Just over half of the Association of Independent Tour Operators’ members have now signed up to a sustainable tourism project launched in 2016.

In total 64 operators have backed Project PROTECT, started 18 months ago as a pledge to help protect destinations worldwide. It stands for People, Resources, Outreach, Tourism, Environment, Conservation and Tomorrow.

Aito is working in partnership with the University of Surrey, which has developed a programme to train, mentor, collect data and analyse the results of sustainability pledges made by tour operator members.

It is hoped more members will sign up this year. Ultimately, the aim is for all members to back the five year project, through a pledge and by running existing or new schemes of their own, and for each to have at least one staff member who has completed the project’s training programme.

Aito chairman Derek Moore said the project’s success to date showed the continued commitment of members to making travel more sustainable.

He said: “From better gender equality to successful youth projects and vital environmental projects, we’re starting to see purposeful and tangible results in the communities of the destinations visited by our members’ customers, and we are encouraged to see that these are part of long-term goals to serve future generations.”

Professor Xavier Font, sustainable tourism thought leader at the University of Surrey, said: “The small successes, surprising jumps forward and the hard work and dedication of  so many tour operators has been exciting and encouraging, and the results so far are very inspiring.”

Examples of operator projects include Explore’s pledge to increase the number of women running tours, initially in Vietnam, India and Sri Lanka, by 10% and improve the rights for women in the tourism industry. So far, in 2017, it trained six female tour leaders.

Another member, Africa Collection, has partnered with non-profit organisation Uthando to support community development projects in Cape Town. It aims to donate £5,000 to provide five ping-pong tables to a youth initiative. So far one has been delivered in a primary school and  another will be installed this summer.