World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016: interview with Responsible Travel’s CEO

WRT Awards
2014’s WRTA winners display their awards

Travindy has partnered with Responsible Travel, organisers of the annual World Responsible Tourism Awards to showcase this year’s finalists, and in particular learn about how they market and promote sustainable tourism. Starting next Tuesday, we’ll be interviewing each one of them in the build up to World Travel Market in London.

But first, Anula Galewska asked Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, a few questions about how the awards have changed in the past few years and what is the best advice he would give companies wanting to market their businesses better.

Anula: How has the standard of entries changed since you began the awards? What have been the most satisfying developments to see?

Justin Francis, CEO of

Justin: The standard has been increasing year on year – at the Judging Day this year it was remarked by a number of our judges that the decisions we have to make are becoming harder – more than ever this year we have had to look for the innovative and the truly exceptional to pick a winner. We had amazing applicants that are not even in the running this year – when we look at where the Awards started in 2004 this is a real leap forward.

Anula: What trends do you see emerging right now, as reflected in the entries?

Justin: We are seeing a movement of responsible tourism into areas we’ve not previously seen in the awards. In the early years of the awards we saw the same people coming back year on year – now every Judging Day we have things we don’t know about, in sectors of the tourism industry we haven’t seen before – for example in our long list this year we had businesses operating in China and Russia – places we’ve not received submissions from before.

We’re also seeing responsible tourism move further into the mainstream – animal welfare issues and concerns around orphanage volunteering for example are now being recognised by the mainstream travel industry after coverage in the mass media and ABTA have put together animal welfare guidelines.

Anula: No doubt the standards have improved and the breadth of entries widened. But what are the gaps still needing to be filled?

Justin: We would like to see more entries from cruise lines successfully addressing social and environmental issues, and from airlines and ground transport really driving change the carbon reduction agenda forwards.

We get a lot of submissions from small independent businesses doing excellent work in responsible tourism – but less from destinations as a whole making a real impact in addressing issues in tourism at a wider level.

We can only award businesses which enter themselves into the awards – so we’d really urge tourism businesses to look at the winners and if they think they know someone who does more, or has as much of an impact to encourage them to apply next year.

WRT Awards
Justin and a few of 2014’s winners on stage at WTM

Anula: You have reduced the number of awards to five this year. Why?

Justin: To give time during the ceremony at World Travel Market in London to hear more details about the winners; to hear them talk about their work and their achievements. Our aim is to build on the success of the awards and its influence by making it an even more inspirational event to attend at WTM – and we believe the key to this is to hear first-hand from the winners themselves.

Anula: There will be companies and organisations out there who have entered before and believe themselves to be deserving of awards, and yet who have never won. Is there advice you can give to people out there about trends you see in companies that don’t quite make the mark?

Justin: First of all it’s important to stress that the awards is not an accreditation scheme – not making it through to our list of finalists, or not winning is not a fail. From the standard of entries we receive each year, which gets higher and higher, we know that our winners are simply the tip of a much bigger iceberg of businesses doing fantastic work in responsible tourism around the world.

When we pick the winners we are looking for those organisations and initiatives that are particularly innovative and have the potential to really inspire change in tourist’s behaviour and in the tourism industry above and beyond the norm.

“our winners are simply the tip of a much bigger iceberg of businesses doing fantastic work in responsible tourism around the world” Justin Francis

Also, when businesses don’t make it through to the list of finalists it is often not because they are not doing excellent work – but because they have applied too early for our panel to judge the impact they are having. We see lots of innovative and exciting ideas that need a little time to mature.

Having transparent and thorough reporting of the impacts of the work being done is particularly important – the judges are awarding impact, not intention.

Responsible Travel Awards 2016 logo

Anula: We are talking to all of this year’s finalists about the challenges of communicating sustainability and tourism. What advice would you give to them and other companies facing the same challenge?

Justin: We believe that responsible tourism gives travellers a much better holiday experience – that by treating local people and places fairly and with respect they are more likely to give us the chance to get close to their culture, wildlife and landscapes. This leads to a much more authentic, memorable holiday experience – the customer benefit of responsible tourism should not be overlooked.

To learn more about the awards visit World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016.

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