Responsible Travel

Today is our 17th birthday. Although we had a basic web page up in 2000, we announced our launch on April 6th 2001 with 2 members and 16 holidays. We'll sell more holidays this morning than we did that entire year.

As I think you know the business is doing really well - commercially and I hope in change making. Rather than focus on recent news I think birthdays create an opportunity for wider reflection. So, if you will indulge me I've taken this opportunity in its very broadest sense.

website in 2001

Since our launch in 2001 the world has fundamentally changed. The internet (by then only about 3 years old) transformed how knowledge is shared and how we buy things. It turned business, media, music, education, publishing and so much more on its head.

The social media companies which followed us a few years later connected people globally, for better and for worse. Nine eleven, when we were only a few months old, and then the Iraq war changed so much that we are still living with the consequences.

As the world has changed around us it's interesting to think that our vision and business model haven't changed at all. We still want to help encourage a more caring tourism industry, and we still collect money based on our trust model. Those two words - caring and trust - you never hear in the business world or in business school continue to guide us.

Our consistency might be considered either as strength or as weakness in a rapidly changing world. To try to understand which I'd like to take a wider look at the world. Rather than take a 10 year time frame, which is normal with these internal anniversary notes, I'm going to try to take a 100 year one.

The end of nation states
For 100 years we have been used to the idea that our national politicians and regulatory systems have the ability change our lives for the better. This is no longer true.

Decades of globalisation have reduced their power very substantially. In the old days nations could control the flows of money in and out countries and enforce taxation. Now they can't. 94% of Apple's money is held off shore, beyond taxation. Apple and Facebook are more powerful and wealthy than many national governments. Big businesses and wealthy individuals have moved beyond taxation, which is now optional (unlike for the rest of us). Many businesses (not us) pay less tax as a % than a junior nurse.

As a result inequality between rich and poor is spiralling out of control, and Governments - including ours - are unable to force multinationals or wealthy people to pay tax or address inequality.

Trade, communications and the movement of people has also largely moved beyond the control of national governments. Facebook, not Government, controls global communication sharing and is not subject to the rules that Governments apply to traditional media (accountability, accuracy).

In a globalised economy a nation state cannot control its economy. No matter how well the UK performs if the US or global economies sneeze then our economy will crash. Immigration (and even the growth of tourism) was also put beyond the ability of nation states to control.

Familiar notions of national borders are also under threat. Isis is moving beyond the idea of national borders, trying to create new areas of influence or states. Putin doesn't pay any regard to national borders as we've seen in Crimea, Ukraine etc. He seeks to control areas not defined by national borders. Who knows how Syria's borders will end up.

The result of all this is that people and Governments feel powerless, and of course this created a powerful backlash.

Populist national governments
Donald Trump can in effect do little to guarantee to influence or improve the lives of US citizens in the face of the changes above, so in an effort to try to prove that he has some level of control and to win votes he strikes out with crazy initiatives to try to demonstrate some control or influence.

Building walls; banning people from some Muslim countries from entering the country from entering the country; trade tariffs on imports etc. all serve this purpose. He knows it will do little to improve the lives of US citizens, but the semblance of power and influence keeps him in power. Add Putin, Modi, Erdogan and many others to this growing list of populist leaders.

What next?
National Governments will spend the next few decades trying to regain control of some of these things, but in our inter-connected and deregulated world the horse has already bolted.

Some of the biggest issues such as global warming; collapse of taxation; loss of biodiversity; inequality are unlikely to be solved by nation states acting independently.

We are going to need some form of global financial and environmental regulation, perhaps not a global Government, but different forms - some large and some small - of binding international controls and regulation. Basically, we need to build the politics of our now integrated world system. The old nation state idea will no longer do.

This will enable Governments, through these organisations, to regain some control and for them, us and us, to feel less powerless.

I hope it will in turn put an end to populist politics. It might take the next 100 years to achieve this, but I can't see that the current political structures can solve the world's biggest issues - the evidence suggests not.

Of course the EU was a far more perfect effort at this. It has many weaknesses, but I personally would have much preferred that the UK tried to improve it rather than flouncing out in the misguided belief that it would give us more control. In the end it will give us much less control.

What's all this got to do with us?
Well firstly we aren't going to save the world's wildlife and culture heritage, or significantly improve the lives of those in poverty on our own - so it's sometimes helpful to remind ourselves of the broader political context.

Secondly, it's worth remembering what we are. In the broadest sense we are 100's of organisations across dozens of countries that have chosen to do business together under one common framework and set of regulations (our screening for responsible tourism) that is intended to benefit wildlife, environment, local communities, as well as staff and shareholders.

While we are not a political organisation, have only soft regulatory powers around sustainability, and can't regulate financial markets we ARE a tiny example of the type of international cooperation around 'doing good' and spreading economic benefits more widely that will be required in the next 100 years.

Perhaps we are a microcosm of what will be required politically and can sit alongside a new political context in which nation states find effective ways to operate under new global frameworks and regulation.

In conclusion
In answering my question at the top of this article I think our consistency of vision and business model is in fact a great strength.

I think the reason that we've not needed to change it was that was ahead of its time (in being internet based, sustainably focussed, and a global collaboration under one common framework), and - if you buy the arguments laid out here - that we are well placed as a concept for the next 17 or even 100 years.

Thanks for bearing with me if you've read this far!

Read more of our blog posts here
Written by Justin Francis
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