-certificates more since they are inclined towards outcome-focused information.

Many customers would have preferred eco-hotels if the green initiatives or certificates had been made available earlier.

“The key lies in identifying and targeting the dominant cognitive decision habits of the guests to streamline the eco-information presentation accordingly,” Professor Wan explains. “It could be by tailoring their messaging to align with the cognitive beliefs prevalent in their target markets, particularly leveraging the popular digital platforms in the regions.”

For instance, hotels might focus on showing off their eco-certificates via social media to attract travellers from Western countries or emphasise their eco-efforts when targeting Asian guests. “This strategic approach allows hotels to cater to the varying cognitive preferences of environmentally conscious travellers in the digital age,” says Professor Wan.

Early cues get the books

While the results highlight various impacts of eco-information on individuals with different cognitive habits, in practice, most hotels opt for showcasing eco-certificates on reservation platforms. Those with incremental decision habits who are more effort-sensitive might find themselves struggling to buy it. The study suggests that displaying the efforts to get the certificate would help to bridge this gap.

“One of the primary challenges that hotels face is the clear communication of their ‘green’ attributes to enable tourists to recognise and understand the value of these efforts,” says Professor Wan.


Throwing back travel memories to boost creativity

To demonstrate, Professor Wan explains, some hotels in the US did not experience a performance boost despite having eco-certificates, likely because many travellers are unaware of sustainable practices during the search and booking stages. At the same time, the industry survey, as pointed out earlier, found a significant number of travellers would have preferred sustainable hotels over regular ones if the information had been made available earlier.

“To overcome these obstacles, hotels need to present their green initiatives effectively at the booking stage,” she adds.