Sustainability, greenwashing and Baobab Travel

When BAOBAB Travel was launched nearly 10 years ago, we were one of the first travel companies in the UK and probably in Western Europe to dedicate our business fully to sustainability. Coming from an environmental background, sustainability was the logical step and to be honest the only basis I was willing to run a tour operating business.

Sustainable tourism, responsible travel, eco-tourism – whatever label you want to give this then niche market – the fundamental philosophy of BAOBAB Travel was, and still is, to promote an alternative form of travel in Africa that benefits local communities economically and is sensitive to local cultures and the natural environment.

Now nearly decade later, sustainability together with responsible tourism have become buzzwords and a new trend in travel. Regions and cities implement responsible travel policies, like Cape Town signing a Declaration on Responsible Tourism in 2002 and in 2009 formally adopting a Responsible Tourism policy.

Now also the large, mainstream tour operators, such as the TUI group, are embracing more responsible tourism procedures. Even research is undertaken on behalf of these mainstream operators with the objective to find out amongst others whether clients would be willing to spend more on sustainability. The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts concluded that customers are inclined to book more sustainable offers, but are not prepared to pay significantly more and would only consider doing so when all aspects of their holiday are perceived as sustainable.

It is great to see that the tourist industry as a whole is becoming more responsible and we, as responsible operators, should applaud this trend. However, as with any trend, businesses will jump on the bandwagon, using buzzwords such as sustainability and responsible tourism merely as a marketing tool.

Many commercial accreditation systems and green travel web directories have emerged in recent years, including FTTSA, Green Leave, Heritage, Eco Tourism Kenya, ResponsibleTravel.com, GreenTraveller.co.uk, VivaEcoAfrica.com and sustainabletourismnetwork.co.za just to name a few. Many are remarkable and worthy initiatives, some could certainly improve their own standards and criteria by which they chose their members.

South Africa’s National Department of Tourism (NDT) has just announced that it will publish a National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism in this current financial year. This will address the current lack of harmonisation of accreditation, certification and labelling in the tourism industry, says Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Emzini Tours experience, Knysa, South Africa

Sustainable/responsible tourism has become somewhat of a minefield. How does a client know that their holiday is truly responsible or whether it is just a greenwash?

The Lonely Planet wrote an interesting article earlier this month with the title How to tell if your holiday is green or just greenwash. Two, maybe obvious, suggestions stood out for me. Firstly to start checking out an organisation’s responsible travel policy. Those people who really mean business will have this readily available on their website and are proud of their statement, like Baobab’s responsible travel policy. Secondly they suggest to clients to ask lots of questions to operators and hotels, which in my view is the best way forward, as greenwashers will not fully appreciate what it means to be truly green.

Chole Mjini and its community, Mafia, Tanzania

So where do all these green developments in the travel industry leave BAOBAB Travel? How do we see ourselves develop and change in terms of sustainable tourism? The honest answer is we don’t. The bottom line is that sustainability is and always will be the foundation of BAOBAB as a travel business and an actual lifestyle choice for us as people running BAOBAB.

BAOBAB will continue to focus on offering you the most responsible travel options available, providing you with unique experiences and value for money holidays.

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