This year, my wife and I will spend our anniversary in a fairly unique location: a garage. The riding mower has been replaced with some trendy furnishings. Add an up-to-date kitchen, modern entertainment center and the ability to open your front wall to the North Carolina spring (weather permitting), and you get a pretty slick accommodation. (See it here.)
For us, this kind of unique space is nothing new. A trip last fall to the San Francisco Bay area landed us in a tiny artist’s compound (room pictured) with a sign that read, “If you don’t like cannabis or cats, stay out.” It sat just a block away from semi-legendary soul food breakfast joint “Lois the Pie Queen,” where I was privy to the best chicken and waffles that side of the Mississippi. We were awakened in the middle of the night by a young man standing in our yard, throwing pebbles at a neighboring window and hollering for “Jimmy.” I didn’t ask him to leave.
My wife began finding us off-the-beaten-path lodging years before it was cool, and it has certainly altered our travel experiences – mostly for the better, but sometimes not. There was the dreary split-level at the end of an endless gravel road in rural Colorado. Or the odd collection of duplexes, trailers and rabbits in Washington’s Skagit River Valley that afforded my brother and his wife an ancient and creaky bed, heard clearly through the paper-thin walls of our adjacent room. Such is the price of character.
This mode of vacationing, enhanced greatly by sites such as airbnb.com and VRBO.com, is a component of the growing movement known as collaborative consumption. And it is generally considered a green activity.
This strikes me as interesting. Even though my wife practices deep green behaviors, we don’t consider sustainability a key factor in our choice of vacation lodging. Which makes me wonder: What are the real motivators for collaborative consumption? What does collaborative consumption (in terms of lodging) offer that traditional commerce does not? The answer appears to be, in part, trading the typical tourist experience for authentic connections to places and the people who live there.
Collaborative consumption, to borrow from Airbnb’s “Travel like a human” tagline, is about becoming (albeit temporarily) part of a community. Some have deemed it a cultural movement, an effort to shift from homogenized, impersonal tourism back to the boarding house/barter-and-trade/pass-the-tin-water-cup times of our ancestors. Staying in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood just across the Oakland line completely transformed what could have been a very nice (yet ordinary) San Francisco vacation into a series of wonderful discoveries: the local eatery; a Sunday international bazaar; a Tuesday farmers’ market in which one of the persimmon vendors glowingly described annual pilgrimages to our nearby Smoky Mountains.
So, if the real motivators have little to do with the environment, then they have little to do with green marketing, right? Wrong. Collaborative consumption has a lot to do with how we market and message to deep greens because of the parallel values. A person who practices deep green behaviors often tends to have a holistic view of the world around them. They value community and connectivity; the greenness of a service is not the only motivation.
Keeping these multiple drivers in mind is important. There are often more benefits to green than just green, and finding those alternate levers can be key. Some time ago, I wrote about how green is good for America from a jobs and economy standpoint, and that it’s a potential marketing advantage often overlooked when targeting mainstream consumers – who may not particularly care about environmental impact. This concept applies even to those who are looking for eco-friendly products and services. When you are selling green to deep greens, it’s not just about footprint; it’s about people. It’s not just about clean; it’s about real.