Although our two award categories covered this newsletter seem at first unrelated, they have increasingly become the foundation upon which responsible tourism is built. The first is the business award – because in these days of triple bottom line it is no longer enough to mean well – sustainability has to be based upon a business case that makes sense.
Travel to the African bush has always attracted those with something of a pioneering spirit. Few other places enable one to get as far away from the mark of man and as close to contact with wild nature. Yet developing tourism in such sensitive areas is fraught with issues – how to provide unique guest experiences while improving the livelihoods of local communities without damaging fragile environments where it all take place. Right from its inception 10 years ago, Asilia Africa has positioned itself at the heartbeat of this dilemma – its model is to build properties in areas that currently get little tourism yet are critical conservation areas, where wildlife is at risk, and then commit to staying there for the long term. It sets up guiding schools, develops and supports conservation and education projects, and works with partners in government, NGO and other businesses to address the key needs of the area. And, to turn such vision into a successful business, they bring in high-paying guests to stay in locally built, eco-designed luxury accommodation – and then give them the chance to experience some of the greatest game viewing on earth – such as the great wildebeest migration, and annual movement of approximately 1.5 million wildebeest throughout the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems.
Asilia Africa’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. It was the first travel company in Africa to have been awarded the highest 5 star rating from the benchmark GIIRS rating system and in 2013 was honoured as B Corporation ‘Best For The World of 2013’ B Corporation ‘Best For The World of 2013’for creating the most overall social and environmental impact. Asked about being a finalist for the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, Bas Hochstenbach, Co-founder and Commercial Director of Asilia Africa, replied: ‘’We are very proud that our efforts have been recognised by the World Travel & Tourism Council. Improving the environment and livelihoods is at the heart of everything we do and we are excited about establishing more pioneering areas in the future’’.
TUI Travel has long understood that environmental responsibility can make business sense. According to its 2012 Sustainable Holidays Report, in 2012 the company cut its costs by £16m through environmental efficiencies, while two million of guests stayed in hotels with sustainability certificates. This is far from niche.
As CEO Peter Long explains: “Customers increasingly trust us to live up to our sustainability ambitions of minimising environmental impact, respecting culture and people, and bringing economic benefit to communities. In doing so, we improve the quality of their holidays, and help preserve the destinations we all love to visit.”
Where many all-inclusive resorts rely on international supply chains to serve their resorts, TUI has worked in Turkey with the UK-based Travel Foundation to support local farmers, while giving guests a more authentic, local experience. Together they have created an innovative local food scheme called Taste of Fethiye, through which 22 farmers in five villages are now supplying 100 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables to nearby hotels.
At the company’s Holidays Forever website it is very public about its progress and targets, pledging for example that “by 2014 we’ll reduce the annual carbon footprint of our ground-based operations by 3000 tonnes of CO2.” One recent action in particular shows how committed the company is to being perceived as a leader in this sphere. Last year it announced that its airline division had reached its carbon reduction target of 6% between 2008-2014 2 years early. Rather than rest on its laurels, the company raised the target to 9%, while keeping the timeframe the same. Good leadership, and intelligent business sense, garnering itself far more column inches and profile as a result.
Commenting on their selection as a finalist , Jane Ashton, Director of Group Sustainable Development, said, “It is great recognition for all of our hard work over the last decade to pioneer sustainable tourism across our own operations and the wider industry. Our Sustainable Holidays Plan was developed with the aim of making changes at scale.”
For Cathay Pacific, as with most airlines, achieving sustainability will always be a challenge, considering that fuel remains not only their biggest economic cost, but their greatest impact upon the environment. As such Cathay’s target of 31 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions per passenger or tonne of cargo carried compared to 2009 is a bold pledge, and one it is to be hoped it achieves. The company has almost 90 of the newest, most efficient aircraft on order up to 2020 most efficient aircraft on order up, which should help it get there, along with its efforts on alternative fuels.
However, while air fuel remains the key challenge, it is also looking where else it can make a difference. These range from recycling old crew uniforms into blankets to opening a new $760m cargo terminal in Hong Kong with a number of state-of-the-art sustainability-driven features, including a new ceiling cooling system anticipated to reduce electricity costs by 30 per cent over traditional air conditioning.