It’s not often a travel agent gets the chance to influence a tour operator’s excursion programme. But that was just what Tom Thompson was able to do when he flew to Thailand to test some of Thomson’s new excursions.

Tom was picked from hundreds of applicants to go on Project Discovery, run jointly by Tui Travel and the Travel Foundation, to audit sustainable aspects of excursions in the new Thomson destination of Phuket, served by the eco-friendly Dreamliner.

“After years of selling excursions it was nice to be able to put something back into the destination for future tourists who will go there,” says Tom, who was a Thomson rep prior to becoming an agent for the company.

Tom, accompanied on the trip by Thomson and First Choice product manager Laura Faragher, who also won a place, went on a variety of excursions including a trip to the island Phi Phi Don, a sea canoe adventure and a potential future ecological excursion currently offered only to Tui’s Scandinavian customers. This took Tom and Laura to lesser-known islands untouched by tourism and involved travelling on a local ferry, cycling through rubber plantations and learning how rubber is extracted from plants.

Tom has now fed back recommendations to Tui Travel and the Travel Foundation on ways to tweak the excursions to ensure they are more environmentally-friendly.

These include suggesting Thai excursion guides encourage holidaymakers to be more responsible and talk more to tourists about sustainability.

“The guides have a lot of local knowledge once you start talking about it, but they are not naturally forthcoming,” says Tom. “They need to be told that this is part of their role.”

On some of the island excursions, Tom noted there were not sufficient bins for rubbish or recycling waste, or enough signage of refuse facilities.

“We had a meeting about what could be introduced and made recommendations, such as advising customers to bring back their rubbish [from island visits],” says Tom, who also felt there should be more opportunities for tourists to buy local goods. Back at work, Tom now promotes the sustainability message wherever he can.

“I have done a presentation on the trip to other managers in the region,” he says.

“Now it’s up to us and other firms to look at the Travel Foundation checklist to see how much they can include in their own excursions.”