Fight against global warming. Enriching local communities in countries around the world. Leaving the places we visit better than we found them.
All lofty goals, but also, often, overwhelming. And yet, travelers — and by extension, the travel advisors who work with them — have a responsibility to not only minimize their impact as they explore the world, but also to give back.
Travel Market Report spoke to three advisors who attended Tourism Cares’ Meaningful Travel Summit last month to find out what steps they plan to take to help achieve responsible tourism goals.
“We all have a responsibility,” said Andrey Zakharenko, owner of Always Travel, who stressed that helping customers travel “better” isn’t about shaming anyone. “A lot of people just don’t know… We need to empower our customers with the knowledge we have to do better.”
“We’re starting small,” said Felicia Troy, an adviser at AAA Northeast, who said it’s easier to try to get a foothold first, especially when there’s so much going on. “So much is happening in the travel world right now, so make something simple and easy to get started… Either way, try to take a step in the right direction. There is no wrong step if you have good intentions.
Here are some of the ideas suggested by the travel advisors TMR spoke to.
- Choose “benevolent” suppliers
Whether you want to promote sustainability and help fight global warming or want to partner with suppliers who promote diversity and inclusiveness, travel counselors can decide which suppliers they work with.
“Travel is tricky,” said Christina Turrini, travel consultant at Frosch. “Even though we mean there won’t be any footprints you leave behind, you do that by nature. It’s about mitigating and reducing and making sure it’s respectful and s make sure you associate with people who can make it better.
“We can choose which tour operators we use,” Troy said. “We can choose how people travel. We can influence millions of travellers.
Zakharenko agreed. “As travel advisors, we are on the front lines of informing, educating and directing our customers to the right companies,” he said.
Choosing the “right” suppliers does not necessarily mean eliminating all other suppliers. It simply means that when the opportunity arises, advisors should feel empowered to refer a customer to a socially responsible supplier or product. This could mean suggesting that a four star hotel you know is green certified rather than one that is not. Or a local, indigenous-owned tour operator rather than a global operator with no connection to the land.
Not sure where to start to find ethical suppliers? The three councilors TMR spoke to said it is partly why they attend Tourism Cares events.
“If I know a supplier is here, I know it’s a step in the right direction,” Turrini said. “The more information we have, the better.”
- thoughtful gift
Many travel agents offer their clients something small while traveling. Luggage tags, wine bottles, backpacks, these are just some of the items commonly offered by advisors.
But giveaways can also be used to make the world greener or to raise awareness of organizations doing good work in the destinations people visit.
Troy suggested giving customers reusable water bottles. For example, customers going on a cruise. Tell them, “You don’t have to buy the water box. You can bring your refillable water bottle and they have filtered water right on the ship,” she said.
Turrini said she donates to Coral Gardeners, a coral reef restoration nonprofit in Moorea, every time she sends a client to Tahiti.
“With each reservation I make in Tahiti, I offer a coral from the “adopt a coral” program as a gift. It’s a way to let them know about the organization and also to support them,” she told TMR.
Another gift idea? A carbon offset for your customers’ flights, which depending on the length of the flight, can cost as little as $30 or $40.
- Socially Responsible Packing Lists
Don’t want to give your customers a reusable water bottle? Its good. Suggest they bring one instead.
Troy said these suggestions can have a domino effect.
“Now I’ve started their thought process… If I have 500 people traveling in the month, that’s 500 people who could think more about sustainability around the world, which then creates a big impact on the where they travel,” she said. .
Another packing list suggestion the three TMR advisers spoke to said they make reef-safe sunscreen, especially for customers going on beach vacations.
- Pack for a purpose
Do you have clients traveling to Aruba or Jamaica? What about Belize or Costa Rica? Or on safari in Kenya or South Africa? Tell them about Pack for a Purpose, an organization that helps travelers bring needed supplies to organizations around the world.
It’s something Turrini told TMR she does whenever she can.
“It’s really amazing,” she said. “Bring a backpack and they’ll tell you what they need. Then they simply drop it off at the participating hotel.
- Suggest public transport for getting around town
Carrying a reusable water bottle isn’t as convenient as buying single-use plastic bottles, but Troy said it’s important for travel advisors to point out less convenient, but more durable options. And that includes using public transport when available.
“How do you get from A to B?” …If someone is going to Italy, do they need this private transfer from Rome to Naples or can they just take the train? They could absolutely take the train. It’s very easy. It’s this idea of getting people out of the mindset that they need something so practical and individualized for them when there’s something easy they can do that will also help the environment. It challenges them to think for the greater good instead of just personal convenience.
Want to make it even easier for them? Include specific public transport directions in their itinerary, pre-purchase train tickets or offer them a day pass on the local bus system.
- Include carbon offsets in your quote
It is standard procedure these days for most travel advisors to include the price of travel insurance in the total cost of the trip. Customers can choose to accept the quote or say no.
Advisors can do the same with carbon offsets.
Calculating the carbon offset for flights is not difficult. You can find an easy to use calculator here. And, if you’re using a carbon offset marketplace like South Pole’s, it’s also easy to calculate the cost of offsetting your customer’s flights. You can even choose different projects to give them a choice of pricing. Include it in your quote and let them tick a box if they want to proceed.
Zakharenko told TMR it’s a priority for him and he’s trying to find the technology to make it automatic in his quotes so he doesn’t have to do it manually every time.
“Including the carbon footprint automatically. They can opt out of it, but it’s already there. They don’t have to do anything,” he said, explaining that he thinks making it easier for the client increases the likelihood of them accepting.
- Include a list of nonprofit organizations in the final documentation
The easier something is, the more likely people are to participate. That’s why charities partner with stores to allow customers to round up a purchase. Or supermarkets have food bank “coupons” at the checkout.
Many travelers would be interested in contributing to the destinations they visit, but don’t have the time or inclination to do research to find the right organizations.
Advisors can do this for themselves and then provide a list of approved nonprofits as part of their final documentation.
“Throughout the years of travel, we’ve always focused on information here that talks about tipping culture, welcoming customers, what you do and don’t do,” Zakharenko said. “I think we need to move that to, that’s what you can do to help that attraction, whether it’s the Colosseum or Lake Tahoe. Here are the foundations you can give back to.
If you’re not sure which nonprofits are legit, ask your vendor partners. Many of them are involved in the communities where they bring guests. Local tourist offices also often have this type of insider information. Groups like Tourism Cares can also point you in the right direction.
- Calculate your impact, then publish it
It’s not about congratulating yourself on a job well done. It’s about getting the word out that it can be done and it can have an impact.
“I want to measure so that at the end of the year, I can say, our customers and our organization have contributed so much to this cause,” Zakharenko said.
Ask your customers to report if they are donating or compensating for their flights. Keep track of any donations or compensation you make on their behalf. Then, at the end of the year, summarize it and send it in a press release to your local newspapers. If you are a member of a consortium or an independent contractor with a host agency, let them know so they can spread the word. Blog about it, put it on a Facebook post, make an Instagram reel.
Make visible the impact you and your clients have on the world so other advisors and travelers can see what’s possible. You might even attract new clients who want to work with someone they know.