Excursions Without Excuses at the World Travel Market

The World Travel Market 2012 kicked off on Monday. It’s a leading global event in the tourist sector and a place for folk in the travel sector to meet, network, negotiate and conduct business.

Tomorrow the spotlight is on Responsible Tourism and Gavin Bate, MD of Adventure Alternative and founder of Moving Mountains Trust, will be joining a host of industry experts on a panel to discuss what makes a responsible excursion; from developing products that give back to developing new trips and auditing. The seminar, named ‘Excursions without excuses – improving the quality of excursions through sustainability’ will see Gavin join Jean-Marc Flambert of St. Lucia’s Tourist office, Andreas Moniakis – the head of Operations Greece, TUI Hellas S.A. and Grete Howard – a tourist who has travelled to over 135 countries. The discussion will start at 15:30 and will be chaired by Salli Fenton of The Travel Foundation.

The seminar will also include a look at The Travel Foundation’s new Greener Excursions tool and give delegates a chance to put their own excursion-related questions to the expert panel. The Greener Excursions tool will offer guidance on auditing current excursions to try and make current trips more sustainable and to help try and develop new and sustainable excursions. You can find the Green Business Tools here.

Adventure Alternative is delighted to have been chosen by The Travel Foundation to represent best practice. During the panel, some of our excursions and projects will be featured as best practice case studies to try to highlight that it is possible to maintain a profitable and healthy organisation whilst being ‘responsible’ – environmentally, socially and financially.

The Travel Foundation will also be hosting an interactive art installation that will celebrate sustainable tourism practices. The aim is to inspire exhibitors and visitors to share their sustainable success stories and ambitions. An artist will be on-hand to convert these suggestions into visual form to make a mural that will hopefully inspire change in the tourism industry.

A representation of the mural

You can contribute your sustainable tourism story, inspiration or ambition to the piece in one of three ways:

Via Twitter: send your suggestion using the hashtag #WTMscribbles, and follow @TravelTF for daily news and pictures

In person: pop along to stand No NA383 throughout WTM to see the artwork, meet the artist and submit your suggestion face to face

Via email: send your suggestion to graeme.jackson@thetravelfoundation.org.uk before  9am on Thursday 8 November (the final day of WTM)

It’s not too late to attend the World Travel Market. You can register for free here. All that is required of you is to print off the confirmation e-mail and ‘badge’.  If you aren’t able to register, you can turn up at the ExCel London (closest tube line Custom House on the DLR) event but it will cost you £50.

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Are You Being Fooled by the Greenwash?

Even before ‘greenwashing’ had made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999, it had been sneakily adopted by the cynical and irresponsible in every industry, not least tourism. Many tour operators, travel agents, hotels and lodges are guilty of adopting the word ‘green’, ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’, but simply donating money to ‘green’ causes, choosing to recycle or any other lip-service does not a sustainable organisation make.

Similar to agriculture, transport and energy, tourism is regarded as a climate-sensitive industry with many tourism and leisure organisations dependent on the climate and the health of the local environment in order to operate. Can tourism and travel ever be truly ‘green’? Tourism often involves air travel and other carbon-intensive activities that would suggest not.

This blog is in response to Justin Francis’ (Chief Executive and Co-Founder of www.responsibletravel.com) outrage at the claims made in Travel Weekly Magazine. The magazine congratulates Las Vegas hotels for their green attributes:

Las vegas Lights

“Las Vegas Strip, that legendary bastion of glitz and neon, is actually a model community when it comes to sustainable environmental practices.” – Travel Weekly USA, October 10th.

The article then goes on to say: “Today, agents can sell most cruises as responsible, some even as eco friendly.  Perhaps no major line has been more active than Royal Caribbean in promoting its image as a green company.” –  Travel Weekly USA, September 26th.

The problem seems to be that the award schemes that these organisations sign up for reward incremental performances.  By showing relative annual improvements, these organisations are apparently worthy of a Gold Rating in sustainable performance. Many hotels in Vegas have the same environmental outputs (energy, waste and water) as a small town, whilst cruise ships have a notoriously bad history when it comes to staff welfare. Consumers will see these ratings and will be led to believe that these establishments are at the pinnacle of sustainable practice. This is dangerous for sustainable tourism, allowing the greenwashers to win. Of course incremental improvements should be celebrated, but in order to be meaningful, sustainability should really be measured in the absolute sense.

Adventure Alternative have put together a list of questions that you can use to help you to look beyond the greenwashing, the glitzy marketing and the price.This guide by no means covers everything; it is intended to be a pragmatic user guide rather than an overwhelming and head-melting mass of questions. We categorised the points so that you can choose to focus on the areas that are of most importance to you and your travel companions. You can likely answer many of the queries by snooping around on websites or perusing brochures, but don’t hesitate to call up and ask tricky and invasive questions.

