Our Responsible Tourism Policy

We aim to help re-invent the tourism industry for the long-term benefit of local people, the environment, travelers and the tourism industry. The entire premise of our business is to market and distribute more responsible vacations, thereby creating more jobs for local people, greater income for local people and increased benefits for conservation, whilst at the same time minimising negative impacts on local environments and cultures.

We take our responsibilities to the environment, local communities, customers, partners and employees very seriously and constantly review our policies and strive to make improvements where we can. As the first business in the world to use the term 'responsible travel' we have been on a steep learning curve since we launched in 2001. For us, this is a journey - we still have work to do.

Our relationship with our members

We screen tour operators and accommodations against responsible tourism (social, environmental and economic) criteria before they can become members and be marketed on our site. Companies must be transparent in their policies for responsible tourism at a company level and on a vacation by vacation basis. Travelers can find details of how a specific vacation 'makes a difference' at the bottom of any vacation page featured on the site.

Since our launch in 2001 we have worked with hundreds of tour operators and accommodations to help them develop and implement effective responsible tourism policies. Through our work with these companies we have actively encouraged the spread of best practice within the tourism industry and now work with over 375 tour operators and over 530 accommodations.

Monitoring responsible tourism
There is no global accreditation scheme for responsible tourism and we do not aim to be this. We have examined hotel accreditation schemes and many of the hotels on our site have been accredited by some of the best schemes out there. As there is no accreditation scheme for tour operators, we have had to devise our own approach. For us, travelers act as the eyes and ears of the industry. Our travelers are invited to comment on their experiences regarding a particular operator or accommodation's responsible tourism policies on their return from their vacation, in the form of a traveler review. There are now over 7,000 of these and these are used in three ways; they are sent to the tour companies and hotels as a form of consumer-driven auditing in order to encourage continuous improvement; they are displayed on the site for travelers to read, and they are often used in our marketing communications.

Organisations that are found to have misrepresented their practices are removed from the site but far more commonly, we have found that tour companies and hotels have listened to customers' concerns and made changes to improve the sustainability of the vacations. In these cases, evidence of such changes is then published on the site.

Industry wide initiatives

Many of the tour operators we work with are subsidiaries of major companies in the industry and have made changes to their businesses in order to embrace responsible tourism principles. Way back in 2004, we ran a successful campaign against Thomson Vacations, Thomas Cook and MyTravel to persuade them to publish policies on responsible tourism. As a result, The Federation of Tour Operators (FTO) - who represent 70 percent of the market - made a public commitment that their members would publish policies for responsible travel and tourism within a year. Since then we've run many more successful campaigns.

Awards scheme
The World Responsible Tourism Awards, which we created in 2004 and have organised every year since, are a powerful tool for encouraging improvement within the tourism industry by demonstrating examples of best practice. Tourism organisations nominate themselves for a specific category and the long-listed organisations are then required to fill in a detailed questionnaire which encourages them to assess the impact that they have on local environments, cultures and communities. The judges particularly look for examples of organisations that deliver benefits to local people and the environment, create widespread change with replicable initiatives or those that have real scale to them, are able to quantify their achievements and measure improvement, and are using their influence to encourage their suppliers to be more responsible too.

Awards 2011

Our impact on society

Within tourism destinations
The entire premise of our business is to market vacations that have a greater positive impact on the local communities, cultures and people visited. Whether it is in Canada or Cancun, the vacations we market help create jobs for local people, greater income for local people and minimise negative impacts on cultures. All the vacations on our site increase the linkages to local enterprises, thereby increasing the multiplier effect of every 1 spent by the tourist in the destination. We require all operators and accommodations listed on the site to provide travelers with information that helps sensitise them to local cultures and different ways of life.

Staff volunteering
In the UK, where our office is based, we are active members of our community. At least once a year, as a team, we spend a day volunteering for a local cause e.g. a local conservation project working in partnership with local people. Among others, we have worked with Stanmer Park conservation project in Brighton, The Green Gym in Brighton, The National Trust near Hassocks, The Friends of Sheepcote Valley in Brighton and Lewes railway land local nature reserve.

We encourage employees to volunteer their time in the community and offer them the chance to take half a day paid time per month during work hours in order to do so.

Staff volunteering day

Charity donations
We regularly donate money to charity and between 2006 and 2015 this equated to 14 percent of our profits. Organisations we've supported in this way include Just a Drop, The Woodland Trust, Afrikids, ActionAid in Cambodia and a small community in Ethiopia. Read more about our charity commitments.

Additionally, we participate in the Payroll Giving scheme, which encourages staff to donate, tax-free, to charities.

Local suppliers
We have a policy of always using local suppliers wherever we can, so as to bring as much income to the local area as possible. We work with a locally based web developer, IT equipment supplier, usability/information architect, stationery supplier and cleaning company.

Our impact on the environment

Within tourism destinations
We market vacations that are taking steps to actively reduce the negative impact of tourism on the local environment this is integral to our business. Every vacation on the site has been screened for its environmental criteria. In this regard, we are leading the way in tourism by bringing together in one place thousands of vacations that are helping to create innovative environmentally-friendly business solutions.

Carbon reduction
We were among the first travel organisations to introduce carbon offsets in early 2002, and we were also one of the first to remove them for environmental reasons. Carbon reduction does not stop with the flight and we are working with our members to encourage energy saving initiatives within destinations too.

For more information, read our view on carbon reduction and our advice on flying as a responsible traveler.

Office environmental, recycling and waste policy
We work under the principles of reduce, reuse then recycle. We are committed to continuous improvement in all areas within this policy and the education and training of all employees in environmental issues and the environmental effects of their activities.

Paper: We commit to being a 'paperless' office except for essential documentation, and use both sides of the paper before recycling. Printed materials are kept to a minimum and our business cards, World Responsible Tourism Awards materials, etc are printed on recycled paper/card. Our business is 100 percent web-based. We only have one small printer and no photocopier.

Recycling and composting: We recycle as many materials as possible including paper, cardboard, printer cartridges, cans, plastic and tetrapaks. We also have an office compost bin for fruit peelings, etc. Recycling and compostable materials are collected by Brighton Paper Round. We keep all stamps and donate these to a charity.

Transport: Staff use public transport (rather than private vehicles) whilst on company business wherever possible. Employees are encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport to get to work (currently 95 percent do so). We are also part of the Bike2Work Scheme, enabling employees to purchase their own bicycle tax free.

Energy use: We turn off (not leave on standby) PCs and other electrical items overnight or during vacations, and we turn off our computer monitors during lunch breaks and meetings.

Purchasing: We buy recycled, biodegradable and Fairtrade products, including recycled printer toners where possible and refill containers. When buying furniture, we look for wood from sustainable (managed) forests or source from local charity shops where possible. Old furniture and computer equipment is donated to local charities.

Suppliers: We expect high environmental standards from our suppliers where possible. We use green energy provider Ecotricity and our office cleaning company Green Mop was chosen for its green principles.

Ecotricity, green energy

Our relationship with our employees

We are passionate about creating a place to work which is supportive, empowering, friendly, fun and which rewards excellence and loyalty. We offer staff flexible full-time and part-time working arrangements. We are committed to a good work/life balance for our staff. Staff are also encouraged to undertake courses as and when applicable.

We have initiated a profit share scheme whereby 10 percent of profits is shared amongst staff (not including directors).
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