Kate Kenward, executive director of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), reflects on the last 12 months in the world of sustainable tourism.
This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to 2013/14.
Sustainable tourism within AITO remains core to our members’ overall ethos with regards to how they provide holidays for their customers. With over 120 specialist tour operator members and an equal number of specialist travel agent members, the level of engagement in sustainable tourism does, however, vary across the membership as a result of many factors.
These factors could be based on the individual company’s level of conviction, its size, the human and financial resources it has available, the regions of the world in which it operates, the style of holidays it offers, its propensity to make a difference in economic, cultural or environmental terms, the level of each company’s development and, finally, its knowledge and understanding of sustainable tourism practices.
In general, our tour operators are slightly ahead of our travel agent members on sustainable tourism knowhow – although there is certainly an increasing level of awareness and concern amongst our independent retailers about the benefits of promoting best practice in tourism for tomorrow’s travellers.
During the past 12 months, AITO has worked hard to help its members understand how sustainable tourism can benefit their bottom line – which, in these tough trading times, is a key requirement and motivator for our independent SMEs.
We have engaged the expertise of Xavier Font, co-director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University, to conduct training seminars for our members on how better to incorporate sustainability into their day-to-day marketing and communications activities.
This has greatly assisted and encouraged some of our members who, previously, may not have been engaged deeply in sustainable tourism principles, while those already engaged have been able to intensify or adjust their messages throughout their various communication channels to consumers.
Apart from the complexities of the travel industry’s engagement in sustainable tourism, it is well known that, in larger volume travel marketplaces, when some consumers prioritise the key elements of their proposed holiday, sustainable tourism principles may well be lower down their list than price, value for money, the reputation of the travel organiser and the destination itself.
At AITO we understand that we have a duty to help educate consumers on how consideration of sustainable tourism can enrich both their holiday experience and that of their destination.
Travel companies must communicate this message to consumers in the correct way – people don’t like to be badgered into supporting causes or ideals. They need to understand the benefits clearly and to see how they can help to make a difference. Those marketing and communications training seminars with Xavier Font, mentioned above, have helped our members to craft their messages to their customers in an appealing and practical way.
And I’m pleased to say that many of our members’ customers are increasingly very conscious and knowledgeable about sustainable tourism and now actually just expect it to be part of their holiday experience as a matter of course.
Kate Kenward is chief executive of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).