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Your Stories: Karen Simmonds is creating awareness about sustainability in travel

The founder of Clapham agency Travel Matters and the Make Travel Better campaign tells Juliet Dennis about the growing importance of sustainable tourism in 2021.

Q. How can you make a difference on sustainable travel as an agent?
A. We look to create memorable travel experiences where local communities and the environment flourish. We endeavour to show how travel, when done right, can impact the world positively. Being on the frontline, we can influence how people travel. Where possible, we always give an option to travel by train. Sometimes that’s hard to sell because of low-cost flights but, as people start to think differently, you have a case. Our customers know we plant a tree for every holiday we sell and we’re careful about which suppliers we use. We have a duty to talk to people more about why we suggest they stay at different places. It’s about education. I’d love to create a resource or directory for agents.

Q. Where is the demand for sustainable travel?
A. We’d like to start engaging more with the younger generation. It’s all very well having loyal, local customers but our aspiration is to reach people farther afield. Young people are by far the most aware and it was they making the trumpet call – the Greta Thunberg movement. I want to show people we care a lot about communities and the people in those countries and the environment, and give them different ideas to consider. It could be travel linked to understanding where their money is going.

“Our customers know we plant a tree for every holiday we sell and we’re careful about which suppliers we use. We have a duty to talk to people more about why we suggest they stay at different places.”

Q. What did 2020 do for sustainable tourism?
A. It made it become more mainstream. You can already start to see companies aligning marketing more around sustainability. It doesn’t mean you have to stay in a yurt and walk two miles to get water. It’s a shame it’s taken a pandemic, but I feel encouraged the industry is waking up to the call to collaborate and champion better practice. Tourism can be a force for good and Covid has been a catalyst. It’s not just the pandemic; it’s David Attenborough, the problems with plastic, and Extinction Rebellion. It gives me hope but there’s still a long way to go. Climate change is the biggest thing we need to be looking at.

Q. Your business won a World Responsible Tourism Award at World Travel Market this year. How will that help your agency?
A. I’m starting to feel the message is being amplified by getting the World Responsible Tourism Award. It was in the category on how travel companies have responded in the Covid year and there were 250 entrants. It’s been a real journey for us over 21 years as a business to make travel matter; it’s just trying to shine a light on some good practice and lobby different suppliers.

“Tourism can be a force for good and Covid has been a catalyst. It’s not just the pandemic; it’s David Attenborough, the problems with plastic, and Extinction Rebellion.”

Q. What is the Make Travel Matter campaign?
A. We are trying to create awareness about sustainability in travel. The campaign engages travellers as well as industry colleagues to commit to championing responsible travel. It promotes travel as a privilege. The aim is to encourage people to make more conscious decisions and be more proactive in relation to protecting the environment and the communities they encounter. We’re also a supporter of the Future for Tourism coalition goals to build a healthier tourism industry while protecting the places and people on which it depends.

Q. You recently conducted a consumer survey. What did you find out?
A. We took to the streets and interviewed about 10 individuals for a YouTube video. We also did a survey on Survey Monkey and 60 people responded to that. We wanted to gauge customer sentiment on travelling in the pandemic, and their thoughts on sustainable travel. Most wanted to travel in spring 2021 but it was likely to be Europe or the UK, and most said they don’t consider their carbon footprint when they travel. The results were what I expected. I was not disappointed; I’m a realist. It shows we have got a long way to go. Think about when we started to do more recycling and then when local councils got behind it. Now it’s a natural thing to do.


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Tell us about the ‘tourism declares a climate emergency’ declaration

We know all too well that Covid has had a devastating impact on our industry, but climate change could have a greater impact: increased heat, drought and insect outbreaks, increased wildfires and flooding, declining water supplies – the list goes on. It was for this reason we were one of 116 signatories to the

“Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency” declaration in January (2020). More and more we are having conversations with clients about why they want to go on a trip. Before Covid, jumping on an aircraft to, say, Iceland was cheap but it was not doing us any good. I had to think long and hard about signing.

“As part of this group, we need to inspire other suppliers to sign and be part of the change. It’s a big ask. I want to get more agents involved. It feels like there is a real awakening.”

It doesn’t change much in terms of how I run my business but we are trying to lobby the air and hotel sectors to cut emissions by 2030. As part of this group, we need to inspire other suppliers to sign and be part of the change. It’s a big ask. I want to get more agents involved. It feels like there is a real awakening. The danger is that, after the vaccine, it will go back to business as normal.

Now is the time for people to change how they do things.

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