Sustainable travel objectives can be accomplished though memorable ways. Managing director Nicholas Lim tells Karen Yue how the company's TreadRight projects form a big part of his brands’ itineraries and the benefits they bring to communities and the environment.
Tell me about TreadRight Foundation.
TreadRight Foundation was founded by The Travel Corporation (TTC) in 2008, with a mission to have a positive impact on the people and communities we visit, which could be by way of supporting cultures; to protect wildlife – one of the things we are strongly against are attractions and activities that exploit animals; and to care for the planet we call home so that it will continue to be around for many, many generations to come.
Our work, through TreadRight, centres on those three pillars: People, Wildlife and Planet. These pillars were unveiled in 2018 along with our #MakeTravelMatter motto.
TreadRight is supported by TTC’s family of brands, and the projects undertaken according to each pillar will differ from brand to brand.
One thing unique about TreadRight is that all our projects must have a direct impact on the cause we are supporting. With this in mind, writing out a cheque for an NGO to use in whatever ways it wants is not what we do. We run micro projects that matter.
Can you give some examples of a micro project?
Trafalgar has a People project in Austria that supports the Kloster Wernberg Monastery. The monastery was falling apart and about to shut down. What we did was to work it into our Switzerland and Austria itinerary. We brought our tour groups over, where the nuns would prepare lunch using fresh produce from their garden and farm, with bread from the on-site bakery. Money earned from being part of our programme helped to support the monastery.
Another great example of a People project is an experience through Contiki that allows our travellers to visit the Iraq Al Amir Women’s Cooperative in Amman, Jordan on the Israel and Jordan Uncovered trip. This is a project centred on helping local women become financially independent through learning handicraft skills such as pottery and crafting goods that they can then sell at the Cooperative. Contiki groups visit the centre, enjoy a home-cooked meal and have the chance to interact with the women, learning about their lives and work.
Yet another interesting one is our support for Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti, one of the last Perugian-style weaver of its kind in Italy. Using funds provided by the TreadRight grants programme, the workshop in Perugia, Umbria was able to access new markets via e-commerce capabilities and continue to teach the tradition of weaving which promotes job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, while contributing to the protection of Umbria’s cultural heritage.
Are these micro projects one-off, or part of a regular programme?
They are standard programmes because it makes no sense to support a cause just once a year. If we had brought our tour group just once last year to Kloster Wernberg Monastery, it may not be around again this year.
We make a conscious effort to really sustain our micro projects, so that it will have a long-term benefit.
How about Planet projects? How does a tourism company reconcile its business objectives to planet-saving objectives? The act of travelling – be it by plane, train, ship or car – produces carbon emissions.
We are quite conscious about our carbon footprint and we take steps to minimise it.
We advocate the use of coaches in our programmes, which emits less carbon emissions than airplanes. Our fleet of coaches is also never more than four years old, because older vehicles have reduced fuel efficiencies, plus newer models tend to have better fuel-saving technology.
Besides that, we have done away with single-use plastics on all our programmes. On Uniworld Cruises, for example, we no longer offer bottled water.
Is there truth in the belief that sustainable travel will dampen the travel experience?
Not at all! We are removing single-use plastics, not quality hotel accommodation and experiences (laughs).
I think we need to look at how we communicate our sustainability goals and efforts to our customers. If we explain why we are bringing them to a rundown monastery to eat a home-cooked lunch instead of a fine restaurant for a feast, our customers will understand and appreciate the opportunity to support a community and valuable architecture. Sustainable projects provide travellers with greater emotional rewards.
Is it hard to convince travellers to get on board with your sustainable goals, or why these People, Wildlife and Planet projects are important?
At the beginning, yes, but mostly with the older generation of travellers.
The young ones, like our Contiki customers (only for 18- to 35-year-olds), understand our motive right away because environmental and sustainability concepts are taught in schools.
The older customers will ask many questions about why we are doing our programmes this way, but once they understand, there is no push back.
Increasingly, people want fulfilling holidays. Sure, there is fun in a holiday that is all about shopping and eating. But for many, a chance to give back to the destination they visit is also desired.
What new sustainable projects has TTC got?
As part of Trafalgar’s core mission to incorporate sustainable practices into all facets of its business model, it has set a goal to become plastic-free by 2022, under the guidance of parent company TTC.
In support of the Planet pillar, Trafalgar has donated to the UK’s National Trust and helped build a sustainable visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. By rebuilding the visitor centre with local, sustainable materials, it was possible to welcome more guests without impacting the environment. The new facility demonstrated the importance of enabling and preserving as opposed to running the risk of eliminating, with people roaming without regard for what they are seeing.