Charmission Travel is a Beijing-based inbound tour operator that recently announced that starting this year, it will become carbon neutral. It is first and only company in China to reach Travelife for Tour Operators partner level (2016), and prides itself on its staff welfare policies. Angie Guo, Founder & GM of Charmission talks to us about what this means.
CHI: Hi Angie, thanks for chatting with us today! Becoming carbon neutral is a big commitment! Can you tell us a little bit more about this – how you will do it, your measurements, and why you chose to address carbon in this manner? Can you also address some of the criticisms to carbon offsetting?
ANGIE: Hi Chi, thank you for giving me this greatopportunity.
To be carbon neutral means that in addition to offsetting the carbon emissions from all of the trips we offer in China for our customers, which we’ve done since 2018, we will also offset the emissions from all our staffs’ business trips as well as internal office operations.
We are doing this in collaboration with South Pole, which has expertise covering all steps linked to the development and the management of carbon credits for emission reduction projects. They cooperate with technology providers and other project developers to identify and manage emission reduction projects that avoid or reduce the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. South Pole helps us calculate our carbon emissions and we then choose to offset by investing in some of their projects.
The project we are currently supporting is Huo Shui Grouped Hydropower China. This project consists of multiple small-scale hydropower plants that generate renewable energy for rural Southwest China. By supplying clean hydroelectric power to the local grid, the project displaces greenhouse gas emissions, helping to mitigate climate change and improve the lives of local people.
It is of course better not to generate carbon emissions in the first place but this is nearly impossible until we stop existing! We do care about the environment and want good air quality for future generations and ourselves, so we at Charmission want to find a way to mitigate it.
Some people may have doubts about carbon offsetting since they are not sure if it really does the work. At first, I had some questions and doubts too. South Pole answered my questions and sharedthorough monitoring reportsof their projects,and ultimately convinced me that this is a good option for us to pursue offsetting.
To be carbon neutral is one of the ways for us to be a responsible company, which is a way to fulfill our vision that is: To bring benefits to all relevant parties: travelers, clients, staff, suppliers, local communities and environment and the society.
CHI: What inspired you?
ANGIE: The “vision” has its roots back to almost 20 years ago when I was a university student. My writing teacher asked us to write an English article about what we will be doing in the future. I wrote, “Whatever I will be doing, I should be doing something good for the society and people.” Now thinking back, it was exactly the reason why I chose to found Charmission – to build a company whose culture can realize this. I have a fantastic team who shares this vision with me and has been working with me to achieve it.
We work with some of the most respectable outbound tour operators who have been leading the way in environmentalism, and we are also surrounded by DMCs who share the same values. Even though we are from different countries, we’ve learnt a lot from our partners – including how to work with South Pole to carbon offset!
CHI: Tell us about responsible travel in China. What does this mean? Is the industry in China moving this way, or is the concept fairly new? What are some of the roadblocks?
ANGIE: The concept of responsible travel is still not well known in China. If you do an online search in Chinese, there are very limited relevant results. But I think overall China is developing in a more and more responsible way and tourism definitely benefits from it.
To give an example, China is dedicated to green growth and is shifting towards a more sustainable economic model. The Chinese government aims to improve energy efficiency, lower emissions, and encourage China’s transition away from heavy industry towards the less energy-intensive service sector. China also seeks to improve air, soil, and water quality and support domestic green industries.
China is also pursuing “inclusive growth” for all Chinese citizens by alleviating poverty, raising Chinese citizens’ standard of living, improving accessibility and affordability of healthcare services, and promoting education.
While I believe responsible tourism is part of overall responsible development, I think responsible tourism itself should be better known and developed. The tourism industry is huge and still developing fast in China and involves so many parties. It deserves increased dedicated attention.
CHI: At Chinese destinations, what does responsible travel look like? What types of activities are offered, and how do local communities react to tourism? How do you get the communities involved?
