Xavier Font is Professor of Sustainability Marketing at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey. He is a leading expert in sustainable tourism marketing, with extensive experience in industry and government training on all aspects of sustainable tourism production and consumption. He has helped over 2000 businesses worldwide to communicate sustainability, and consulted with all the major tourism organisations on this subject, including UNEP, UNCTAD, UNWTO, VisitEngland, WWF and the Travel Foundation, amongst others. He is also the most published academic in the world in sustainable tourism certification.
Xavier is also the creator and driver of respondeco, a project that embodies his extensive experience in responsible tourism communication. Today, Xavier joins Travindy as our Head of Impact. Our CEO, Anula Galewska, spoke with him about his latest moves.
Anula: Autumn 2016 is a very important moment in your career. After 17 years working at Leeds Beckett University, you have moved to Surrey. How do you feel about this change and what new opportunities await you there?
Xavier: Surrey offers me amazing opportunities to scale up my research so it has real impact for industry and governments. My position as professor of sustainability marketing means I can specialise, while my role as Leader for the Sustainability and Wellbeing research group means I have a great team of world class researchers I can work with. I have loved my time in Leeds Beckett, but I could not say no to the opportunity of working in the number one university in Europe for tourism and hospitality.
Anula: We are really excited that you have joined Travindy. Why did you decide to do this?
Xavier: Because I share the same values as you and our other partner, Jeremy Smith, Travindy’s editor, and our skills are complementary. I appreciate the value of Travindy’s platform for likeminded practitioners to stay up to date, share their experiences, and learn in a collaborative environment. From my experience at Respondeco I knew there was demand for industry training and mentoring, product development strategies, communication plans, and of course website and social media analyses and plans that took on board the unique content opportunities of sustainable practices. A traditional research university like Surrey favours seeking Research Council funding, while traditional marketing agencies do not understand what marketing sustainability means. Travindy now fills that gap.
(Note: We are 100% committed to always providing Travindy News as a free not-for-profit service. We are developing Travindy Consulting as a social enterprise, and using it to finance Travindy News. It is still early days. but you can read more about the development of our consulting services and social enterprise model here.)
Anula: What’s going to happen to all the work you’ve done with Respondeco?
Xavier: That’s 17 years of expertise that is part of who I am, which will inform the research that I do from Surrey, and the consultancy I will deliver with Travindy. I have spent several months now evaluating the impact of my previous work at Respondeco, and thinking what small and large businesses and governments need to effectively communicate their sustainability practices. From here onwards, Surrey provides the grant seeking opportunities to resource experiments to find out which are the most effective and persuasive methods for sustainability marketing and communication. Travindy has the user-focus to allow us to devise a portfolio of new and exciting services based on that period of reflection and the academically rigorous evidence.
Anula: You’re joining Travindy as Head of Impact. A catchy title, which also carries a lot of responsibility. How in practice are you going to contribute to the growth of Travindy and its impact?
Xavier: In five years we will be the most respected sustainability marketing and communications agency in the world for the tourism industry. We will stay true to our values, and provide lots of free advice with our downloadable materials and our news, and we will offer affordable consulting services customised to industry and governments. And through my academic role, we will gather evidence of how our work has made a difference to the organisations that consult with us, financially and on their sustainability practices.
Anula: 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. What opportunities does it bring to the tourism industry?
Xavier: Governments and the private sector are asking themselves how to communicate their sustainability practices, and are struggling to find a message they are comfortable with. For example, I am consulting for the Catalan Tourism Agency on their action plan to make 2017 their Sustainable Tourism year. The Association of Independent Tour Operators will launch their ambitious Protect Project that I run for them this January, to coincide with the beginning of the International Year, through which all their members will make public pledges on how they take responsibility to be more sustainable, and they have to report the evidence at the end of the year. In Germany, I am working with Lufthansa City Centre and Futouris to find customer relevant sustainability information that travel agents can use to inform customer holiday choices. These are just three very different but timely examples of how this coming year will provide many opportunities. Learning how to communicate is essential though, both to not over-position your sustainability message, but also to not under-claim what you do and be lost in the background noise.
Anula: There are many people, from your students to colleagues, that respect your work and experience. Do you see a lot of scope for collaboration on your upcoming projects? Are you open for people to get in touch?
Xavier: That’s very flattering! One of my greatest regrets of leaving Leeds Beckett will be if my alumni feel they have lost me. In all the three projects I mentioned above I am working with alumni, and this will continue. Travindy is the platform to continue those relationships, and to include other likeminded people. In addition, we want to hear from individuals that have unique and complementary skills to ours that can develop their product offering: be entrepreneurial and pitch to us.
Anula: What are your plans and goals for the last quarter of 2016?
Xavier: I need to do my job well in Surrey, and earn the title of leader for the Sustainability and Wellbeing group, which I will combine with launching new consultancy products with Travindy. I’ll meet with industry and government representatives at the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s AGM in Korea, World Travel Market in London and one to one, to seek research and consultancy collaborations that allow me to fulfil both passions.
Anula: Thank you for this interview, Xavier! I wish you a lot of success in the upcoming months!