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How the Tourism Industry Is Tackling Corporate Social Responsibility


When a new wave of poaching hit the Serengeti, tour operators knew they had to react. The annual wildebeest migration through the Serengeti in Tanzani to the Masai Mara in Kenya is a huge boon for the tourism industry in the area–an industry which employs 11 percent of the country’s labor force on its own. Snares in the Serengeti put vital wildlife at risk, put tourists and locals in danger, and ultimately endangered one of the greatest wonders of the natural world.

Rather than waiting for a top-down solution, tour operators in Tanzania put forward their own money for a joint project with Tanzania National Park and Frankfurt Zoological Society. According to an interview with Xinhau, the group has removed 17,536 wire snares from the region and seen 32 poachers arrested. It’s also employed ex-poachers, familiar with the tactics of their fellows, to offer alternative livelihoods and positive examples to their communities.

The tour providers at Tanzania Experience shared their reasons for supporting the initiative in a recent blog post:

As tour operator based in Tanzania’s Northern Circuit, we believe in nature as the world’s most precious treasure. Because it’s at the core of everything.

Illegal snares kill a large number of wild animals, while injuring and mutilating even more as terrestrial by-catch. While this kind of poaching does not attract as much media attention as other forms of poaching, it will have devastating consequences in the long-run just the same. It is our responsibility to help protect the fragile ecosystems we work and live in.

At the same time, we believe in a region’s economic and social development through tourism. Because tourism done right has the power to transform communities.

While keeping the Serengeti ecosystem intact is necessary in its very own right, tourism is a major contributor to add monetary value to the conservation of these protected areas for local government and communities.

These are the core tenets of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): recognizing a company’s responsibility to the world around it, economically, environmentally and socially. Philanthropy may be part of it, but a company that takes CSR seriously isn’t just giving back, it’s looking forward, building the conditions to keep itself thriving for years to come.

In travel and tourism, CSR initiatives address issues like environmental sustainability, overtourism and local economies. Here are a few ways tourism companies are leading the way in social responsibility:

Saving the coral reefs

The world’s coral reefs are vital ecosystems that support over a million species, and they’re dying. As of 2011, 60% of reefs were seriously damaged by local activities, and rising ocean temperatures threaten even more today.

In a bid to help protect the reefs, Outrigger Resorts launched OZONE, a conservation effort spanning the many reef-friendly regions it serves. At its resorts in Hawaii, Fiji, Guam, Thailand, Mauritius and Maldives, Outrigger offers awareness-raising activities. In-room videos, on-site workshops and coral-planting activities are part of the OZONE offering. Outrigger resorts also supply reef-safe sunscreen, as common sunscreen chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate contribute to the damage being done to reefs.

A better future with birds

In 2006, a new species of bird was found near Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, India: the Bugun liocichla. Its discovery was just the start for a fledgling tour business based at the edge of the sanctuary and run by members of the Bugun tribe.

The tour business wasn’t a corporate responsibility effort–it was built almost entirely by local stakeholders and researchers. Instead, they receive grants from CSR programs to train indigenous youth to take part in ecotourism and use their own resources to hold nature camps for children and training programs for teachers.

Mongabay shares their story in a fantastic long-form series:

“Nowadays, becoming a bird guide is a thing there,” Athreya says. “We have about 10 guides now, and the nice thing is that some of them freelance across northeast India. Sometimes I get a request: ‘Can I get a binocular and a bird book, I want to become a guide.’ And we give those to them. People sometimes also come, work in the kitchen for a year, and utilize the time to pick up skills as bird guides.”

Both the in-house and freelance bird guides, all from the local communities around Eaglenest, earn up to 4,000 rupees ($56) a day for their work, nearly 10 times the average daily wage in the country.

What makes Athreya happy is that the bird tourism business has changed how people think about the forests. They now see that they can use and benefit from the forest without cutting it, Athreya says. “In a sense we released their own sense of entrepreneurship.”

Making holidays safer for children

Throughout 2018, The Telegraph took up a tragic cause: the accidental deaths of children on holidays. Often, parents on holiday make assumptions about the safety of their children–for example, that hotel pools will have trained lifeguards on duty–that may not always be true. Telegraph Travel wanted to identify those dangers and make families more aware of them.

To do so, it worked with the Safer Tourism Foundation, but they also needed direct help from the travel industry. Only industry members could provide the sort of transparency required. Real change would demand data about accidents and detailed information about safety standards.

Over the course of the campaign, many major travel operators have signed on to share life-saving data, including Expedia, Thomas Cook and others. One of the first results was a guide that highlights the many risks of using pools without due care.

Change from within

Want to show off your commitment to sustainability? One way travel companies can do that is to become Travelife Certified.

The Travelife Sustainability System is an international sustainability initiative, accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and available to tour operators and travel agencies worldwide.

“Sustainability,” in this case, refers to a whole range of CSR standards which address labour conditions, human rights, the environment, biodiversity and fair business practices. Travelife certified businesses need to meet the management and business standards set forth in ISO 14001, EMAS III, ISO 26000 and OECD Corporate Social Responsibility guidelines.

It’s a steep set of requirements, but online training and practical tools are major elements of the program. Travelife Partner status is available to companies that are still developing their CSR programs to meet these standards, while Travelife Certified status is reserved for only those companies that can meet the highest standards not only for themselves, but also with their suppliers, local partners, communities and customers.

Because meeting and maintaining these standards is an immense challenge, only a handful of companies have managed to become Travelife Certified so far. Transat recently made headlines as the first major international tour operator to become certified for its full range of activities, joining smaller operators like Kenya’s Twiga Tours, Estonia’s DenEesti Ltd., and EXO Travel Cambodia.

So what does Corporate Social Responsibility look like for your tour and activities company? A sweeping overhaul of policies and procedures to meet international standards might be right for you, but you can also make an impact with smaller, locally-focused initiatives. Maybe you already are.

The heart of any CSR scheme is a belief that success is about more than profit. If you’re making an effort to do no harm and leave the world in a better state than you found it, you’re already doing the work. If not, there’s no better time to start than today.


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