Industry News

Sustainable tourism in cities

Graeme in BarcelonaWhen exactly does tourism become ‘too much’ for a destination? I set off to the Tourism Eco Forum in Barcelona to find out…

Cheap flights, mega cruise ships, overcrowding, the rise of the sharing economy – contributing factors to a situation where locals don’t feel at home in their own cities.

Barcelona and Venice are two prime examples; both have thrived from tourism, but now sit divided. ‘Must-sees’ on the global tourism circuit, their popularity has caused pressures that have led many residents to question whether the economic contributions of the visitor economy are really worth it.

Both cities were represented at the Forum, with destination management organisations (DMOs), tourism departments and ministries from across Europe, alongside international tourism experts from organisations including the GSTC and UNWTO. A series of panels and workshops throughout the day aimed to share perspectives, create dialogue and inspire collaboration.

After listening to and contributing to various panels and discussions, both inside and outside of the conference programme, I determined three common threads that can be useful to aid the creation of sustainable urban destinations:

  • A clear vision for tourism that is shared by all stakeholders – governments, citizens, businesses – and a move towards a model of destination management, rather than destination marketing
  • A recognition that tourists must contribute (through taxation or otherwise) to measurably and transparently improve infrastructure for locals and visitors alike
  • A legislative environment that balances market forces with supporting local residents, services and businesses; inspiring regeneration and avoiding ‘over gentrification’

Of course, it’s always good to discuss such issues at high-level meetings, but the real change happens when destinations start ‘walking the walk’. That’s why I was extremely heartened to find the Forum ran in parallel with the Vilamon Responsible Tourism Festival, which sought to engage hundreds of locals with the initiatives running in and around Barcelona to make tourism more inclusive, to address issues caused by tourism and to give the public a voice in how tourism should be shaped in their city – ¡Hurra!

By Graeme Jackson – Head of PartnershipsGraeme

Sustainability helps meet customer demand for unique experiences


Malcolm Dunn and Isis Iglesias

Malcolm Dunn, Customer Service Manager (TUI), and Isis Iglesias, Contracting Manager (TUI), were chosen as volunteers through TUI and the Travel Foundation’s skill-match volunteering programme, Project Discovery. They spent two weeks in Cyprus researching how to maximise the local economic benefit of TUI’s excursion programme.

Having spent two weeks talking to customers, excursion providers and seeing what the island has to offer, Malcolm and Isis landed back in the UK with fresh ideas about what a sustainable excursion looks like, and we asked them to share their thoughts.

For you, what is the most important element of a sustainable excursion?


Malcolm – “For me, the most important element of a sustainable excursion is the positive legacy it leaves. Whether this is to the environment or the local people, there must be some element of positive benefit that leaves a lasting difference. If the future is kept in mind, the impact from sustainable excursions will be felt further, for longer and by more people.”


During your research, what did customers want from an excursion?

Isis – “Customers want to have enjoyable and unique experiences. Sustainable excursions usually have a more carefully designed itinerary which takes into account the impact of an excursion so that it treads lightly on  the environment and provides benefits to local people, and in some cases helps to preserve culture and heritage.  In this sense, creating more sustainable excursions can be seen as a recipe to creating more unique excursions, and customers will see the value in this.

During the customer interviews we conducted while in resort, we came across an important sector of the people who explicitly mentioned they would be more likely to book the excursion if they knew it was sustainable. There is an opportunity to communicate the ethical side of our excursions, and make a connection between our customers and our brand values.”

Malcolm added, “Overall, the customers we interviewed all want value for money with their excursions. If explained in the right way, sustainability can become a key selling point for excursions, ensuring that customers feel they are getting value themselves, as well as giving back.”

If you were to write a checklist for ensuring future excursions are sustainable, what would it include?

image-9Isis – “I would like to see suppliers setting targets for themselves to meet, within the environmental, economic and social spheres, because they need to be realistic targets for them to be able to start making changes. We could then help them make continuous improvements towards becoming sustainable. Step-by-step this would help to change the entire excursion programme.”

Malcolm – “To ensure an excursion is sustainable, we must take into account the people that are impacted – are they benefitting from the excursion on their doorstep? If not, how can we ensure they are?”


What happens next? The research will help feed into TUI’s excursion product development, shape customer and staff communications, and the learnings could also be spread to other destinations.

A partnership for adventure in South Africa

To set the scene…The Travel Foundation recently formed a new partnership in South Africa with the Western Cape’s public conservation organisation, CapeNature. Research has been underway to determine how best new tourism developments in and around nature reserves can stimulate the green economy, contribute to conservation and benefit local residents.

