AITO: The Association of Independent Tour Operators

Experience Travel Group Sustainability

Experience Travel Group

Our sustainable Tourism Vision

Travelling “sustainably” is part of our DNA at Experience Travel Group (ETG). We built our company around a belief that exploring the world is a wonderful experience and that tourism can have a positive impact when we respect the world as we explore it. We firmly believe travelling in a way that preserves the natural environment, adheres to cultural customs and supports local communities is not just respectful but actually makes for a better travel experience.

The three pillars of sustainable travel - environment, society and economy - have always been at the heart of what we do, whether we are creating new excursions, providing pre-holiday info to our clients or finding ways to make it easier for you to tread with a lighter footprint.

Sustainable Tourism Projects from Experience Travel Group

Making every ETG trip a force for good through carbon capture (2020)

At ETG we believe in the economic, societal and environmental benefits of tourism. Our mantra has always been to respect the world as we explore it. However, we can’t ignore the fact that the long haul flights necessary to reach our destinations in Asia increase our individual carbon footprint. We want to make it easier for our staff and clients to minimise the negative and maximise the positive impact of their travel.

Our pledge is to build a partnership with a carbon positive project (or projects) in one or more of our destinations that will resonate with our clients, in-country partners and staff. And in keeping with ETG’s sustainability ethos, it is important to us that the impact goes beyond simply carbon capture to include wider benefits such as biodiversity protection and nurturing of community-based tourism.

We will invest £15 (equivalent to 2 tonnes of CO2) per long haul flight taken by staff and clients. We will choose our partner and put our investment scheme in place in 2020 because we believe that when long haul travel is possible again, it will be even more critical that we travel mindfully and responsibly. ‘Flight shame’ is a growing concern among our clients, and we believe they would be comforted and empowered to know they can take action, without having to forego their passion for travel altogether. Our hope is that this initiative will raise awareness of the fact that travel, done the right way, can be a force for good.

Sustaining the Threatened Livelihoods of Sri Lanka's Chauffeur-Guides (2019)

Following the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, many of Experience Travel Group’s clients wanted to know how they could help. Like us, they were particularly concerned about the future welfare of the chauffeur-guides who were such an integral part of their ETG holiday and whose livelihoods were now threatened.

We committed, through a crowdfunding campaign, to raise £12,500 in order to offer salary advances to 30 freelance chauffeur-guides. This would enable them to cover the lease payments on their vehicles until the FCO lifted their advice against travel to Sri Lanka. Our campaign was promoted to our database of 21,000 (and to a wider audience through national press coverage) and raised £15,157 in just a few weeks. This enabled us to provide interest-free loans to 37 guides.

The campaign strengthened our relationship with our guides as we tangibly demonstrated how much they are valued by the ETG community. When ETG’s Founder visited them in July they told him: “Yes we have been knocked down hard, but your support has truly given us hope. This project has brought much needed strength to (our) lives. We will get back on our feet soon. Thank you ETG community”

We want to ensure that the financial benefits of tourism are spread as far as possible amongst the families of those with whom we work and to enable our clients to connect to the communities they visit through the people they meet. This campaign communicated this ethos to our clients who were hugely positive in their response “This is what ethical tourism is about,” and, “what a fantastic idea, thank you for helping us to support a lovely team of people.”

It was also stimulus for our wider community - our suppliers, in-country partners and even our competitors - to collaborate and to contribute to a sustainable future for the backbone of Sri Lanka tourism.

When tourism recovers, the guides will repay the money raised to the Sri Lankan charity, Foundation for Goodness, out of profits they earn from future ETG bookings. Foundation for Goodness is formulating a long-term strategy to support communities affected by the tragedy.

Supporting Social Enterprise in Asia One Meal At A Time (2018)

Experience Travel Group is proud to say that we have achieved our 2018 pledge. We pledged to send at least 200 clients to one of six social enterprise restaurants in Asia and at the end of the year, we reached that total (201). We estimate that this generated $4000 worth of revenue for the restaurants which will go directly back into vocational training for disadvantaged young people.

From the experience of our first year of this pledge (2017), we were confident of the positive local impact these restaurants have and of the way in which they enhance our clients’ experience of their destination. This encouraged us to expand the pledge in 2018 to incorporate a restaurant in Luang Prabang (Laos), Kolkata (India) and Ubud (Bali) into our signature excursions there.

We were particularly delighted to exceed our target despite delays to the launch of our new Kolkata programme which meant that we have not yet been able to make any bookings at a restaurant there. However, the need for a social enterprise element is now firmly part of our planning of new programmes.

As well as working towards our target number of bookings, we also focused on communicating the benefits of visiting a social enterprise restaurant to a wider audience. We did this at a conference for our in-country partners; in our first ST-themed client e-newsletter and with an article in our new brochure. This raised the profile of sustainable travel in our organisation and amongst our 60,000-strong database. This year we also actively sought feedback from clients who visited the restaurants, all of which was extremely positive: “It’s really nice to know that while you’re having a lovely meal you’re also (making) a big difference to other people’s lives,” and “we loved everything about it and bought their cookbook!”

Next steps include identifying a social enterprise initiative to incorporate into our Sri Lanka and India programmes and collaborating with one of the restaurants to create recipe cards for clients that will highlight how simply eating a tasty meal can contribute to an important sustainability project with powerful social impact.

Supporting Social Enterprise in Asia One Meal At A Time (2017)

Experience Travel Group is proud to say that we have achieved our 2017 pledge. We pledged to send 150 bookings to one of three social enterprise restaurants: Inle Heritage in Myanmar, Streets in Vietnam and Friends in Cambodia. Our total at the end of the year was 157. We estimate that this brought in $3140* worth of revenue to the restaurants which will go directly back into the hospitality training programmes.

As experiential holiday specialists, we felt it was imperative to put an immersive, insightful experience at heart of our pledge. Earlier in the year, 2 colleagues had visited Inle Heritage on a research trip and were struck by the fact that simply stopping for a delicious lunch contributed to an important sustainability project.

Some of our clients were already visiting the restaurants. We knew, however, that we could do better. By including each of the restaurants in our Signature Experience for Lake Inle (Myanmar), Hoi An (Vietnam) and Siem Reap (Cambodia) we could ensure that almost all our clients who visited these locations enjoyed at least one meal at these social enterprises.

We faced several challenges along the way. Tracking the number of client visits proved more difficult than we hoped. Next year we will work more closely with our Destination Management Companies to get regular updates throughout the year. Furthermore, while the UK sales team were supportive, more structured feedback would have been beneficial.

Certain challenges were beyond our control. Bookings to Myanmar fell dramatically in the latter half of 2017 due to the UK media coverage of their difficult political situation. Realising we had met the target of our pledge despite such obstacles was perhaps the most exciting part of the journey.

*157 clients, spending average $20pp, $3140 revenue