7 Actions You Can Take to Become a More Sustainable Operator TODAY
The COVID-19 pandemic has injected fuel into the environmental awareness - they even call it an "eco-awakening across the globe". This has served to further accentuate the need to move towards a tourism model that minimizes its carbon footprint, also driven by the climate emergency.
Investing time in sustainable business practices also gives you some brilliant new marketing opportunities. After all, sustainable, green, and eco are words that are appealing to more and more travelers who want to reduce their impact on the planet but don’t necessarily have the know how. Your tour operator business can take the opportunity to allow them to do this.
For tour and activity operators, going sustainable may seem like a complex process, but in reality, there are some very simple things you can do to start. At the end of the day, it is a matter of understanding the concepts of sustainable tourism.
Here are 7 actions you can take as a tour and activity operator to become sustainable:
1. Partner up with local conservation projects
Try to find if there are any current projects focused on preserving and protecting the area your customers visit during your tour or activity and partner up with them. Getting involved with an already existing local conservation project is always easier than starting from scratch own conservation project.
Not only will you be helping the community and/or the planet, but it will help you build your brand as a socially responsible one. "Brands & Stands: Social Purpose is the New Black" found that not only are consumers supportive of corporate activism (86% want companies to champion social issues), but 64% are also likely to buy from you if you are linked to a social cause.
2. Try to preserve resources your company uses
Another way to reduce the climate footprint of a business is to reduce the amount of waste generated. You could avoid disposable cups, stirrers, and coffee capsules and give kitchen crockery instead, reduce the number of prints, reuse papers as drafts, and sort waste for recycling correctly.
Your customers will also appreciate the efficient use of paper. If you give out papers, such as maps, to travelers during your tours or activities, try making them digital and share those through QR's.
3. Use conservation and reduction measures
Use energy efficiently. Something as simple as changing the lighting for LED technology or air conditioning equipment for others with low consumption or disconnecting electronic devices when they are not working, will make a big difference.
Carry out simple energy audits of your processes and facilities, it will help you to know if you are wasting these resources unnecessarily. You could periodically check your consumption and thermal insulation in hot and cold equipment.
Taking some action on this front can reduce your costs and if you promote them correctly among your customers, they will appreciate that.
4. Provide your staff with information and training on how to be more environmentally responsible
Empowering your employees with information on how to protect the areas where your activities or tours take place is very important. Your staff is the face of your company and if they don't show interest in protecting these areas, people will assume your company doesn't care for these either.
For example, if you are a scuba diving tour operator who takes tourists out on boats and has guides take them to coral reefs to see marine life, It is very important that your guide makes sure to tell the tourist not to touch the marine life. Turtles, rays, and many species of sharks can become vulnerable to harmful bacteria through human contact, leaving them susceptible to disease. Even if it seems counterintuitive, having a strict no-exceptions policy with customers when it comes to environmental rules, will actually have a positive impact on how they perceive your brand.
5. Try to source your supplies locally
Make a list of all the supplies your operation needs and see if there's an opportunity to source them from your own community or city. Buying local will support your community's economy and reduce the contamination of long hours of transportation.
Telling your customers about your sourcing practices will also make you more authentic. You will also be offering your customer a more local experience and there is an increasing demand for authenticity and experiential travel. You should also push your customers to also purchase locally-run tours, eat in local restaurants, and stay in locally-owned hotels or lodges. In a 2014 Skift Special Report, surveys showed that in both the UK and U.S. markets, “younger travelers are thinking about local tour firms to give them more authentic, deeper travel experiences.” Travelers increasingly see local offerings as a way to ensure meaningful and transformative travel experiences.
6. Offer incentives for your staff to carpool or use public transport
Your company could create carpool incentive programs including free or preferred parking, or rewards such as prize drawings or restaurant coupons. Employers can help employees form carpools through rideshare matching.
You could also incentivize workers to use public transport by subsidizing partial or full transit passes. Alternatively, offer a guaranteed ride home program to ensure employees that they have a fast, efficient ride home in their back pocket in the event of an emergency or unforeseen circumstance.
7. On walking tours, consider the size of your tour groups.
Like any other business, you want your operator to grow. However, after decades of virtually uncontrolled growth of travel, it has crossed a threshold in many destinations where tourism now demonstrably creates more problems than benefits.
Overtourism is not just a big city issue; it has been documented in wilderness areas and national parks, and in places such as the Isle of Skye. Operating tours in smaller groups will have a lower impact on the flora and fauna in an area than having hundreds visit at once. Something similar will happen in cities, where smaller groups can be controlled better for noises and littering.
In the Galapagos Islands - which is an exceptionally fragile habitat teeming with endemic and endangered species – restrictions on the size of cruise ships and the number of passengers who may disembark at any one time have ensured the sustainability of tourism.
Listed below are great examples of tour and activity operators who are doing an incredible job at being sustainable:
Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventures - are actively involved in some amazing conservation projects protecting the marine life in their area with beach cleanups, fishing net removal, and planting trees. All these efforts help to keep both the natural environment and their business sustainable for the future.
One Seed Expeditions Purpose is a driven social enterprise where 10% of the trip cost is invested in local entrepreneurs. The company hires local guides, has a leave no trace mandate, and offers trips worldwide. They even offer custom corporate travel.
Jumbari Safaris – known as the African eco-friendly safari company - donated 1% of all booking values to conservation. They are doing their best to support ecolodges, communities and provide information to their guests.
Inala Nature - is a tour operator and wildlife preservation center focusing on protecting the birds and wildlife and educating their visitors about the importance of conservation.
It is essential that both visitors and entrepreneurs working in the tourism sector understand the scale of the problems tourism could cause on the environment and local communities. For future generations to still be able to see preserved regions and traditional cultures, tourism must be practiced in a more conscious way.
And remember, every little action no matter how small it might sound does have a positive impact on a better future for us all!