The Daily Telegraph travel audit

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How we analysed 40 of the top travel companies in Britain
In December 2007, The Telegraph asked Responsible Travel to assist with the analysis of 40 of Britain’s top travel companies in regards to responsible tourism. The companies and categories were chosen by The Telegraph travel team and Responsible Travel worked with the paper to establish criteria and a ranking system on which all analysis was based.

How we’ve done the analysis
To complete an exhaustive analysis of every company (and all of their holidays) would take years. Analysing a range of companies presents further problems as it’s hard to compare airlines with say tour companies.

Given this, responsibletravel.com’s approach has been to use desk research of the public information available in order to compare the tourism companies against the best practice in corporate social responsibility across all sectors over the past 15 years. In general tourism lags behind other sectors and this is reflected across the analysis.

The three key things that signal companies that are really committed to creating positive change are:

  1. Do the companies transparently publish strong green policies? These polices should cover their environmental, social and economic impacts.
  2. Do the companies publish targets and reports on their progress?
  3. Are the reports independently audited?
The analysis examines policies and actions that are in place now and does not take into account any future plans that companies may have.

Our analysis focuses on five factors that signal whether these companies are really committed to creating positive change:
  • Carbon reduction: the use of green fuels, alternative energy, modern vehicles/aircraft and eco-friendly hotels, the management of waste and energy reduction.

  • Carbon offsetting: are offsetting schemes available? Does the company make financial commitments of its own?

  • Conservation schemes: efforts to minimise harm done to the environment by tourism.

  • Responsible tourism (RT) policy: does the company have a strong policy, the staff to put it into practice and independent audits and targets?

  • On the ground: sourcing of local produce and services and employment of local staff; support for local social projects, relations between tourist and local people.

In terms of climate change we’ve separated out carbon reduction (which is more important) from carbon offsets. Carbon reduction has proved hard to assess as very few companies publish annual figures on their total carbon emissions. We’ve rated companies that pay themselves towards offsetting carbon (or trading carbon) more highly than those who make it voluntary for customers.

Finally, while carbon emissions have become the highest profile issue associated with all travel companies we have chosen not to focus exclusively on this, but to also examine travel companies contributions to local people and livelihoods; support of local conservation and social projects; and work with suppliers such as environmental auditing of hotels (this is the work on the ground section). We have not looked at workers rights/staff welfare as part of this project.

The tourism industry in general
For an industry that is dependent on pristine environments and local cultures many parts of the tourism industry have been remarkably slow to recognise their wider responsibilities to both local communities and the environment, and the growing consumer interest in more responsible travel.

While even mining companies have been publishing corporate responsibility policies and audits for many years this is still unusual in tourism. It’s possibly due to the fact that tourism is a) a very fragmented industry with many different stakeholders who share responsibility and b) that the industry has been able to move on from places they’ve damaged to develop the next ‘unspoilt paradise.’

However, due to the carbon emissions associated with flying, airlines are under pressure like never before to demonstrate what good they can do in tourism destinations. Unfortunately, unlike many other sectors where there is an easy, greener alternative (such as renewable energy or Fairtrade food), there is no green alternative to aviation fuel and this places tourists and the industry in an almost uniquely difficult position.

My view is that we must fly less each year as part of a programme of reducing our personal carbon emissions across our entire lives, and that when we do choose to fly we must book a responsible holiday that increases the benefits of tourism in destinations and reduces local environmental impacts.

I think it’s unrealistic to think that there will be no international tourism industry (the biggest service industry in the world accounting for one in ten jobs worldwide), but very realistic to expect that it can be greener and more responsible than it is now. Thankfully many players agree and the industry is now changing very fast.

Justin Francis, co-founder and Managing Director of Responsible Travel
Jan 2008
Written by Justin Francis
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