Eco-certification for the Hotel Industry within the United States is a vital venture for the future of eco-tourism business. Certification is a voluntary process of assessing certain standards of facilities and services, Honey & Rome (2001). As a result, many hotels have not taken the initiative to get certified. Bien A, (2006) notes that, as of 2010, there were only 31 states out of a total of 50 states in the U.S. that have hospitably eco-certifications, which leaves 38 percent of states not actively encouraging green activities within the hospitality industry and potentially not attracting environmentally-conscious consumers to their region (p.11). ‘among the 31 represented states, only 17 incorporate a graphic eco-label in their marketing efforts, which may cause these programs to be under represented in the sea of approximately 15,000 global eco-certifications’ Honey M (2002) p.7.
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Therefore, the lagging state participation and an over saturated eco-certification market, requires the need to review current branding and marketing practices to find opportunities that could further enrich each state eco-certification program. In fact, the Center for Ecotourism and Sustainable Development (CESD) reveals that, “few certification programs have staff or budgets dedicated to marketing,” leaving a knowledge gap and a need for actionable results that could be easily implemented. Currently, the CESD and the United Nations Environmental Program have outlined the importance of marketing an eco-label in the broad context of the tourism industry and much research has been conducted on individual country eco-certification schemes. I have yet to locate branding and marketing-specific research that focuses on government-sponsored eco-certification in the hospitality industry within the United States. Most eco-certification processes in many countries are carried out by ecotourism societies. Russillo et al.(2007) p,20. They seek alliances with external bodies and international bodies like the United Nation and other trade unions.
Financing of the eco-certification process is an expensive affair hence the need for its review by hotels and government agencies. According to Rome et al (2008) marketing plans should be put in place to identify a particular product on demand, develop it and hence certify it. This process of research requires funding and dedication to what the customer needs. Therefore, this research will look at the planning and implementation processes that the hotel staff and state officials partake. These state sponsored eco-certification process is a slow process hence the current state of being.
I propose an in-depth look at five state eco-certification programs, which would represent a ten percent glimpse of all of the states within the country. The in-depth look would include confidential interviews with state officials responsible for the state eco-certification program; review of existing marketing plans and promotional vehicles; anonymised online surveys with eco-certified hotel staff within the state; and confidential in-depth follow-up interviews with at least two hotel properties in each state.
Utilizing the collected data from each state and a thorough literature review, would provide the opportunity to recommend methods to enhance the branding and marketing of current eco-certifications within the United States. It would also provide a solid communication foundation for states considering employing an eco-certification. The findings could also reveal threats and weaknesses that state officials and the hospitality industry should be aware of so as to consider them in future planning processes.
There is a need to look at the consumer awareness programs when it comes to the quality of products on offer. Therefore, a look at Hotel managers and state officials undertaking eco-labeling of tourism products, should be investigated to establish a brand and marketing strategy. These labels should be a mark of quality not just symbols. Confusion in the certification process arises in a way that eco-labels that are regionally or nationally administered, at times enable the criterion to be modified. ‘The well established 5 star certification program for hotel quality and service, for instance, has common criteria although each country runs its own program’. Russillo et al (2007) p.8.
To achieve the proposed research objective, I will employ a mixed method approach that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Research will be gathered from state officials in a qualitative method, whereas research with hotel employees will utilize both qualitative and quantitative method. Both research methods will be designed to confirm the state eco-certification and investigate its phenomenon.
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In-depth, structured interviews, both in-person and via the telephone, will be conducted with state officials who oversee the eco-certifications to gather a similar set of information from each of the five state governments. The interviews will be to establish the scope and criteria that is employed by the state officials. A descriptive, longitudinal survey will be electronically distributed to employees of eco-certified hotel properties and questions will be specifically targeted to employees based on individual’s staff titles. These employees will be able to correlate the information that would be provided by the state officials concerning the criteria that is used to grant eco-certification of hotel facilities.
In addition, a thorough literature review and review of current branding and marketing plans will be conducted to both understand the landscape of eco-certifications and the best practices to strive to attain. Desk research or qualitative research will be employed in this process to examine current and previous studies that have been carried out in the field. The scope of the existing literature would help to gauge the need for research on this particular aspect.
Demographics of the hotel industry will also be thoroughly looked at. There is a need to establish a comparison between the eco-certified facilities and those that have not yet been registered. This will enable the study to establish the importance of the eco-certification process. Under this, the quantitative methods will be employed to carry out the study. ‘In both Europe and North America, two age groups – youth and retirees – hold strong positions within the responsible tourism market because they are able to take extended long-haul trips. These groups are not necessarily constrained by time and are often able to make trips longer than 14 days’ SNV (2009) p.37. Therefore, a look at the differences in preferences between the two groups could also help in painting a clear picture of the present scenario.
Throughout the literature review, research collection and final thesis conclusion, I will adhere to the marketing practices and principles outlined in the most recent U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guide, which was designed to ensure that marketers promote products based on, “truthful and substantiated environmental claims,” (FTC, p. 2). The business licenses issued to businesses should conform to the laws to avoid unwanted business practices.
Branding and marketing strategies of state sponsored eco-certification of the hotel industry in other countries that have a well developed and established system will also be looked at. This will help in the establishment of the scope of the study and measure its progress.
Bien, A. 2006. A Simple User’s Guide to Certification for Sustainable Tourism and Ecotourism A publication CESD
Honey, M. and Rome, A. 2001 Protecting Paradise: Certification Programs for Sustainable Tourism and Ecotourism. Washington DC: Institute for Policy Studies
Honey, M. 2002 (ed) Ecotourism and Certification: setting Standards In Practice Island Press: 1718 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009
Labaree, R. V. The Federal Trade Commission: a guide to sources
Rome, A., Bien, A,. Crabtree, A., Russillo, Honey, M. 2008, Financing Tourism CertificationPrograms
Russillo, A, Honey,M. Rome,A.,Bien, A,.2007,Center for Ecotourism and Sustainable Development (CESD). Practical Steps for Marketing Tourism The Market for Responsible Tourism Products SNV 2009
United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). 2006. Tourism Certification as a Sustainability Tool: Assessment and Prospects