For the third instalment in our new series of interviews with social entrepreneurs working in tourism we talk with Ivonne Andrea Sánchez Hernández from AB Origen Fundación. Based in Colombia, the organisation works to promote sustainable tourism in the country and has recently launched an app to support its aims.
TRAVINDY: What are the challenges your company is trying to address?
AB ORIGEN: AB Origen means ‘from the origin’. As our organisation aims to develop solutions for our territory, and work for our region, this means Colombia. Our main challenges are to enable the development of suitable sustainable solutions according to the different realities found in our region and to raise awareness of these new alternative forms of development – ones respecting the cultural, natural and social diversity that Colombia represents.
TRAVINDY: What is the impact you are trying to achieve?
AB ORIGEN: First, we look to have an impact upon ourselves, namely to become professionals who practice what we recommend, as we are always finding room for improvement in our lifestyles. From there, we hope to share our enthusiasm with the people we work with, hoping to find people who believe in different ways of development, in thinking out of the box and in creating new scenarios for decision making that include the natural, social, cultural, internal and external dimensions of the different tourism operations we work with.
TRAVINDY: What’s special about your approach to meeting these challenges?
AB ORIGEN: We include ourselves as targets for our impact. We do not think we lose objectivity by working on our own development – rather we reckon we understand the challenges and barriers people can face when they have to make a change, because we have had to face that challenge too. Also, we understand that the people we work with are running a business and have their own different goals, so we look to include the sustainability dimension within their goals, not as some nice bit of messaging, but as a real necessity for business improvement. To do this we offer guidelines for understanding how focussing on sustainability is in itself a new approach to business and human development.
TRAVINDY: What’s the most exciting thing you, your company, or your organisation has achieved so far?
AB ORIGEN: Creating an organisation where professionals can work both on our own development as humans and in developing opportunities for sustainable tourism in Colombia tourism, and doing this with a broad scope for imagination and creativity.
Also, we have to mention our app TUCO APP, which is an idea we’ve developed for AB Origen that looks to integrate tourists and visitors into the sustainable tourism value chain. At the moment, sustainable tourism focusses responsibility on those in the industry,yet we consider that most of the impacts are caused by visitors and tourists.
TUCO APP was therefore created to evolve and grow with sustainable tourists, offering them recommendations to leave a better footprint while travelling Colombia. We invite everyone to download it and share it – it’s free.
Meanwhile, we have supported more than 45 hotels to achieve certification in the national scheme NTS-TS 002. And we also worked with 8 eco lodges to be certified with SMART VOYAGER CERTIFIED in 2012 and 2 hotels with SMART VOYAGER EXPRESS this year. But more importantly, we have trained around 2,000 people in sustainable tourism all around the country, sharing our experience with other professionals and supporting the talent from different universities and organisations in applying the principles of sustainability.
TRAVINDY: What do you need to help you be more successful?
AB ORIGEN: More awareness among visitors and tourist about sustainability, so that tourists demand sustainable options from our country’s tourism industry, meaning companies will look to truly embed sustainability in how they work, not just to meet their legal requirements, but as a real opportunity to bring development.
TRAVINDY: What does that success look like? Share your dream with us.
AB ORIGEN: Seeing the workforce in Colombia professionals working for the sustainable development of our country.
TRAVINDY: If you could connect with one person, company or organisation working towards responsible tourism, who would it be, and why?
AB ORIGEN: The UNWTO. Sounds ambitious right? But we think Colombia provides a window onto community tourism experiences that demonstrate new ways of doing business and these need to be supported, promoted, and connected with international markets.
We see the UNWTO as a bridge for this. Furthermore, they propose sustainable guidelines for tourists and visitors, something which is still a new concept for Colombia. So as our country develops sustainable tourism, we think the UNWTO could strategically partner to promote efforts between out two institutions.
TRAVINDY: Which other person, company or organisation would you most like to recommend to be interviewed for this series, and why?
AYANA JOURNEYS: We’d like to promote our partners. These include CyD from Ecuador, who have worked strongly with sustainable tourism and SMART VOYAGER certification. MS Consultores, which is a company working on the implementation of certification schemes in our industry. Also AISO, who are doing a lot for green growth in Colombia. Colombia Hostels, which is a association of hostels in Colombia and working with sustainable principles. And finally SERCO NATURAL.