Responsible Travel – just another business bandwagon? 25.06.07
Scott Anderson, director of The Enlightened Traveler, a travel company based in the Camargue, in the Languedoc region of southern France, writes about how they have created a responsible travel company for the discerning holiday maker.
Have you noticed how we are constantly bombarded with the latest university research study into what is and isn’t good for us, and yet society seems to be crumbling around us? Who should take the lead? If Tony Blair is not prepared to give up his international holidays, then why should you? Is it the role of travel companies to set standards and then ask us all to buy into them? Let’s wise up: Corporate Social Responsibility is big business and has become an extension of the marketing department. But if it’s good for business and the environment, why knock it?
The idea that we somehow pollute more whilst on holiday is somewhat bizarre, and that comes from someone who travelled the world 8 times over in his last paid job. Yes, look after the planet, but clean up at home as well as abroad and in work as well as your leisure time.
At The Enlightened Traveller, an Anglo-French, family-run specialist tour operator that designs unique opportunities for walking, active learning, recreation and regeneration in Languedoc and Provence, we practise what we preach and leave the rest up to your own conscience. We don’t join special interest groups to earn website buttons so we can claim we’ve met some objectively responsible standards by suggesting our hoteliers re-cycle their waste. No, we simply run our business affairs with the same social conscience that we have as citizens of this wonderfully precious yet fragile and finite world.
Charity begins at home and ours is near the Camargue, with its protected and delicate ecosystem, threatened just as much by the economic activities of its 7000 permanent inhabitants than by the waves of tourists that flock to see its rich birdlife every summer. Both sets of human life pollute; one to earn a living and the other to achieve its own work-life balance. Neither should be blamed for what they do and each should aim to do their own bit to protect the environment at large.
We invite people to visit the Camargue and enjoy its unique characteristics and exceptional diversity. As a demonstration of our commitment to its protection, we have adopted two Flamingos, the emblematic birds of the Region, and provide information on-line as to how others can do the same. We are even running a competition to encourage this. Furthermore, for each customer coming to France, we are committed to making a donation to the charity of our choice, www.treesforlife.org.uk/
Yet true responsibility commences with the core values of a travel company and is personified by its staff as well as all those who choose to travel with her. Next time you click the on-line button entitled ‘request a brochure’, remember that you are actively contributing to the destruction of our rainforests. How companies can claim to be responsible and at the same time print a multi-page brochure is beyond our comprehension; and the fact that they do so on paper that is not recycled simply adds insult to injury.
The Enlightened Traveller took the following decisions with one simple aim in mind – to satisfy our own corporate and family conscience:
1.No glossy product brochure, with all holiday and short-break details on-line.
2. All promotional materials, even business cards, to be printed on 100% recycled paper or card (this can increase relevant costs fivefold).
3. To carefully-select a printer that used an environmentally-friendly printing process, and
4. To discourage the use of fax and letters, and prioritise electronic and telephonic communication.
Whether this policy is ‘commercially sound’ or not is almost an irrelevance. It’s about taking full responsibility for our actions and leading from the front in what we call the Conviction Business Age.
Finally here, by standardising access to most of our programmes via either Montpellier or Nîmes, we are also able to push the benefits of using high-speed train/TGV as opposed to flying from the UK.
Yet can a seemingly environmentally responsible company be guilty of neglecting the interests of its customers? The answer, unfortunately, is YES. We see our Region at its best and want others to enjoy the same experience. We actively encourage our customers to visit Le Midi outside the peak season, to travel mid-week, and warn them about walking in July and August in the intense dry heat that French walkers avoid.
We appreciate that annual holidays are often necessarily taken in the summer, so many of our walks are designed to be half-day activities, best enjoyed in the cooler mornings, leaving other, complementary activities to be enjoyed in the afternoon. We also seek to offer off-season value-added bundles as a small reward to those choosing to travel outside of peak periods.
In the final instance, it’s up to all of us to act responsibly, and consumers ultimately have the power to reward truly responsible travel companies with their business.
Scott Anderson The Enlightened Traveller is organising their first group walking tour in October 2007- "Walking with the Camisards" aims to help hikers re-live the 18th century ‘War in The Cévennes’ with like-minded individuals.
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