Opinion: Sustainability must start in your own backyard

Opinion: Sustainability must start in your own backyard

A recent debate demonstrated the importance of building responsible practices into business models, argues Just a Drop chairman Fiona Jeffery OBE

Operators, organisations, environmental experts and academics last week struggled to find answers to one of the most significant dilemmas facing travel companies.

The debate into how mainstream tourism can break down barriers to ensure greater sustainability was held at The Guardian newspaper and brought into sharp focus the pressing need to look into the future

Certainly it made me ask the question: what do we really need, want and expect the trade to do?

The bottom line is that we are responsible for the sort of tourism product we create and promote, and we could be in danger of destroying our own business model for short term gain. A European MEP put it succinctly “Tourism kills Tourism”.

So what can we do? So often the debate seems complex and so overwhelming, we question our ability to make a difference and bring about change.

I’m a believer in the KISS affect – ­ Keep It Simple Stupid.

The first step is the recognition and acceptance that developing, managing and growing tourism businesses sustainably and responsibly should be part of the DNA of every company. In truth It shouldn’t be something that makes an organisation 'stand out from the crowd' , as a marketing differentiator.

We should all be doing it, every company, every member of staff, ideally every traveller (but that’s another conversation).

This requires leadership supported by knowledge and well-executed best practice which requires training.

I commend Tui Travel for taking this debate to The Guardian in an attempt to address an issue in our industry it clearly takes seriously and is keen to find solutions to address.

We make it more difficult than it needs to be because we get caught up in the big picture, but the danger is that it can paralyse us into crippling inertia.

Yes, of course there are big global issues; carbon and water are two of the most important. However, in a global, hugely fragmented industry there are no big global answers. No one solution fits all.

So what's the remedy?

Implement positive change in your own organisation and develop a long-term strategy so it becomes part of your DNA. Learn, understand and introduce best practice into your offices, supply chains and destination management operations.

Break actions down into manageable bites and invest in expertise to help where needed.

Practical solutions to practical problems may not sound very grand but it does lie within all our reach and it’s in our interest to share. Collective endeavour will make a difference to the quality of our product and service delivery and have a positive impact on the people our industry touches.

What is evident is that it’s both the smaller and larger operators leading the way with genuine knowledge, passion and recognition of the strategic importance of getting this right.

That’s encouraging; as it proves it can be done at all levels of operation, but there are plenty medium-sized operators who are still to properly engage in the discussion to identify good practices.

My message is start in your own backyard and show leadership, set about making the changes necessary to safeguard your company and our industry - as well as the planet. Then we can tackle a much bigger challenge - changing the psyche and expectations of the travelling public

If you want a good place to start and make contact with those with both expertise and experience, attend the WTM Responsible Tourism Programme on November 6-9 at Excel. wtmresponsibletourism.com

The first steps are the hardest, but as we get better, we’ll start to jog, then run. There will be no stopping us, especially if we want to be in business for the long term.


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