Nature reserves bikeSustainable tourism, and especially that in conservation areas, has no set formula and we are seeking opportunities for creative tourism developments. Not wanting to be limited by business-as-usual, potential developments can range from indigenous natural products harvested by local communities to luxury eco-lodges. Given the diverse landscapes and wilderness of the nature reserves, including rugged mountains, bird mecca lagoons and vast tracts of the fynbos floral kingdom, we feel there is a natural inclination to adventure tourism that showcases what nature has to offer.


Workshop with CapeNature staff

With the project in its initial phase, we’re going to pilot developing tourism products in five reserves. But who is deciding on what these developments are going to be? This is no easy task for one person! We’re generating ideas through in-person surveys with domestic and international tourists in the Western Cape, interviews with Cape Town’s most popular tour operators, destination management companies and adventure specialists, and participatory workshops with CapeNature tourism and conservation staff.

Analysis is still underway but sneak preview results suggest that developments may include a year-round multi-day mountain bike trail, a new range of crafts using mountain- and marine-harvested natural materials, and a specialised guided birding safari. This is an exciting start to novel tourism developments in the Western Cape’s nature reserves and I’m looking forward to how this tourism-conservation-development nexus unfolds.

Written by Jessica Lavelle, consultant working for the Travel Foundation in South Africa.

More on our work in South Africa here.

More on our partnership with CapeNature here.


Expanding horizons on the Riviera Maya

Mexico Much Kaab women working.jpgWe’ve been working with the Much Kaab co-operative in Mexico since 2009, helping them build a business selling products, such as soap and shampoo, made from Melipona bee honey.

Now, 6 years later, we feel that we’re really beginning to make a difference. Here’s why:

  • The first phase of the project was about the conservation of the stingless bee, and the Mayan tradition of keeping Melipona bees. We established healthy colonies and bee keeping practises. Great stuff – but where’s the tourism link?
  • We moved on to helping the group formally become a co-operative, and develop their skills to enable them to run a business. All good stuff, but again, where’s the link? Where’s the impact?
  • We worked with the co-operative to develop products suitable for the tourism market, bringing together the co-operative and the private sector. There’s the link!
  • The Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe was the first hotel to sign a purchasing agreement with the co-operative. They initially purchased the products for sale in their gift shop, and then also introduced them into guest rooms. Two more hotels followed suit (Grand Palladium Riviera Maya and Karisma Hotels and Resorts Riviera Maya), stocking the products in their gift shops. This was a huge step forward for the co-operative. Impact! But we’re not quite there yet…

Mexico Much Kaab honey products.jpgObviously, a lot has happened over the years to develop the Much Kaab business (you can read more on the project history here). The aim was to develop a viable and sustainable business for the group, which has been achieved. Success? Absolutely, but it’s about so much more than this.

For us, the real impact is this:

  • The hotel has introduced a ‘friendly’ procurement policy for local suppliers, such as 50% upfront payments and 50% final payment no longer than 7 days after delivery. This is a huge step forward, considering the hotel industry usually takes 3 to 6 months to release payments.
  • The hotel are so pleased with the products that they are considering introducing them into their sister property in Cozumel.

Mr Carlos da Silva, general manager of the Grand Park Royal Cancun Caribe, recently visited the co-operative, and said:

“Now that I’ve met with Much Kaab Cooperative, I’m very pleased to see first-hand that through our local procurement policy we are contributing to the growth of this amazing group of Mayan women. It has given me a better appreciation and a broader understanding of what goes in to each and every single shampoo or soap bar that is placed in our Villas.”

It’s been a pleasure to bridge the gap between a local supplier and a large scale tourism business, and watch them both reap the benefits of their new relationship. It’s so important that the tourism industry opens its eyes to the value that local suppliers can bring (and vice versa), and I hope this project can be a great inspiration to others in the industry.

Yuri and TerryWritten by Terry and Yuri.

Terry and Yuri help to manage the programme of work in Mexico. Click on their names to read more about them.

Tourism growth – an opportunity and a challenge.

As we start a new year, so much of the news about the tourism industry is about its growth.   Bookings for 2016 are expected to grow and ABTA recently announced that the number of overseas holidays booked  in 2016 is up 10% year on year.  Meanwhile, this year the cruise sector will introduce 27 new ships.  In fact, despite occasional shocks, tourism has shown virtually uninterrupted growth over the past 6 decades, it’s now one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world.  By 2020, the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organisation) predicts that a staggering 1.36 billion tourists will be travelling abroad and that by 2030 tourist numbers will be double what they were in 2010.