Photo: Alamy

We are also planning to produce a further list of questions aimed specifically at trips involving volunteering or charity work. This is an area of tourism where recent history has uncovered a huge amount of cynical ‘box-ticking’ exercises by providers. Many incidences have left both participants and potential beneficiaries equally let down by the poor methods of project identification and administration.

By demonstrating that consumers are taking an interest in sustainability, the industry will be forced to comply to consumer demand and up the sustainability game. You have a lot of power! Your choices as a consumer can significantly impact upon the development of communities and the conservation of culture and natural resources.

What can charities expect from the ‘youth of today’?

A recent publication by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) concludes that Britain faces a long-term crisis in terms of charitable donations. CAF’s analysis of different generations within the UK and their philanthropic tendencies has revealed that younger generations are failing to match the generosity of people born between 1925 and 1966 (the Silent Generation – ’25-’45 and the baby boomers – ’45-’66). This evident ‘generosity gap’ has been growing wider and wider over the past three decades with the over-60s now six times more generous than the under-30s.

Image

So why do both the Silent Generation and the baby boomers have a greater sense of philanthropy over generations X, Y and Z? Maybe a commitment to help those less fortunate was bred out of the experience of war – an era of hardship and pulling together; community spirit was then far more prevalent than can be observed in most places in the UK today. This habit of helping, caring and supporting may help explain why these older generations are racing ahead in the donation stakes.

The economic downturn surely has a part to play; not only are there more and more people becoming reliant on charitable services, but less and less people are donating, especially the under-30s.Since 1980, the participation rate among the under-30s has fallen from 23 per cent to 15 per cent. However, according to the report, the majority of the decline in donations occurred between 1980 and 1990, rather than more recent times that have been fraught with economic gloom.

There have of course been many other large changes in sociological and economic conditions during the last century. It is quite feasible that these have had a marked effect on the general attitudes to charitable donation and volunteering. One example may be a broader exposure to global media and a proliferation of charities and charitable trusts. The way in which charities now fundraise has also undergone a huge transformation during the last 50 years. This may be argued to have created some degree of saturation and possible confusion over which causes to support.

On reading this article, I retained a slither of hope; maybe this decline in donations from younger generations would be somewhat counteracted by an upward trend in volunteering, donating time rather than money. According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, this isn’t the case. The average number of hours spent volunteering per volunteer declined by 30% between 1997 and 2007 (Helping Out, 2007). Evidence also suggests that there is a trend towards more episodic volunteering, rather than sustained activities.

ImageThere’s certainly an increase in voluntourism – short bursts of intense volunteer work. But what’s better – a month long volunteering trip whereby all of your time and effort is ploughed into the cause, or two hours a month of volunteering activity over the space of a number of years? In both instances the overall number of hours may eventually become comparable but they will of course have different degrees and durations of effect and commitment.

There is no doubt that the number of ways that individuals can contribute to good causes has increased over the last century. In particular there are now many more opportunities for people to actively engage in the activities of overseas charity work. This can only be a good thing for global awareness and outward looking society. But whether this means that involvement in UK-based volunteering activities should suffer is still up for debate.

Let’s finish on a positive note:

The report highlights that there is usually a steep increase in giving with age, so there’s still hope for the apparently tight-pocketed younger generations. Those born in the 1970s and 1980s seem to be catching up with their predecessors; donations were typically below those of older generations when this cohort were in their 20s, but giving is increasing with age.

The report offers the facts; the next step is to try to understand why such differences exist and how they can be manipulated.

Good & Green Guides

The Good & Green Guides are for travellers and inhabitants alike, covering London and a range of Dutch cities and allowing people to support sustainable business.

At home we can gradually construct a web of sustainable and ethical outlets, becoming knowledgeable about suppliers, locality of produce and organic and Fair Trade credentials, amongst other criteria. When we move city or travel to foreign lands, the conscious consumers amongst us face a dilemma: where is our money really going?

As consumers we have a lot of power and we can truly encourage change, especially when our choices extend to every part of our lives, including travel.

Founder, publisher and author, Harold Verhagen introduces the concept of the Good & Green Guides, offering examples of the content found in the Amsterdam edition: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZbdBLo-_LU

Each guide focuses on five key areas that consumers can ‘green’:

  • Eat & Meet: bars, cafes, tearooms, food shops, food markets, restaurants, herbs & food supplements
  • Dreaming: hotels, bed & breakfasts, hostels and campsites
  • Experiencing: kids, mobility, mind & body, parks & gardens, down & out
  • Shopping: cosmetics, fair trade, fashion, office & home, second-hand, vintage, repair, online shops, banks
  • Getting involved: aid & activists, collection & recycling, ECO interest points, freedom interest points, volunteering, offsetting CO2

Good & Green Guide covers – Amsterdam

Each organization can be rewarded a maximum of 10 stars (Good & Green Star rating):

3 good stars (for taking care of the development of people),

3 green stars (for taking care of the environment) and

4 great stars (for being transparent about good and green actions and results).

