Opinion: We must champion the benefits of responsible souvenir shopping

Opinion: We must champion the benefits of responsible souvenir shopping

By Sue Hurdle, chief executive of sustainable tourism charity The Travel Foundation

This week we found out British holidaymakers could be unwittingly spending up to 10% of their total holiday budget, or an average of £75, on souvenirs that are illegal, environmentally-damaging or destined to end up in the bin.

While this is a worrying trend, the research, conducted with Abta as part of Make Holidays Greener Month, also happily revealed goods that had some connection with their place of origin – particularly those crafted by local artisans, rather than far-off factories – were far more likely to yield long-term pleasure for their owners or recipients.

In this time of austerity, there has never been a more appropriate time for us to reconnect with the concepts of value and community. So, this summer we’re asking the travel industry to support us in educating holidaymakers about the benefits of buying locally and sustainably while souvenir shopping, both to bring home something worth talking about and to play their part in supporting independent businesses in destinations.

The tourism industry is the livelihood of so many people around the world, and this type of discretionary spend is just one way consumers can vote with their wallets to spread the positive impact of their trip over a wider area, and ensure destinations remain varied and interesting for future generations.

This message is summed up rather nicely on one of the Make Holidays Greener posters – “Been there, done that, bought the locally-made souvenir”. With more than two-thirds of Brits admitting that shopping is one of the highlights of their holiday, it’s an area where the industry can really add value, by offering advice and support to holidaymakers before they go.

For example, there is a lot of confusion that exists around what is illegal and what is not – or what sort of things it is not helpful to bring back such as items made from coral. If you know the destination well, why not give customers tips on great buys and where to get them? They’ll not only remember their holiday every time they look at it, but also who recommended it to them.

Great things to bring back include:

Handcrafted jewellery – There are some very on-trend items available this summer, particularly in West African countries like the Gambia. Look out for items made from recycled materials and sourced directly from craftspeople.

Oil & vine – looking out for small producers who make wines, jams, oils or vinegars, and many other fantastic gifts not only supports the local community, but gives holidaymakers a true taste of the country they just won’t get in their local supermarket.

Art & crafts – wood carvings, traditional paintings and handicrafts all make great keepsakes and gifts, as long as they aren’t made from protected species (e.g. tropical hardwoods).

Items customers cannot or should not bring back, include:

Ivory goods – International trade in ivory is illegal but unfortunately is a growing problem - ivory goods are often for sale in parts of Africa and Asia.

Sea Turtle shell products – Often made into jewellery and sold on beaches throughout the Caribbean and other tropical resorts.

T-shirts – These are often imported and will not offer a significant benefit to the local economy. If you do but a T-shirt, choose one you will wear often, preferably made from organic cotton and one where the sale of it will benefit a local cause.

Plastic goods (e.g. key-rings, badges, snow-domes) – plastics take millions of years to break down and are a threat to our entire ecosystem. Plus, most plastic souvenirs aren’t even manufactured locally, but imported from factories elsewhere.

For a comprehensive list visit: hmrc.gov.uk/customs/banned-restricted.htm

Providing this kind of simple but important information can really help to build customer relationships, and the good news is that focusing on more sustainable holiday experiences can offer other opportunities to differentiate service too.

As I write, Make Holidays Greener Month has just finished its first week, and what a week it has been. We’ve received an overwhelming level of support from the industry and, with many new faces coming on board this year, looks set to be the biggest yet.

Among the fun, we’ve seen photos of the new, downloadable posters on display in resorts from the Med to the Caribbean, new initiatives launched such as ‘eco-tips’ cards and green competitions, kids colouring in the new “Hatch” the turtle activity sheets and cabin crew making special passenger announcements encouraging holidaymakers to think about how their actions could have a positive impact on the destination when they get there.

It is our hope of course that this initiative will create a lasting legacy, long beyond July, not just for the industry and its customers, but for the destinations we so love to visit and the people who call them home.

There’s still time to get involved, so why not have a think about what you can do?

Download the Make Holidays Greener posters at: makeholidaysgreener.org.uk
Find out how to get involved by visiting: thetravelfoundation.org.uk/greenerhols


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