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Tour operator Exodus Travels announced that its 2021/2022 initiatives will include, for every booking, a $100 'Community Kickstart' donation to an on-the-ground conservation or rebuilding project at one of its tour destinations.Exodus Travels

For the traveller looking to offset their carbon footprint, or contribute in a positive way on the ground at their destination, the first step is research. But finding out which booking platforms, tour providers, hotels or airlines are making genuine strides toward sustainability isn’t always easy. Due diligence is required, even with many companies working to make sustainability a central part of their brand as travellers resume international trips.

There’s no doubt that demand for environmentally conscious travel will continue to grow, with Booking.com reporting that already 83 per cent of global travellers think sustainable travel is vital, while 49 per cent think that there aren’t enough sustainable travel options available.

The key, of course, is for travellers to support companies that go beyond well-worded marketing campaigns designed simply to cash in on a trend.

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Lebawit Lily Girma, global tourism reporter for Skift, warns travellers to be wary of vague claims and promises.

“Go to the actual company’s website and see how long they’ve been committed to sustainable travel,” she says. “Do they have a sustainable management plan? Are they just making occasional donations to the community or are they invested in the destination long-term? Are they helping preserve local sites? All of that should be transparent if they really are about sustainability.”

Hotel booking platform Kind Traveler is one company that makes transparency a priority. In their “Give + Get” program, hotel partners donate $10 from each night booked to a local vetted charity.

“All Kind Traveler charities are aligned to address the UN Global Goals, working to fight poverty, advance environmental sustainability or reduce inequality,” says company co-founder Jessica Blotter, referencing the 2015 benchmarks agreed upon by the United Nations.

As the world’s largest service industry, employing one in 10 people worldwide, the travel industry, says Blotter, “has tremendous potential to be a financial force in addressing the world’s greatest challenges if positioned in a way to create meaningful community impact and advance environmental sustainability.”

There are also companies out there aiming to simplify the consumer research process, such as TourRadar.

“When you click on a tour,” explains Cameron Papp, the company’s head of public relations, “you’re able to find everything you need to know about a certain operator. We’re going to highlight the sustainability initiatives that each operator is engaging in. So we hope that’s going to push operators to start wanting to compete to add more sustainability actions with their tours.”

TourRadar also allows travellers to calculate their trip’s carbon footprint – from flights to accommodations – and select a “nature-based carbon mitigation project” to contribute to in order to offset the environmental impact of travel and transport.

Before the pandemic hit, Christine Hobeika booked a trip to Peru through Exodus Travels, encouraged by the company’s commitment to sustainability through its support of local businesses and eco-consciousness. The tour operator recently announced that its 2021/2022 initiatives will include, for every booking, a $100 “Community Kickstart” donation to an on-the-ground conservation or rebuilding project at one of its tour destinations that are still recovering from the lack of lockdown tourism dollars.

Hobeika says that her commitment to spending her travel budget with an operator invested in sustainability will remain firm, even if it means spending more on a trip.

“I think it’s well worth it and I think it makes you feel better about your travel choices,” she says, “knowing that your dollars will go further, whether that’s reducing your carbon footprint or supporting other sustainability aspects.”

Skift’s Girma, however, believes that for sustainable or regenerative travel to really take hold on a larger scale, the travel industry needs to continue to forge an ever-evolving pathway – which means rethinking or even doing away with modes of travel like the kind offered by the big cruise lines.

“The industry absolutely should be driving this,” she says, adding that “it should be a parallel process: It should be consumers asking for it increasingly, and the industry saying we need to do better and lead the way. I think it’s happening, it’s slow, but it is happening.”