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Selecting the Right Travel Company

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 4 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Environmental Policy Insurance Visa

Eco-friendly travel is a big growth area as more and more tour operators recognise the burgeoning demand for all things environmental. Whether you are looking for an out-and-out wildlife trek in one of the world’s most secluded places or simply want to take a more traditional type of holiday – but in as low-impact a way as you can – there is no shortage of travel companies ready to oblige.

While such competition for your custom is certainly a welcome and healthy sign of the importance of the market sector and bodes well for the future of eco-travelling in general, it does not make selecting the right one easy. Moreover, how can you be sure that their environmental credentials are sound?

Some parts of picking the right company are just the same as for every other holiday, to make sure that you can travel with confidence that your safety and your money, in case of the financial failure of the operator, will be protected. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), for instance, have a stringent code of conduct which ensures that you get comprehensive advice on visas, health and insurance which can be particularly helpful if you intend travelling to any of the more unusual venues. Around 90 per cent of package holidays and some 45 per cent of independent travel arrangements are sold by travel agents and tour operators which are ABTA members.

Checking Eco-Credentials

With the upsurge of eco-tourism in recent years, a number of unscrupulous operators claiming dubious environmental credentials have leapt onto the bandwagon making life difficult for the genuine travel companies. Checking out your intended operator is not always easy, especially for the more “niche” holidays, but there are a few general points to consider which should help sort the proverbial sheep from the goats.

Probably the biggest give-away is a company’s attitude to its own environmental policy. It is easy enough to claim to have one, but if it is not written – and they are not prepared to let you read a copy – then it is probably not worth taking things any further. The answers to a variety of important questions should be found here – such as what steps they take to minimise their own impact, what their purchasing policy is and how they assist recycling or conservation projects. It is also useful to know how they measure the effectiveness of their environmental policy – a set of ill-defined goals without any way of verifying performance is of very little real use and may amount to little more than lip-service to the idea.

How the company supports the local economy and people is another aspect to consider; the “ideal” company will employ a fair proportion of local staff and pass at least a proportion of the profits back, for instance by sourcing food, products or services from the vicinity. Their arrangements for waste, recycling, water and wastewater are important issues too, since in many parts of the world, they can be far more problematic than in the UK – waste disposal is often costly, water scarce and untreated sewage can cause marine pollution.

If your trip involves flying, you might wish to ask how fuel efficient the aircraft is – and what, if any, measures they take to offset the carbon generated, either locally at the venue, or back at home. All modern aircraft are equipped with sophisticated flight management computers to optimise fuel consumption, so issues such as flying with fewer empty seats and carrying more passengers play a significant role in fuel efficiency. The downside of this from the tourist’s point of view is, of course, reduced leg room – the upside, a reduced personal share of the carbon emission.

External Endorsements

Useful though it is, the information you can obtain from the company itself may be difficult to verify, making any endorsements from responsible third-parties particularly worthwhile. The First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards are perhaps the most useful of these, being the largest of their kind in the world and nominations are made by tourists themselves. A panel of independent experts judge these awards, which cover a wide range of categories, including the best tour operator, best large and small hotels, best mountain and marine environments, best for innovation / technology and best destination.

Whatever we might see as the holiday of our dreams and wherever our destination, we can still be true to our environmental concern by selecting a company with the most eco-friendly approach to travel. It may require a little bit of research to get the information you need to be able to make a meaningful decision, but in the long-run you will at least know that you have done the most to protect the venue, wildlife and local people – and all that remains is to enjoy the trip!

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