Village Routes, Cyprus, 2010, copyright Georgina Cranston, wine tastingThis is undoubtedly good news for the industry and more tourists means economic advantages and opportunities, including tax revenues and jobs, for countries receiving visitors too.  But with all this growth, how can the industry protect the quality of the customer experience, which thanks to the rise of peer to peer websites empowering us all to share our experiences with each other, has never been more vital to a company’s reputation?

The elements that go into a good holiday include a warm welcome from local people, a clean, beautiful environment, a feeling of relaxation and of being safe and secure. Holidaymakers also increasingly value the knowledge that their visit is benefitting the destination in some shape or form.

Looked at another way, all these elements for a good holiday are also what also goes into making a sustainable destination.  In short, a great place to live, work and visit.

As tourism continues to grow, getting these elements right becomes ever more challenging as it involves the whole gamut of organisations that have a stake in the holiday product – including destination authorities, tour operators, hotels, excursion providers and more.  The Travel Foundation was created to work with all these parties, bringing them together to support a shared vision for better destinations and in turn better holiday experiences.  We do this by increasing access to market for local people, supporting destinations to share their local heritage, food and culture and developing ways for tourism to fund conservation and protect biodiversity.

2016 ushers in the official launch of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and its sustainable development goals which include tourism.  With the industry’s growth set to continue, it’s heartening to see this recognition of the important role sustainable tourism can play in improving people lives and protecting the environment.  And it highlights a significant opportunity  for the industry and destination governments to re-think how tourism works for the benefit of the destination and the holidaymaker.

Gina 222Written by Georgina Davies, Communications Manager.

The strike didn’t stop us at WTM!

Emirates skylineDespite the heart-sinking prospect of tube strikes and travel disruption, an intrepid Travel Foundation team threw themselves into the annual industry-fest that is WTM.

Boy, were we glad we did!

After enjoying the most hassle-free and Bond-like journey to the venue (thanks, Emirates Air Line, for the free rides!) we found the chance to meet contacts old and new, without travelling the world, invaluable.

Despite the usual murmurs in the halls around the relevance, location and costs of the event, there really isn’t anywhere else on the planet to be in that first week of November that affords such a great opportunity to find out about the latest trends, to network and to catch up with friends.

This year also felt different from a sustainable tourism perspective (OK, they were still handing out plastic bags on the way in… perhaps next year they should charge 5p?). Everyone we spoke to seemed to just ‘get it’ – it’s like the majority of the industry are now starting to recognise that sustainability is just good business; that planning and delivering tourism in a responsible way is the sure-fire route to long-term success and prosperity.

This awakening was reflected too in the content of the event. No longer are World Responsible Tourism session concentrated on Wednesday, but intertwined with the ‘main’ event programme.

It was particularly good to see industry leaders, tour operators and destinations, discussing why industry and government must collaborate to create better places to live in and visit – a subject very dear to our hearts here at the Travel Foundation.

It is my hope that people will continue to meet up at forum such as this, and that events like WTM continue to up their game when it comes to sustainable tourism; ensuring, year after year, that this subject becomes more mainstream and takes its rightful place at the heart of discussions alongside the perennial themes like taxation, infrastructure investment and open Graemeborder agreements.

See you there next year!


Graeme is Head of Partnerships at the Travel Foundation. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

The Future of River Cruising… and how to get there

RiverFor every 100 passengers who went on a river cruise in 2010, there will be over 1000 by 2035. With the sector growing by 10% year on year, how on earth will it be sustainable in 20 years’ time?

Last week Julie Middleton, our Head of Industry Programmes, spoke at the European Tourism Association (ETOA) summit in Switzerland about what lies ahead for river cruising:

“The exponential growth of the sector means there are a lot of potential problems in store… it’s limited by the number of navigable rivers – especially in Europe – the issue of docking space, border crossings, and overcrowding at major attractions.”

Julie asked the audience to imagine the perfect river cruise in 2035, before questioning how it might become a reality. How can providers and other groups share data to make things go smoothly, to stagger visits to major sights, and open up new attractions to rejuvenate other areas along the rivers?Julie Middleton

“The key message is that no one provider can make the necessary changes – it needs to be done collaboratively. There needs to be a river cruising masterplan, drawn up by providers, port authorities, community groups and other organisations like UNESCO. There is an overwhelming consensus that something needs to be done, and a good starting point might be a group of providers getting together… or a destination taking the lead.”

