Beyond Tourism sets out to be responsible in all aspects of business

Learning to use a blow gun in Amazon Ecuador, Beyond Tourism

Learning to use a blow gun in Amazon Ecuador, Beyond Tourism

Green Hotelier recently spoke with new responsible tourism agency, The Beyond Tourism Company, founded by former Tourism Concern campaigner David Tucker and Responsible Travel Manager Simon Forster.

Dave and Simon share a passion for traveling and their aim is to make responsible tourism the norm by creating  bespoke holidays for people without compromising ethics.

By working with local ethical and green businesses and communities in countries Beyond Tourism ensure holidaymakers’ hard earned money goes to help the local communities in the countries they visit.  Selecting accommodation and hotels that live up to strict green criteria is also a real priority for Beyond Tourism. Dave and Simon do all the hard work so clients can just go and enjoy their trips.

Beyond Tourism currently offer a wide range of active, cultural, romantic, wildlife and beach style holidays and unique experiences to suit all tastes in Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru or Thailand.

Here's what Dave and Simon had to say about their new company:

What were the motivations behind setting up Beyond Tourism?

Both Simon and I have had a dream to get into responsible tourism for more than 10 years, starting back when I was teaching and travelling in Southeast Asia and Simon worked for a local community NGO in Nicaragua. We had the privilege of visiting some beautiful places and meeting incredible people and of course we wanted them to stay that way for others to enjoy in the future.

Yet we also saw how uncontrolled or irresponsible tourism development could wreck the local environment and exploit local people, which was even worse when it was being done in the name of our enjoyment. At the same time, we saw that when it was done well, everyone could benefit, gorgeous natural attractions would be preserved and travellers would get a much better and more satisfying experience to boot.

After that, I got into international development and anti-poverty campaigning to challenge the injustices I saw in numerous developing countries, while Simon tried to change things from inside the industry, working as a responsible travel specialist for various companies. But in the end, we wanted to make a difference directly with our own ideas and efforts and decided to create the most responsible company we could, with the central aim of using tourism to fight poverty and help conserve some of the most beautiful and endangered places in the world.

We realised that there are actually many locally-run small organisations and companies who are doing the same across the world, but that they find it hard to link up with concerned consumers here. So the best way that we could help would be to bring them together, learning from each other and hopefully changing hearts and minds to a more sustainable outlook even after our customers return home.

In your opinion, is there more demand for responsible/ green tourism now than say 5 years ago?

I’d say definitely yes. You only have to look at the number of articles in the travel press about responsible holidays and the pleasures of seeing a different side of destinations away from pre-packaged and homogenised travel experiences.

The growing popularity of ethical lifestyles in the UK, through Fairtrade amongst other things, has played a part and encouraged people to look differently at where things come from and how they are produced. Recent problems from sweatshops, the bank meltdown to horse meat scandals is fuelling the belief that we have to do things differently.

We’re hoping to push this even further by helping people behave ethically when they’re away from home, without having to compromise on their hard-earned holidays, and make a direct connection with people at the other end of the supply chain. I’d say that my generation, who were coming of age when the green movement was taking off in the 90s and have travelled to poor countries more than ever before for gap years and volunteering, are a big driver of this change.

But we’ve also seen a lot of interest from the over 55s, who I think want interesting and meaningful holidays and now have the time and money to seek them out. Overall, I hope that more and more people are looking for fulfilling and special travel experiences and that we can help them find them.

Explain a bit about the responsible/ sustainable policies Beyond Tourism adheres to?

A big focus of our ethical approach is on the hotels that we offer. From the beginning we wanted accommodations that were as green as possible and although we knew that the ideal hotels wouldn’t exist everywhere, we were confident that there were enough with good practices out there that we could find decent ones in all price brackets. With that in mind, we have a minimum environmental standard for all our hotels, including demonstrating water and energy saving practices, recycling/reducing plastic waste and sourcing food locally, which has the dual benefit of reducing transport emissions and helping local farmers. However we also take account what hotels are doing over and above this, like environmentally-friendly design features.

Responsible tourism is about more than just being green though, so we are keen to promote good social practice too. Our minimum standard on this ranges from employing nearly all local staff (including in management positions) and providing ongoing training to help them progress; to directly supporting or helping guests to donate to local charities and projects.

We recognise that many hotels will go beyond these basic measures in different ways, like promoting local culture or setting up their own community development projects, and these are the ones we promote the most, while retaining flexibility to meet our customers’ requirements. It’s also important to us that guests are encouraged to be more responsible while they’re on holiday, so we look for hotels that provide information and guidance in their rooms and we include information on how to behave sensitively in our booking packs and website.

Another aspect of our ethical polices relates to tours and other services. As we aim to be responsible throughout our operations, we use locally-owned transport and restaurants and guides from the local community wherever we can. We’re particularly interested in where tourism initiatives contribute to wider aims to fight poverty, for example through educating street kids or preserving traditional livelihoods, and we feature these as our ‘partners’ on our website and publicity. There are special considerations for trekking and for visiting indigenous communities, so again we only work with companies that fully understand the issues embrace good practice.

