Justin Francis on two decades of ‘Responsible Travel’

Justin Francis on two decades of 'Responsible Travel'
Justin Francis

Twenty years ago today, I launched a travel company to change the world. Little did I realise that the challenges facing the world in 2021 would be unrecognisable from those I saw in 2001.

I had no idea that the morality of flying would become a dinner table topic; that travel itself would lose much of its meaning in the age of social media; or that the entire industry would grind to a halt two decades later. On a personal level, I never imagined I would barely travel for five years due to kidney failure.

Responsible Travel was founded on a simple idea: that an industry which accounted for 10 per cent of jobs worldwide – that could lift people out of poverty and relied on pristine environments and diverse cultures for its success – had vast potential to be a force for good. Our marketing premise, based on my own travels, was that tourism that benefits local people and places leads to much richer experiences too.

With my co-founder Harold Goodwin, our hope was that “responsible” would become to travel what “organic” was to food; a recognised category presenting travellers with a conscious choice that would then positively influence others in tourism. We were a small but radical start-up, shaking things up from the inside.

We named it “Responsible” – rather than “Sustainable” – Travel for a reason. We could work with our suppliers and help our customers make better choices but knew that holidays could never be perfect or truly sustainable, especially if they involved flying.

I made our first mistake early on. We suggested that customers could carry on as normal and appease any guilt by spending a few pounds on a carbon offset. In fact, no offset can reverse the impacts of carbon once it enters our atmosphere. Over time, we realised that, with renewable aviation some way off, business as usual was indeed part of the problem and we urgently needed a very different plan.

Today, I believe more than ever that there are two issues that matter above all: reducing carbon emissions and protecting and restoring nature. Unless we solve these, nothing else is possible. We must approach these two challenges through the lens of diversity and inclusivity; topics that weren’t talked about in travel 20 years ago.

This is an except from an article by Justin Francis, originally published on the Independent.

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