Sustainability in action

Ian Heaven on 15 July 2023
I have no doubts that travel is a force for good. Imagine how closed people’s minds would be to the different beliefs, cultures, appearances and food from all over this planet of ours if we never had the opportunity to experience them for ourselves. Travel is also, potentially, one of the most effective methods of redistributing wealth we have.

However, as a Travel Counsellor with an environmental degree and a long-standing concern for the future of our planet it is important for me to be able to help my clients travel as sustainably as they possibly can. Luckily I have joined a company which in its own words ‘is on a journey to champion responsible travel’. We aim to achieve this through education of colleagues (i.e. me!) and customers (i.e. you!) alongside more considerate selection of the experiences we provide, therefore having a positive impact on the planet and the places and people we visit.

Fortunately, whilst Travel Counsellors are in the vanguard when it comes to promoting sustainability, we are far from the only ones in the travel industry thinking about these challenges as demonstrated by numerous recent articles in the travel media.

This then was the backdrop to myself and a cohort of fellow Travel Counsellors, spending a day last week in Manchester hearing from representatives of luxury hotel brands, adventure tour operators and major airlines about the sustainability actions they are taking on the ground (or air).

Overall, it was really encouraging to see how seriously companies are taking sustainability and the extent to which they are investing time and resources to not just minimise negative impacts from their operations but to actually ensure these have a positive impact in the areas and communities where they are located.

Waste management measures featured highly. Common to many were measures to completely remove single-use plastic from their establishments, with simple actions such as no longer using plastic straws to the more ambitious and costly practice of installing water fountains throughout hotels with guests given refillable glass water bottles. Aspirations to reduce, or even completely eliminate, waste were also shared with one group of hotels installing very impressive leading edge, AI driven, technology to measure just how much, and what type of, food waste it’s kitchens are generating.

Not surprisingly protecting the natural environment also featured highly as many destinations are heavily dependent on the beauty of the landscape and well-being of nature to attract visitors to choose to spend their hard-earned cash with them. It was encouraging to hear from companies tackling issues such as protecting and improving the marine ecosystems including being prepared to take threatened species of their menus if they can no longer be sourced sustainably. One company has even pledged to rewild 100 square metres of land for every customer travelling with them.

Reducing travellers carbon footprint resulting from their journey or stay is of course a major issue in the fight against climate change. An increasing number of adventure tours are featuring trains instead of planes, whilst a major airline explained how bio-fuels from waste products were being mixed with conventional airline fuel and how they were encouraging train use instead of internal flights to smaller cities not served by international airports. One small group tour operator has calculated the average carbon footprint per person for every one of its trips, a huge undertaking. As a result travellers know the impact they are having and how much they need to offset if they wish their trip to be carbon neutral. Talking of offsetting, Travel Counsellors work with Trees4Travel to do just this. They enable positive climate action for travellers by planting trees (that draw down and store C02). Trees4Travel will calculate the number of trees needed to offset your trip and plant these on your behalf at a cost of £3 per tree. As an example, a flight to Mexico with a week in a villa equates to 6 trees or £18 per traveller. If you like the sound of booking a holiday that allows you to do this then get in touch. Probably the positive impact that travel companies are having around the world on local communities and people’s lives that was most impressive. Many of those present partner with, or have set up their own, non-profit foundations through which they provide support for a whole range of community focussed projects. These aim to ensure local communities touched by tourism benefit from the opportunities it provides through activities that empower people by providing jobs and conserving their culture. Examples given included community run cookery schools, indigenous craft experiences such as weaving and training female guides to promote gender equality.

So committed to the goal of changing lives through travel is one company they provide a ‘ripple score’ for each of their tours so that clients can see just how much of the money spent in a destination goes towards local services, therefore remaining in the local community.

I left the event encouraged by what I had seen and heard from the travel industry about how it is approaching the sustainability challenge. Of course there is still a long way to go but I’m quietly optimistic of our chances to continue expanding our minds through travel without it, literally, costing the earth!