The new green: Abta’s bid to make sustainability mainstream

The Travel Foundation has led industry efforts to engage with sustainable tourism since its formation eight years ago.

But behind the scenes, Abta has been gearing up to take a major role alongside the foundation in pushing the next phase of sustainable development – or, as it is sometimes referred to, responsible tourism.

The association is developing several areas of work.

A survey of travel agencies marks the first step in a retail-engagement strategy that aims to convince Abta’s 5,000 retail members that sustainability can benefit their businesses by reducing overheads – an essential move in the current climate.

Travelife extends reach

The Travelife system, developed by the Federation of Tour Operators to assess resort accommodation, is developing a pan-European reach and is poised to expand into North America.

Restructured this summer as an Abta-owned limited company, Travelife is increasingly recognised as the leading certification system in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Last week it was endorsed by the European Parliament. Thomas Cook has made a group commitment to the system. Tui Travel has served notice all hoteliers must sign up to it.

Travelife business manager Sören Stöber says: “Operators in non-UK markets are picking up on it. Travelife became a limited company to move away from a UK focus and operate internationally. It is not-for-profit but it does have to pay for itself.”

Resort best practice

Abta is also looking to develop sustainable practice more widely in destinations. Its Sustainable Tourism Committee, made up of the larger operators, aims to develop best practice among businesses such as ground-handlers and excursion providers.

Committee members are signed up to a notion of sustainable tourism that ought to make sense to most people. It is taken from the Cape Town declaration on responsible tourism of 2002, which defines this as tourism that “creates better places for people to live in and better places to visit”.
Among other things, members are committed to using resources efficiently, minimising waste and pollution, respecting local cultures, co-operating with local communities, using local skills and monitoring performance.

Local skills

Abta’s destination sustainability team aims to develop examples of the kind of best practice it already encounters in, for example, Egypt. There, sustainable tourism manager Simon Pickup was enthused by a recycling centre he visited in El Gouna. The plant handles 98% of the resort’s waste and recycles or re-manufactures it. Food waste is composted, tins and glass recycled, plastics made into paving tiles and paper recycled into gift bags.

Pickup also visited the Luxor Fair Trade Centre, which has trained more than 900 local women in traditional crafts that use alabaster, oils, silk and beads.

He says: “Many tourists buy imported replica stock unaware it is not made in Egypt. The Fair Trade Centre provides a lifeline for many rural families.”

A host of other initiatives, which Travel Weekly will be reporting on over the coming months, are at various stages of development.

Nikki White, head of sustainability and destinations at Abta, says: “The challenge is to get members to understand this is about protecting destinations and growing product. It is not fluffy green stuff – it is important to their business.”

This article appeared in a special responsible travel edition of Travel Weekly magazine, in association with Virgin Holidays

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