Jasmine Valley, Cambodia

Jasmine Valley, Cambodia

What are the key considerations when developing a responsible tourism plan?

The ultimate aim of a responsible tourism plan is to create real improvements in the lives of those involved in or affected by your operations. So I’d say a vital first step is to examine your products and identify the benefits you can create and what the negative social and environmental impacts of your products might be. While this may sound straight forward, it can be a detailed and lengthy process to understand the potential implications properly, but essential to ensure you stay focused on outcomes.

The second big consideration is to ensure that you have a solid and transparent supply chain in place. There is a degree of trust involved between stakeholders of course and the relationships along the supply chain are key – it is more effective and flexible to work in a trusting relationship than to try and nail down every eventuality through contracts. Everyone’s expectations should be clear to avoid misunderstandings and potential problems for the customer and if you are not clear on how your supply chain is being managed, then you lose control in creating the outcomes you want.

Alongside this, you need to understand your customers and what they want. There’s little point in having an incredible responsible plan if it’s not going to appeal to and get by-in from the people actually going on holiday. Conversely, if they can see the benefits flowing from what you do, both to local people and to themselves in the form of better experiences, they will become your most effective advocates and bring in new business. As you move forward, it is important that you constantly monitor the processes you have in place and strive to make your products more responsible. Again, one of the best ways to do this is through feedback from your clients as well as regular contact with stakeholders in the destination.

Are some destinations easier or harder when it comes to implementing responsible tourism?

Responsible practices can be implemented in any country in any sector of the industry, but how this is done and how easy or difficult it is varies hugely. For example, several destinations in Latin America have developed responsible tourism infrastructure without little outside help or persuasion. Costa Rica realised decades ago that tourism was going to be a massive part of the economy and also had the foresight to realise the implications, especially for the environment. To avoid wrecking the wildlife and nature that is their main draw, they actively promote sustainable travel, not as a niche market but as the basis of their entire tourism policy.

Ecuador is another example where tourism has been channeled towards supporting rural livelihoods on haciendas and ranches in the countryside while national parks like the Galapagos are recognised as huge tourism attractions and jealously protected. It also changed its constitution in 1998 to recognise the land rights of Amazonian tribes, partly to hold back international oil companies who want to prospect in these incredibly biodiverse areas. It also means that lodges in the area are either run by local communities or at least have their active consent, in contrast to many other countries, for example in Africa.

The difficulty of implementing responsible tourism can also vary according to the level of understanding in the destination - how much do people on the street understand the concepts of responsible tourism? Higher levels of understanding and buy-in from locals make it less likely that hotels and operators will exaggerate what they offer, or that managers will struggle to make their staff integrate responsibility into their day to day work. Thailand, for example, is ingrained with mass tourism which makes it difficult to really get to the bottom of whether a hotel is over claiming or paying lip service to responsibility.

There are some countries where the political context makes it difficult to implement responsible measures. It is important that you understand where your money is going, particularly where tourism is a big revenue earner for the government. Burma is the classic example, where a delicate balancing act is needed – responsible tourism is desperately needed to help local people but the question remains about whether it is really possible to do it without the money being siphoned off and feeding wider abuses.

Dave and Simon, co-founders of Beyond Tourism

Dave and Simon, co-founders of Beyond Tourism

Who are the different stakeholders involved?

One of the main obstacles in achieving really responsible tourism is the complexity of the supply chain and the number of people involved. Success depends on getting everyone involved: outbound and inbound tour operators, activity and transport providers, hotels, individual staff, suppliers (e.g. farmers) and local communities, as well as holiday makers themselves. There is also an important role for academics in gathering and analysing data about what works and helping to spread information, which is often lost in the day to day stresses of running travel businesses.

What would be Beyond Tourism’s advice to hoteliers looking to work more responsibly with their destination?

Invest in making your hotels as environmentally friendly as possible to put you ahead of your competitors. There are many simple and cheap green ideas out there like rainwater harvesting or vermiculture composting, as well as more high tech ones like solar heating and electricity generation, which can give you an extra edge. On top of saving costs, you will be contributing to the long term desirability of your destination, avoiding potential conflicts (e.g. over water supplies) and communicating your commitment well will generate the feel-good factor for guests.

Understand your stakeholders and supply chain in detail and remember that responsible tourism is not just about the environment. Talk to your staff and suppliers and see where your money is ending up – then it will be easier to see how you can really create positive outcomes.

Ask for help and advice from other hotels that you know have good responsibility standards and see what support tourism marketing boards can give you. Most importantly, speak to your staff and encourage open feedback - they are the best guide to making sure good initiatives are really being put into practice and a source of great (often common sense) ideas.

Be transparent with your guests and remember that review sites and social media can significantly affect your reputation, which is key if you want to present yourself as responsible. On the other hand, if you communicate what you are doing effectively, guests can become one of your greatest assets.

You can find more information on Beyond Tourism by visiting www.beyondtourism.co.uk

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