Voice of Experience: Naut Kusters of Travelife – Sustainability in Tourism
Naut Kusters, Travelife Manager for Tour Operators, confirms the growing awareness of sustainability in Asia and its importance to the bottom line of travel organizations.
What were your reasons for bringing Travelife to Asia?
Asia is an important and growing market for the European travel industry. At the same time there are many issues in Asia, which are considered undesirable in tourism, such as mistreatment of animals, violence against children and endangered species on the menu. Outbound tour operators would like to have some guarantee that their local partners comply with international standards.
Travelife, although founded in Europe, is a global program. Major growth in global tourism will take place in or will involve Asians. Without Asian endorsement, global tourism will be unable to develop more sustainably. Through our strategic partnership with PATA and the Dutch government CBI Program, we were able to adapt and introduce Travelife in Asia.
Major growth in global tourism will take place in or will involve Asians. Without Asian endorsement, global tourism will be unable to develop more sustainably.
What was the biggest eye-opener for you while working on Travelife in Asia?
We have now provided Travelife trainings in four Asian countries. Each training session was overbooked. In Myanmar, we had almost double the number of applicants for the number of seats available. This confirms that sustainability is not only a Western concept but that local inbound operators realize the value of taking care of their ultimate tour product: their home as a destination.
What new insights did you get working in Asia, which you can apply elsewhere in the world?
During our stakeholder meetings to define the national Travelife Partner sustainability standards, decision-making at the highest level advocated stricter standards than originally proposed by Travelife. The front running inbounds around the table were already doing a good job and needed endorsement from Travelife, as an independent international standard, to validate these standards and take the lead for other tour operators in international markets.
And vice versa?
I believe that Travelife has provided Asian tour operators with a very practical approach to pursue sustainability. After numerous conferences and policy declarations to create better awareness, sustainability standards were the essential next step.
Can you give some best-practice examples in which you think Khiri Travel was very innovative in implementing Travelife?
I like the active approach of Khiri Travel to promote plastic bottle free hotels. Khiri has introduced this sustainability initiative with their hotel partners by showing them the glass bottle alternative. This principle was also implemented in Khiri Travel’s offices. They worked to abandon using single-use plastic lunch boxes by creating awareness and commitment among staff and local suppliers. At Khiri Travel Myanmar, I specifically liked the way they motivated staff through a positive engaging approach and by providing them access to a government social service scheme.
What are the next steps for Travelife in Asia? What does the (near) future look like?
Now that we have gained experience with the Travelife Certified standard in Asia, we are aware of the best practices possible and want to make it easier for other Asian companies to comply. This can be as easy as a tip on where to purchase recycled paper or games to motivate staff members. To exchange best practices and develop common tools, within PATA we have established a working group on sustainability for tour operators. Leading operators are discussing joint approaches and minimum standards. This will not only support more tour operators to integrate sustainability, but will hopefully also set the standard for the Asian travel industry at large.
In July we trained 40 tour operators in Bangkok involving most leading regional brands. We hope that they will start implementing what they have learned. For the near future, Travelife will extend its certification program to Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. In 2016, Indonesia, India and Cambodia will follow.
Photo by PATA