Stars are rewarded when organisations meet verified national or international standards. There are also certain actions that will result in a star, such as striving towards CO2 neutrality or partnering with a charity.

London’s Good & Green Guide iPhone Application was released to coincide with the Olympics. We think it’s great that a digital version has been made available; if you’re going to go green, you may as well go a step further and reduce physical consumption.

Features of the iPhone application include:

– GPS tracking, maps, searches, browses, look up what’s nearby
– Thousands of recommended Good & Green places to visit and things to do
– Extensive editorial content from the guides
– Sustainable top 10s using the Good & Green Guides Star System
– Add favourites and integrate with Twitter & Facebook
– Swipe to scroll through cities, main categories and subcategories
– Background information about sustainability & certifications

There are also apps for certain Dutch cities, including Rotterdam as the example above displays.

In order to green your actions, as well as the products and services you choose, use Adventure Alternative’s Sustainability Handbook. It’s the perfect complement to the Good & Green Guides, offering tips for before, during and after travel to try and make your travel choices more sustainable.

Travel sustainably 🙂

The Greenest Games yet…

Part of London’s strength throughout the Olympic bidding process, and consequently their win over Paris back in 2005, was the promise of regenerating London’s East End and the strong sustainability pledge put forward to make it the ‘greenest Games ever’, in the words of David Cameron.

Five themes offered a framework through which to implement the sustainability strategy, so here’s a snapshot of the main objectives…

Climate change

Aim: To deliver a low carbon Games

  • London 2012 is the first games to attempt to measure its carbon footprint. All activities, including building work and the sporting events, will incur a ‘carbon cost’ that will contribute towards a running total for the games. See, now even the Olympics has started to benchmark its sustainability progress!
  • Over £10m went towards active travel policies. If the horrific numbers taking to the roads and tube wasn’t enough to attract people towards more sustainable forms of travel, 75km of upgraded cycling and walking routes should have helped.
  • More than 4,000 trees were planted around the Olympic Park area, not only to improve the aesthetics of the area, but to account for emissions produced throughout the Games.
  • This may be the most successful Olympics yet in terms of sustainability, but the CO2 emissions created by the event are the equivalent of adding a city the size of Cardiff to the UK, highlighting that there is still a lot of progress to be made before the games are carbon neutral.

Biodiversity

Aim: To conserve biodiversity and create new urban green spaces.

  • A major triumph has been to remove, clean and reuse over 2 million tons of soil in order to create new habitats. This includes a huge area of wildflower meadows, the largest ever sown in Britain and also the largest rare wetland in the country.
  • In addition to over 300,000 wetland plants, organizers have planted more than 4,000 trees and 130,000 plants and bulbs. This will hopefully attract local wildlife into the area whilst also proving to be a pull for tourists and Londoners alike in the years following the games.
  • The European eel; smooth newt; kingfishers; bats; and grass snake are all amongst the species that the biodiversity plan aims to attract – all sounds very exotic for inner-city London!

Inclusion

Aim: To host the most inclusive Games to date.

  • It would be difficult to find any culture unrepresented on the streets of London and the organisers wanted to ensure that diversity and social cohesion were a prominent part of the Games, as expressed in the Opening Ceremony.
  • Volunteer participation in the ceremony, and throughout the Games, was one of the most endearing points of the whole celebration. Over 15,000 volunteers offered up their time for the production of the Opening Ceremony alone.
  • The Games collaborated with 6,075 people to transform the Olympic Park area. Volunteers performed all sorts of tasks, from planting trees to removing waste. The hope was that, by participating, local residents would retain the feeling that the area is there to improve their wellbeing and happiness.

Healthy living

Aim: To inspire people across the UK to take up sport and develop more active, healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

  • The Games was committed to improving eating habits and the natural environment, and trying to engage people in physical activity, from the workforce behind the Games, extending out to the whole population of the UK.
  • One of the themes of London 2012 was ‘Inspire a Generation’. The Games supported numerous UK-wide sporting programmes attempting to encourage fitness and competitive sport amongst young people.
  • There were strict guidelines on catering – strictly free-range eggs and sustainably sourced fish, amongst other criteria.  Despite this, McDonalds opened its largest (pop-up) restaurant in the world in the Olympic Park, hardly nutritious and responsibly sourced but presumably a vital source of funding through sponsorship.

