In this interview we asked Saskia Griep, co-founder of Better Places and Fairaway how she helps travelers find responsible journeys and cut CO2 emissions when traveling.
Saskia Griep has over 25 years of experience in tour operating in Africa, Middle East, Asia, Europe and North and South America. Her strong focus lies on responsible tourism and tourism in developing countries. Prior to starting her own business, she worked as a consultant. She also has a master degree in Cultural Anthropology and a postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business from Cambridge University.
Better Places and Fairaway connect travelers with travel professionals in Asia, Africa and Latin-America. The travel experts are Europeans who have been living in the destination for various years or locals. Both companies are registered as social enterprises. By organizing trips they want to create better places for people to live in and better places to visit. Based on that they donate every year 10 % of net profit to social projects, which aim to make the world a better place.
Anula: What are the challenges your companies are trying to address?
Saskia: For many years we have been working in the travel industry and travelled around the world. What we missed? The contact to small local projects and people in the countries. We believe that travelling can make the world a better place. It can reduce stereotypes – based on the fact, that one acts responsible with the environment and people.
We started our platform two years ago in the Netherlands under the name Better Places. We also launched our initiative in Germany under the name Fairaway earlier this year. We noticed there is a lot of interest for personal and authentic travel.
Together with our partners worldwide we’re offering responsible journeys and have a strong focus on personal contact. We do not offer voluntarism – we offer sustainable travels for travelers who want to make an impact.
Another problem we want to tackle is the lack of transparency on CO2 emissions of the tourism industry. Aviation produces a huge amount of CO2 emissions and developments to reduce these are very slow. After offering CO2 offsetting on a voluntary base we noticed that the uptake is very limited, so we decided to take our responsibility.
Better Places/Fairaway measures and offsets all CO2 emissions of the trips. Not only the emissions of the land-only trips we sell, but also the flight which is needed to reach the destination. We use Carmacal, a carbon calculator which was recently awarded the Tourism for Tomorrow award.
We are currently working on a project to publish the carbon footprint of our trips on our website. We expect to be able to provide the information by October 2016.
Better Places/Fairaway is a social enterprise. By organizing trips we want to make the world a better place. Based on that we donate every year 10 % of our net profit to social projects, which want to improve the world. This can be initiatives in Europe for example a restaurant where Syrian refugees get a place to work. Or an educational centre in a refugee camp in Jordan. We want to create Better Places for people to live in and Better Places to visit.
Anula: What is the impact you are trying to achieve?
Saskia: We want to strengthen the economy in the target destinations, so that local people will benefit from the tourism industry. Therefore we work together with local travel partners in the countries. We experienced that there is a lot of vertical integration in the tourism industry. It’s becoming harder for small local companies to get access to the market. Better Places/Fairaway provides a platform for small and medium sized tour operators and gives them direct access to the European market.
Furthermore, we want to make sure that later generations can travel and see the world as we see it now. Therefore our approach is to increase responsible and sustainable tourism. All our travel experts are working according to the guidelines of Travelife, a certificate for sustainability. In this way we can make sure that the itinerary, the accommodations and the activities are based on a sustainable approach.
Neither animal attractions that include the torture of animals, nor activities which cause a huge environmental pollution are offered in our trips. Our travel experts will keep the CO2-emissions of our trips as low as possible. They will recommend to travel by train instead of domestic flights or to do cycling tours instead of renting a car.
We are offseting all CO2 emissions of our trips by investing in Gold Standard credits of a cooking stove project in Ghana. This project helps to reduce the use of charcoal by 25%.
As we are a social enterprise, we want to make this impact visible. A group of master students of Wageningen University are currently working on a project to measure the social and economic impact of our trips. We expect to have the results this summer and continue to work on measuring the impact the coming months.
Anula: What’s special about your approach to meeting these challenges?
Saskia: We have a very personal approach. We work closely together with our local experts. Most of them we have known for many years. These are people who know their country very well and have a great passion for travel. They share our philosophy for responsible travel.
We stimulate our clients to get in direct contact with locals, to meet farmers, artists and to travel to places off the beaten path. We want to stimulate our travelers to get out of their comfort zone during their holiday and really experience the country. This can be done by staying one night at a local family or by a special encounter with a local coffee farmer who is proud to share stories about his country.
By travelling in this way we create long-lasting experiences everyone will remember.
Anula: What does that success look like? Share your dream with us.
Saskia: Imagine a world where sustainable approaches are so common, that there’s no need to mention them in an extra way. Everyone is aware of the environment, the people, and the places they are visiting and living in. You don’t need special tactics or convictions for responsible tourism, because it is part of the daily life and everyone’s thoughts. We want to make that happen. Better places for people to live in, and better places to visit.
Anula: If you could connect with one person working towards responsible tourism, who would it be?
Saskia: We couldn’t decide for one person, so we would suggest a round table with these three persons. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Earth Challenge. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla-Cars and Ban Ki-Moon. We want to discuss with them ideas how to reduce CO2 emissions on a macro- and meta-level.
To find out more about Saskia Griep and her entreprise in The Netherlands, check BetterPlaces website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. To check her projects in Germany, visit Fairaway website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.