The Travel Foundation aims to extend its impact in destinations and expand beyond the UK, following a review of its work.
The industry-backed sustainable-tourism charity is 12 years old and chief executive Salli Felton said: “We’ve taken a look at what we’ve achieved and pulled together a strategy for the next five years.
“The Travel Foundation has been working in destinations, demonstrating different projects and programmes, and developing tools and resources to encourage the industry to change. We’ve seen some good results, but we felt we didn’t have the balance right. We’re looking at how we start to escalate sustainability and embed it in what everyone is doing.
“Our strength is in pulling different stakeholders together to develop new practices and products with sustainability at their heart. But we’ve not necessarily found long-lasting relationships with destinations.”
She told Travel Weekly: “There seems a much greater appetite for sustainability in destinations now. Ten years ago, the attitude was ‘this is for tour operators to change’. The feeling now is that if destinations are to thrive, they need to make a concerted effort to make tourism more sustainable.
“We want to see destinations build the frameworks to enable projects to scale up, otherwise we constantly have to inject funds. Some projects have gone on and developed strongly, while some have withered, maybe due to a change of government or to conflict. The question is how do we develop the frameworks? How do we bring the work we do up a level and apply the skills we develop to make something more long-lasting? How do we move from policy to practice?
“Many destinations have policies on sustainability, but are struggling with implementation. There is a lot of work done at policy level. We do implementation. But we need to do it in a way that does not disempower those who need to do it in the long run.”
Felton insisted: “We don’t want to see this in isolation from the private sector. If we don’t act with the private sector, it’s possible to develop products that don’t fit the needs of tourists. There is a strong disconnect at the moment.”
About 80% of the projects the Travel Foundation works on involve the development of products such as crafts or excursions. “We find people in communities get clear ideas of what they want to develop, but it isn’t based on what tourists want, and they don’t understand the tour operator requirements or health and safety requirements,” said Felton.
“We want to broaden the industry stakeholders we work with. We’re also thinking about wider source markets – just to focus on the UK would be missing a trick. UK visitors might be only a small proportion of a destination’s market.”
At the same time, Felton acknowledged: “We tend to spread ourselves too thinly. We need to ensure the funds we collect achieve the greatest results. In the past, we’ve done a lot of communicating about sustainable tourism. But we’re a charity with 16 people. We don’t have a loud voice.”
The aim is “to work with partners who want to be seen in the forefront of sustainable tourism”. Felton added: “People listen to their peers. The goal is to secure more collaboration, rather than to work in isolation.”
The impact of a project in Cyprus, the results of which are now being assessed, could take collaboration to a new level.
The Travel Foundation, Tui and consultancy PwC are poised to release the findings of a total impact measurement and management study of the full environmental, economic, social and fiscal impact of eight mainstream hotels. As Tui director of sustainable tourism Jane Ashton told Travel Weekly last September: “We’ll look at everything that happens from the moment people land till they leave.”
Felton described the results as “surprising”. She said: “The project will lead people to think in different ways about sustainable projects.”
The Travel Foundation will also work more closely with Abta and its Travelife for Hotels and Accommodation sustainability certification system. The pair recently announced a tie-up for the Foundation’s Make Holidays Greener campaign this summer. Felton said: “We work with Abta closely and we’ll look at where we can co-operate more. Abta is hugely supportive of our destination initiatives.”
She also aims to take the Travel Foundation into other source markets, in Europe and the US. But Felton said: “We don’t just want to re-create the Travel Foundation in the Netherlands or Germany. We want to link into work already going on.”
One obvious way in which to internationalise the charity’s work is through collaboration with pan-European giant Tui. Felton said: “Tui has gone through a process of embedding sustainability into its business. Its plea to us has been: ‘How do we take what we’re doing into the supply chain?’.” But she added: “We don’t want to be a charity that works only with the large tour operators.”
Felton acknowledges frustration that online travel agents (OTAs) appear to take little interest in destinations. She said: “OTAs say [holiday] product is out of their control. Companies say: ‘We don’t recognise we have an impact.’ How do we get them involved? We need to be pragmatic. One way could be through the Travel Lottery.”
That may be ambitious. The lottery, launched just over a year ago, remains a minor contributor to Travel Foundation funds. The charity raised £1.4 million last year chiefly through customer and corporate donations, with up to 15% from grants. “The lottery provides a fraction,” said Felton. “Sales are respectable but we would like to see the lottery grow. We have bedded it in and understand how a charity lottery works. Those who support it, like it. In the long term, there is a great opportunity.”
With a new strategy in place, Felton said: “We would love to hear from companies that want to get involved. It does not have to be from the funding point of view.” She added: “We have a long way to go.”
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