Specialist tour operators should be leading the way in providing ‘green’ holidays.

Speaking at the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) conference in Cochin, The Co-operative Travel commercial director Sean Hinds urged the association’s members to use their expertise and less mainstream product as an opportunity to push the responsible tourism message.

He said: “For specialist operators, there is a real opportunity to take leadership; carve out a niche for yourselves. There are some very real opportunities in this area.”

Hinds added that when the company launched its own tour operator this year, it had to strike a balance between providing holidays that were environmentally sound but also met the demands of the mainstream mass market.

He said: “It was important to me and our brand that we were able to show our responsible travel credentials.”

This meant reassuring the consumer that their holidays were ethically valid he said, adding: “It is about saying ‘come with us and your conscience will be clear’.”

Hinds said it is up to the trade to persuade consumers of the importance of ethically sound holidays, as they are still not really on consumers’ radar when booking a break.

“When it is pointed out, customers will rank responsible tourism much higher in their decision-making process (of which holiday to book). If it is unprompted then it rarely features,” he added.

Hinds also said The Co-operative Travel was working with a school in each of its 18 dedicated regions in the UK to promote responsible travel.

He also added that the company was looking at other divisions of the Co-operative brand, such as its food division, to see if any cross-over initiatives could be introduced.