GOOD Travel was founded in 2013 to promote and facilitate travel that has a positive impact, through only working with tourism businesses that are making a positive impact on the community, environment, and economy. Jeremy Smith speaks to its co-founder, Eliza Raymond.
JEREMY: Lots of companies say they make a positive impact – so how do you decide who to work with?
ELIZA: Yes, our goal is to ensure that every aspect of each trip is designed to have a positive impact. One way we do this is by being conscious consumers i.e. ensuring that the money we spend is supporting businesses that share our values for social, environmental and economic GOOD.
Our exact process depends on each trip and each destination. Our cofounders are from Peru, USA, South Africa and New Zealand, and we have all worked for a variety of NGOs and social enterprises around the world, so in some cases we have existing partnerships with tourism businesses that we know share our values. However, if we are setting up a trip to a new destination, here are some of the things we look for in our partners:
Doing GOOD is central to their business vision and values
Visited and recommended by a GOOD Travel advocate, adviser or staff (this is not always possible, but when we’re doing an ‘inaugural’ trip we make sure that participants are aware of this)
Directly supports local communities by providing funds, resources or similar
Protects children, youth and/or marginalised populations in the local community
Respects local cultural traditions and social structures
Actively seeks to reduce waste through recycling, composting and/or reusing
Promotes and supports reduced energy and/or water consumption
Educates tourists to think about their environmental impact
The majority of staff are hired locally, including management staff
Actively seeks to be a GOOD employer
Uses locally-sourced products as much as possible
We ask new partners to complete an online survey to assess their work in these different areas.
Where possible we also connect with local sustainable tourism experts and/or national accreditation programmes to request their recommendations for partners.
Some of our past partnerships have not always been perfect though and we think it’s important to be transparent with our travellers and acknowledge when we could do better. For example, in some cases, we’ve had a really difficult time finding a hotel that aligns with our values so we’ve had to stay somewhere that doesn’t tick all the boxes above. The key things for us are to:
1. Ensure that our travellers understand why we’ve selected each partner – we do this through our trip Facebook groups, our Welcome Pack and our welcome briefing in-country. We also highlight any challenges we’ve faced in selecting partners.
2. Engage our travellers with increasing the demand and awareness for GOOD e.g. through online reviews for businesses that highlight what they liked and what could be improved from a GOOD perspective.
I hope this answers your question! On a separate but related note, I thought you might be interested in seeing our 2017 Impact Report.
JEREMY: You talk about the importance of transparency – and mention highlighting the sort of challenges you have faced and how you communicate this with guests. Can you elaborate a bit on the challenge of communicating transparently, maybe giving an example or two (you don’t have to name names), and also explaining how your guests react to this transparency from you.
ELIZA: Yes, transparency is one of our core values. Our core values were developed by our cofounders and we strive to always use these values to guide us and the decisions we make.
In terms of communicating transparently with GOOD travellers, we share details on why we’ve selected each partner through the following channels:
– Our Welcome Pack: this is sent to travellers before the start of a trip and includes information about what’s GOOD about each of our partners
– Facebook group: each trip has a private Facebook group and we share posts about each of our partners through the group
– In-country: we provide an overview of what’s GOOD about our trip during our welcome briefing and we provide specific information about each partner (e.g. accommodation, restaurant, tour company) as we travel
– Post-trip: we are planning to start sending out a short Impact Report to each traveller following a trip to highlight specifics on how their trip contributed to the country they visited
We haven’t really faced any challenges with this aspect of communication as our participants love to learn about why their trip is GOOD. As I mentioned in my earlier email, in some cases we have to explain that we are staying somewhere that is not as proactively focused on GOOD as we would like, but we’ve always found that as long as we explain why we’ve made the decisions that we have, then our travellers are supportive.
I think the challenges of communicating transparently have been more around how we educate our travellers in terms of their own behaviours when they’re travelling. We think a really important part of our role at GOOD Travel is to ensure that our travellers behave respectfully and thoughtfully throughout our trips. However, our travellers are also paying clients so we have to find a way to communicate in ways that are positive and constructive. We do this by starting the communication around what it means to be a GOOD traveller early e.g. through our welcome pack and Facebook group. However, many of our travellers have not travelled extensively before and do not have backgrounds in international development, so we still often face challenges in-country. Here are a couple of examples:
– In all our trips, we include a minimum $100 donation per person to a local non-profit organisation and we visit this organisation during the trip to learn about their work. Our travellers always feel really inspired during this visit and sometimes over-commit or over-promise. When they return home, reality kicks in and they never get around to the fundraising they had planned to do etc. After seeing this happen a few times, we now talk about this and really encourage our travellers to be realistic with themselves and not set any expectations that they might not be able to follow-through on.
