This is the sixth in our new series of interviews with social entrepreneurs working in tourism. Irene Lane runs Greenloons, which directly connects travelers with eco-certified guiding companies and sustainable tourism accommodation owners that have been independently verified as focusing on the triple bottom line of economic viability, social empowerment, and environmental responsibility.
TRAVINDY: What are the challenges your company is trying to address?
GREENLOONS: Greenloons’ mission is two-fold; we aim to bridge the communication gap about responsible travel by, first, engaging travelers’ altruistic notions of the social, environmental and economic power of an authentic travel experience and, second, engaging tourism business owners about the criteria, challenges, critical success factors, and bottom line economics of responsible travel. Hence, one platform for both audiences to directly interact with each other.
Specifically for travelers, we feature ‘what’s going well with responsible travel’ or ‘what questions to ask’ and inspire travelers to consider taking eco-certified vacations.
Additionally, we educate business owners to consider implementing “green” into their operations by providing them with a proprietary ROI (return on investment) tool that calculates the operational, community, employee and customer impact of “green” investments.
We want decisions about responsible travel to be based on data, not just marketing trends.
TRAVINDY: What is the impact you are trying to achieve?
GREENLOONS: Greenloons is trying to raise the level of discourse of what it means to “travel responsibly” or “run a responsible company”. Too often, the focus has been about the environmental components of responsible travel, while sometimes de-emphasizing the social and economic components of “going green”.
Also, travelers and tourism business owners alike routinely don’t understand what “responsible travel” means. We want them to be able to answer the questions “what vetted and transparent methods are there for travelers to choose responsible travel?” and “what is the actual economic value for a tourism business that wants to ‘go green’?”
TRAVINDY: What’s special about your approach to meeting these challenges?
GREENLOONS: We developed a proprietary financial model that combines operational, employee, customer and community criteria, and enables business owners to accurately measure the financial bottom line effect for “green” investments. Effectively, we enable companies to move away from working off a checklist of best practices (and hoping certain investments will yield economic value) to a strategy based on financial modelling that allows them to better budget and market the changes that responsibility brings to an individual tourism business. The ROI model combines practical criteria for responsible tourism with online data collection, graphing and trend analyses capabilities.
TRAVINDY: What’s the most exciting thing you, your company, or your organisation has achieved so far?
GREENLOONS: In addition to helping companies enhance their reputations, improve relationships with suppliers and customers, and increase their profitability through the ROI model, we’re proud of the strategic relationships we’ve build with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Rainforest Alliance, Sustainable Tourism Certification Alliance Africa and the Instituto de Turismo Responsable, among other organizations.
As such, we are fortunate to be working working at the international level to ensure responsible tourism criteria remain relevant, so that we can help tourism businesses and communities make appropriate strategic investments.
TRAVINDY: What do you need to help you be more successful?
GREENLOONS: I need more destinations, especially those who are developing or actively marketing themselves as a responsible destination, to be aware of the ROI model as both an educational and strategic tool for responsible tourism that can also provide short-term and long-term benefits to local businesses.
Specifically, this would entail additional speaking opportunities, as well as the chance to work with universities, such as Cornell’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, and the IFC or World Bank.
TRAVINDY: What does that success look like? Share your dream with us.
GREENLOONS: This data is difficult to collect, but not insurmountable. To me, success is the compilation of benchmarking data (i.e. customer revenue as it relates to customer satisfaction and education, employee turnover as it relates to education, household multiplier effects for responsible tourism, the effect of tax incentives) worldwide that can be segmented by region and type of tourism service so, collectively, organizations can make better strategic decisions based on responsible tourism’s effect on local communities. Ideally, all the data would be available to universities and international organizations for further study.
TRAVINDY: If you could connect with one person, company or organisation in responsible tourism, who would it be, and why?
GREENLOONS: Given his ethos (business as a force for good) and genuine willingness to tackle hard issues such as climate change and accountable corporate social responsibility policies, I would love to connect with Richard Branson.
TRAVINDY: Which other person, company or organisation would you most like to recommend to be interviewed for this series, and why?
GREENLOONS: I would recommend you connect with Dr. Xavier Font from Respondeco and Leeds Beckett University