ANGIE: I think the continuously improving and expanding infrastructure such as the growing network of high-speed trains in China contributes a lot to the inclusive growth of the travel industry. People seem to increasingly choose trains over flights or cars to travel, also knowing that it is better for the environment. And the numerous highways and bridges are connecting smaller destinations as well. Nearly every village, no matter how small it is, is connected by roads, telephone and internet service, and has electricity and water supply. This really makes it possible for all parts of China to benefit from tourism.
I think the communities themselves are eager to find ways to provide services. They grasp chances really fast. For example, some of the home stays we use in Pingan Village, near Guilin, urge us to use the villagers as guides for the mountain hike. Other villagers offer transfer services. Of course, whenever possible, we are more than happy to use their services. The local people see this and are positive about their futures and the future of their hometowns.
More and more, people who live in the countryside and mountains realize tourism can bring them a good living and they don’t need to do logging, hunting or even farming and they don’t need to go far away from their homes to find a job.
CHI: What are inbound travellers coming to expect? What might some specific requests be?
ANGIE: The outbound tour operators we work with are very concerned about responsible tourism. We are seeing requests such as stays in locally run smaller hotels, a trip by trains without domestic flights, using public transportation when visiting a city, biking and hiking tours, including more rural destinations in an itinerary, and visiting more remote areas of China.
CHI: How do you deal with challenges that are specific to responsible travel in China? For example, when visiting other countries, tourists are cautioned not to buy products that are “made in China,” but in China, everything is made in China! Does that constitute as local?
ANGIE: I don’t think it is a problem to buy products that are made in China if it is the local people’s choice to sell these products. They may not benefit from making them but they can benefit from designing and selling them. After all, you don’t have to make everything by yourself nowadays. I bought some fridge magnets in Amsterdam, which might be produced in China but I don’t think Dutch people would like to produce them locally. And I still consider these magnets nice Dutch gifts because they have Dutch features, and are sold in the Netherlands by Dutch people.
I do support buying locally made products if that is the local people’s wish. They are supposed to have more authentic local characteristics, which will attract tourists to buy naturally.
Talking about shopping in China: As I mentioned if you shop in a place, you do contribute to the local economy. But there is a problem in China – in most sightseeing spots, the souvenirs are almost all the same kind of things which is a bit boring. I wish that each place could innovate and create more products with local characteristics!
CHI: Do you have a challenge in your supply chain to encourage local businesses to be more responsible?
ANGIE: The tourism industry in China looks huge but actually it almost didn’t exist four decades ago. As I see it, the quality of tourism needs to catch up with the quantity. We need to have more knowledgeable and service-minded guides who speak foreign languages well, better maintenance in the accommodations, greater concern of safety in transportation, and over all better service. We need to constantly communicate with our local suppliers about customer feedbacks and try to improve our services together.
To ensure that travelers leave China with a happy memory and better understanding of China and Chinese people is our utmost responsibility as an inbound travel company.
CHI: What are some other challenges specifically related to responsible tourism in China?
ANGIE: The biggest challenge is making sure that all parties, including operators, hoteliers, governments, investment companies, local people and tourists need to be talking about responsible tourism together, now. To give an example, sometimes big investments are made to build a huge tourism project which doesn’t go well because it doesn’t have an overall plan which considered the benefit all parties.
The other thing is that Chinese people tend to travel during the same periods of time when there is a public holiday, for example, the Golden Week from 1-7 October every year. This causes a huge burden to the places they visit and makes the travel experience not as good as it should be. One way to solve the problem is for all the companies and organizations to actually give the paid leave requested by law to their staff so they don’t have to travel during the public holidays only.
For inbound travel, I wish foreign tourists could enjoy more conveniences such as mobile payment, more English signs/services, possibility to use the bike shares, and so on.
CHI: Thank you Angie, these are wonderful insights and a lot for us to think about. I am sure that the inbound sector in China will be looking to you for leadership in responsible travel!