Sustainable tour operator

14.3 Sustainability recommendations for tour operators

Several recommendations for travel agencies and tour operators are related to community tourism and are mentioned before. Other recommendations are equal to those for hotels and include proper treatment and training for your employees. However, there are also a few additional recommendations which can make tour operators more sustainable:

The Peruvian tour operators who offered the first day-tours to the once isolated Rainbow Mountains had no idea about the future consequences on the flora, fauna and local communities. It is likely they didn’t even expect that these mountains would become so popular over such short time. Now it is more difficult to reverse the damage done by too many badly organized tours.

To avoid tourist destinations to get damaged, or even destroyed by tourism, it is very important for each tour operator to design and implemented a long-term sustainability management program. This program needs to be customized to its location and environment. It needs to address environmental, social, cultural, economic, quality, human rights, health, safety, risk, and even crisis management issues and encourage continuous improvement. Tour operators need to ask themselves questions as: “Is the destination ready to receive tourists e.g. are the local people willing to welcome tourists? How many tourists can be received in a sustainable way? What do those tourists need? How will those tourists arrive? What are the possible long term consequences from tourism?

Realistic beauty in Salar de UyuniOnce you’re ready to invite and receive your first clients, make sure that your promotion materials and marketing communication are accurate. Don’t create false expectations with highly modified pictures and sightseeing promises that can’t be kept. Inform clients about the realistic chances to spot wildlife in the rainforest and the positive and negative impacts from their tour. Beautiful, but still accurate publicity prevents unrealistic expectations and disappointments among your clients. Content clients improve the long term sustainability of your tours.

X- Sustainability tips for tour operators

As mentioned earlier in this book it is important that tour operators design and implemented a long-term sustainability management program. Such program will have the most impact when designed .before offering tours to a new destination. However, it is still important to write a sustainability program for existing destination. In this case you can analyze the information from your previous tours and the impact they had so far. Remember, a successful sustainability program only works when everyone who participates works together. For this it is important to share the results of your sustainability program and allow local people, colleagues and even clients to actively participate with the program. Not only will this improve mutual understanding, it also helps with public relations and publicity. Other tips to improve the sustainability of your business include:

– Inform your clients about the environment you’re going to visit. How is the local climate, what is the altitude, the local religion, and what are the local customs. Combine this with providing your clients with behavior guidelines of how best to behave in this new environment. These guidelines should include how to show respect for the local people and how to limit our impact on the local flora and fauna.

– Consider how you transport your clients on international tours. Is there an option to travel by train, boat, or even a tour bus? When clients need to fly, do you offer direct flights? Which airline do you use? Some airlines operate with newer and cleaner airlines. Explain to your clients about your choice of transport.

Safe public transport in Peru– When traveling within a country it might be possible to travel partly with public transport towards different destinations. This would not only make the tour more environmentally friendly, but also more authentic. When you decide to travel partly with public transport it is important to make sure the bus, train or even boat company is safe. Peru, for example, offers very comfortable and safe bus services between its bigger cities. The better more expensive companies have new buses which are well maintained. Their drivers change every four hours and they only stop at pre-designated safe locations. If it isn’t possible to do the tour with public transport, try to use electric, or gas-fueled transport where possible.

– Consider recommending reliable and realistic carbon offset programs to your clients.

– Be conscious about where you stay and eat during the tours of your offer. Make sustainable deals with local establishments that take well care of their employees and those that try to work sustainably. Pay fair prices for their services.

– Show respect for the destination you visit. Treat the local people with respect and a smile. Follow local laws and guidelines. If there are no proper guidelines yet to protect the environment of a relatively new destination, work together with the local community (see earlier) to establish sustainable guidelines. If you bring in any rubbish, take it back with you.

– Consider together with the local community the size of your groups and how many tourists you will bring into certain areas. Smaller groups might mean that you need to use more transport vehicles, while big(ger) groups have a bigger negative impact on your destination. Try to estimate a maximum amount of yearly tourists a destination can receive without draining their local resources and causing permanent damage to the environment.

A local tourist market in Bolivia– Give recommendations to your clients about buying souvenirs. Recommend them to buy locally made souvenirs and explain why handmade souvenirs are more expensive. Explain your clients about the negative sides of buying products made from (endangered) animals/ certain natural products, including jaguar skins, but also hats with feathers from a macaw. Warn your clients about the risks of exporting plants and seeds.

– Inform your clients how to avoid (local) animal abuse for tourism. This includes horseback riding on skinny horses, taking pictures while posing with wildlife and allowing low budget tour agencies to overload their pack mules during a trekking. Avoiding animal abuse includes informing the nature guides you work with that they shouldn’t pick up wildlife to show your clients.

– Rather than donating a percentage of your profit to environmental projects, consider investing this money in sustainable development. This could include investment in maintaining your destination clean, investment in local education, investment in reforestation, and/ or buying land for preservation.