– We had an interesting experience once when a traveller visited a remote community in Peru and wanted to buy shoes for all the kids there. She had noticed that many of the kids had old sandals that were too small and some kids were barefoot. However, we felt that this was not the best use of her funds as there were much higher priorities for this community and also we were not sure if she would be able to commit to buying new shoes for the kids every year as their feet grew. This was a somewhat challenging conversation as she really wanted to buy them shoes but in the end we were able to facilitate a discussion between her and our partner organisation to persuade her to support the community in other ways.
JEREMY: I think the essence of transparency is also not shying away from communicating what is not so good – or even bad. You get at this in the second half of your answer when you talk about challenging communication with tourists. So I am interested to know how this works not only with tourists, but with suppliers, partners etc.
ELIZA: In response to your question, GOOD Travel takes a positive/constructive approach. Our focus is generally on providing positive feedback to our suppliers and partners about what we DO like as opposed to what we don’t like. For example, after a trip with new partners, we will post reviews on TripAdvisor that highlight the GOOD initiatives they’re involved in. We encourage our travellers to do the same and we tell them about this research from Green Lodgings, which concludes that 44 percent of surveyed hotels stated that guest comments had led to them making a change towards sustainability in 2017.
Having said this, if we come across something that we think could be done better, we do believe it’s also important to provide constructive suggestions on what could be improved. We try to do this in person while we’re in country so that it’s more of a conversation as opposed to us telling tourism businesses what to do when we don’t have a complete understanding of the context they’re operating in etc.
One area that we would really love to do more work in, is the sharing of good practices among our tourism partners. We’ve seen some really creative approaches to sustainability around the world and we would love to find a better way to bring together this knowledge and experience to enable our partners to learn from each other. We applied for a Booking.com grant to something like this and we got through to the final round, but just found out that unfortunately we weren’t selected! But we will keep looking for opportunities like this as we would love to get into doing more research and advocacy work.
JEREMY: You talk of your wish to encourage more sharing of best practice. What do you see as the main challenges companies have as regards accessing this sort of information? Any ideas how to fix it?
ELIZA: I think one of the biggest challenges is around the way that best practice information is being communicated/shared. For example, there is lots of great research being carried out at universities but the findings and recommendations are not reaching the average tourism business. Similarly at the govt policy level, tourism strategies that include recommendations around sustainability are generally not filtering down to the people working at the coal face of the tourism industry.
I think there are already some great examples of initiatives that are working to fix this:
– Industry-led initiatives: For example, Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) has launched the New Zealand Sustainability Commitment. It’s a voluntary, self-regulatory framework but the concept is great as they’re aiming to get 1,000 tourism businesses signed up by the end of this year i.e. not just those that already have a strong focus on sustainability. They’re sharing examples of good practice on their website and at their industry events, and because it’s an industry-led initiative the information is practical and accessible. See our blog article for more info: http://good-travel.org/blog/new-zealand-to-lead-the-world-in-sustainable-tourism Another example is Responsible Tourism Cape Town who have produced some great tools for tourism businesses, especially around the water crisis: https://responsiblecapetown.co.za/
– Multi-stakeholder alliances and events: Groups such as the Impact Travel Alliance help connect people across academia, industry, policy etc. to ensure sharing is taking place between different stakeholders. I think the fact that it’s a global alliance also helps increase the sense of collaboration over competition.
– University-industry partnerships: I think more universities are starting to create opportunities for their students to work on real problems by partnering with tourism businesses. For example the University of Technology Sydney partnered with GOOD Travel last year. We gave their tourism students research topics and provided mentoring, and in exchange the students carried out research for us and were required to submit recommendations to us.
– Communication platforms: Platforms such as Travindy are doing a great job of making information more accessible. I also think there are opportunities here to get creative with how we communicate stories of best practice eg by using different communication channels such as podcasts and videos to share ideas that can be picked up and easily implemented by tourism businesses.
– Involving travellers: One question that we’re thinking about at GOOD Travel, is whether there is a way we can involve travellers in the sharing of good practice. GOOD travellers are seeing practical examples of best practice all the time and it would be great to have a space where innovative ideas could be shared. This could be as simple as an Instagram account where travellers could post photos of good practice e.g. creative signage promoting eco-friendly behaviours.