Waste

Aim: To deliver a zero-waste Games

  • Recycling was a prominent feature at the games. Two thirds of the steel used to build the Olympic stadium was recycled, much of it comprises of old and abandoned gas pipes. The stadium used only a tenth of the amount of steel used to create the impressive Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing.
  • Some 200 largely derelict buildings were demolished and 98.5 per cent of the resulting waste was reused or recycled.
  • For the first time in the history of the Games, no waste will go to landfill. Also, water reclaimed water from a local sewer was treated, and used for irrigation and toilet flushing.
  • All of the uniforms worn by staff were fashioned from recycled polyester and the trilbys worn were made of responsibly sourced paper.

These are but a snapshot of the ‘green’ credentials of the Games, and impressive they are!

Watch this video to get an idea of the overall sustainability pledge:

But there is still a way to go to make the Games truly sustainable… As The Sunday Telegraph has revealed, 350 tons of ore must be mined to produce each gold medal. And, most damaging of all, sponsors Dow Chemicals and BP have been widely attacked for tarnishing the Games’ green credentials.

All these objectives form part of a long-term plan to regenerate a deprived area of London. The Games were a huge success, but down the line we shall see if these actions can really transform not just one area of London, but the rest of the UK.

Nomad: A person who wanders or roves

Nomaders is a great new platform – it allows dialogue to be exchanged between travellers and locals. But these aren’t just any locals; ‘local heroes’, as they’re named by the Nomaders community, are people who want to showcase their hometown by sharing their culture, introducing travellers to activities that could never be found in the guidebook!

Local heroes aren’t satisfied with Starbucks and Subway, these are people that know the hidden gems in an area – the places that properly showcase the spirit and culture of a community. Local heroes are also often people who interact with their local community through associations, cultural groups and community initiatives.

Hey, if we just described you, maybe you could be a local hero and help to enhance the tourism experience through authentic and exciting activities!

The organisation aspires to the same message as Couchsurfing and the likes – gain unique experiences by viewing a location through the eyes of a local!

We’re really proud to be able to say that Adventure Alternative tours facilitate and encourage interaction with locals, offering a personalised and unique experience. This is especially true of our AlternativeGAP tours.

Each group is accompanied by 15 Kenyans on their gap years as part of the Moving Mountains Kenya scheme, so integration starts from the very beginning. Not only that, but the groups are joined by Kenyan aid workers who act as guides and mentors, teaching participants to engage with the communities and people who are beneficiaries of Moving Mountains Trust.

AlternativeGAPpers

The group is self-sufficient, travelling in our overland trucks and living in local situations, sometimes in tents, sometimes in homestays and sometimes in our guesthouses. This is where the trip differs from most tours – it’s the opportunity to travel at a pace of life which is slow enough to feel you have got to know the land and its people.

Fundamentally our gap trips are linked to long-term development projects which we believe reflects the integrity of the experience. The tours include homestays and work in some of our projects like children’s homes, rescue centres and our volunteer’s centres, along with experiences that highlight the flipside of life in Kenya, along with the people that make this country so special!

AlternativeGAPper teaching in school

Cycling through the Great Rift Valley and ending up camping on an extinct volcano with the Maasai people – now you can’t say that’s the average holiday experience!

Like Nomaders, AlternativeGAP Kenya tours are designed for people who have a real desire to explore a country and understand both its development needs and also appreciate its uniqueness. This will take an open mind, initiative and a sense of curiosity about the world. The next tour will run from 12th January, 2013. To find out more about these GAP trips, and other Adventure Alternative tours, visit the website.

Make Holidays Greener

In conjunction with The Travel Foundation’s ‘Make Holidays Greener’ Campaign, we are publishing our Sustainability Handbook online for all to peruse. It’s soon to be branded, published and distributed to our clients to help them help us carry out our commitment to responsible tourism, but we thought we would give you a sneak peek!

The Make Holidays Greener Campaign hopes to engage holidaymakers on the topic of responsible tourism, with the aim of protecting both the environment and local communities in tourist destinations. The Campaign hopes to encourage tourists to partake in greener activities whilst on their hols, even just one action. This is where the handbook comes in… we want to offer our clients practical guidelines to achieve positive incremental changes that contribute towards making destinations more sustainable. We know, only too well, that the myriad of ‘green’ terms and practices can make the sustainability arena a confusing and daunting one to try and tackle as an individual. To remedy this, we introduce our Sustainability Handbook in the hope that you will realise these suggestions in everyday life and travel.  We would love to hear your feedback!

The Campaign was launched two years ago; let’s contribute to make this year’s the biggest and best yet! To find out more about the Campaign, visit: www.makeholidaysgreener.org.uk. Download the free ‘greener holiday guides’ and find out more about the effects that your holidays have on the environment and host communities.