The Travel Foundation is keen to help facilitate some of this, and will be talking more with ETOA and its members about how the process might be got underway.

Julie Middleton, Head of Industry Programmes

Beach cleans are for life, not just July!

Uga Escapes in Sri Lanka and Kuoni teamed up to run a beach clean as part of Make Holidays Greener’s Big Beach Clean campaign at their Uga Jungle Beach property. Having taken part in the campaign, the general manager of Uga Jungle Beach, Mr V.A. Sivapriyan wants to continue to run regular beach cleans throughout the year to keep the beach environment as clean as possible.

Below, we hear from staff at Kuoni UK and the hotel…

Jemma Purvis, PR Kuoni UK     

slide0010_image011“When the Travel Foundation contacted Kuoni UK about their latest campaign to Make Holidays Greener, we jumped at the chance.

I had recently come back from Sri Lanka and had been staying at UGA hotels along the east coast, which are all set in stunning locations surrounded by natural beauty.  One thing I did notice however is that when you ventured further along the beach away from the hotel there was some litter scattered around, which had clearly been washed up.

The Big Beach Clean campaign seemed like an excellent solution, so I contacted our friends at Uga Escapes who were more than willing to team up and take part in this event at their hotel, Jungle Beach in Trincomalee.”

    V.A.Sivapriyan, General Manager – Uga Jungle Beach

“UGA proudly joined hands with Kuoni and the Travel Foundation to assist in preserving the beKuoni uga escapesauty of these virgin beaches.

I would say the beaches of Kuchchaveli where Jungle Beach is situated, are among the most pristine beaches in Sri Lanka, as these coastal areas are devoid of any commercial or private establishments. However due to the marine pollution, there are lots of plastic objects that are constantly washed  ashore, which tarnishes the natural beauty of the coast.

The beach clean was a great success and we are determined to continue this throughout the year to provide a pleasant holiday experience to our valuable guests.  It will also help showcase our commitment to sustainable tourism in Sri Lanka”

Thimasha Wanasinghe, Guest Relations Executive – Uga Jungle Beach

“We informed guests at Jungle Beach about the Make Holidays Greener beach clean on the 17th slide0013_image019June at Kuchchaveli beach, some of them were really excited and decided to take part.  They joined our staff at UGA and a group of travel agents who were visiting on a trip organised and lead by Kuoni UK. 

Participants started their clean-up from the entrance at two sites — north beach and south beach and worked toward the middle. They bent, squatted and kneeled on the sand to search for objects, the main culprit being plastic.  

 As our property is located amidst a shrub jungle that borders a lagoon, we are very conscious of keeping the environment clean. So this is a big, beautiful and extremely important initiative brought forward by the Travel Foundation to maintain a clean beach and a sustainable environment for our future generation of Sri Lanka.”  

Summit up – WTTC calls for industry to measure, monitor and report impacts

Flamenco at wttc

Local colour: Flamenco dancers at WTTC Global Summit

Travel Foundation CEO Salli Felton and I have just returned back from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in Madrid. The Global Summit is the annual get-together for travel industry big-hitters, tourism ministers and associated industries to learn about the challenges and opportunities ahead and to do business.

As well as the expected focus on investment, infrastructure, taxation and visas (the things that can both help or hinder the travel and tourism industry) the WTTC, its strategic partner the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and other members of the Global Travel Association Coalition are starting to make increasingly bold calls on the industry to understand their social and environmental impacts, and coordinate their response – music to our ears!

Daryl Wade, CEO of Peak Adventure Travel – owners of the Intrepid Travel brand amongst others – gave his thoughts on why it was important for one of the world’s largest industries and economic success stories to act as one on common sustainability issues:

“As an industry, we don’t take this [sustainability] anywhere near seriously enough. The WTTC is increasingly successful at portraying travel as a huge industry. The negative side of that is that we could become a target for governments, NGOs and shareholder activists”.

To encourage its members (and the wider tourism world) to start speaking with one voice on its impacts, WTTC has launched a new guide on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting. With it, it hopes the industry can start to be ‘appropriately evaluated in terms of its contributions to both the economy and its impacts on environmental and social issues’.

As we know at the Travel Foundation, more monitoring and data availability and transparency can only be a good thing, so we applaud the WTTC’s drive to seek unity and uniformity and look forward to seeing the results of its efforts.

You can read a full version of the report here:

  – Graeme Jackson, Head of Partnerships