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Travelife is a training, management and certification initiative for tourism companies committed to reaching greater sustainability. The Travelife system aims to help DMCs, tour operators and travel agencies manage and improve social, environmental and economic impacts (the triple-bottom line) by complying with over 200 sustainability criteria.
Broadly, these sustainability criteria, some of which are mandatory and some are not, can be grouped into five key areas:
There are three stages of Travelife certification for tour operators and travel agents:
Khiri Travel decided to embark on the third and highest level of certification, ‘Travelife Certified’, which has been recognized as the first standard in compliance with the UN supported Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) criteria. The first two levels do not require an on-site audit for certification, while the third level requires a 2-stage audit.
The desk audit is conducted remotely. The tour operator has to report on all criteria as best as it can. It’s like telling the story of the journey to sustainability. There aren’t really any rigid ways of doing things. This is good as circumstances in different countries vary and solutions will be local. The desk audit team will go through the online report and make comments noting areas of potential non-compliance. Some criteria require supporting evidence such as policies and contracts, most of which can be checked online.
Once the Travelife desk audit team is satisfied, an on-site audit will be organized. This audit is one full day so the auditor will be unable to check everything The auditor will have read the sustainability report and any comments made from the desk audit team noting areas of potential non-compliance or areas that need a visual check. The auditors would then focus on these key areas during the on-site visit.
The auditor will also interview employees picked at random or by specific job function. They may wish to do so alone or with others. The auditor has several choices on how to conduct the interview. Interviews may focus on training, procedures and working conditions. The on-site audit is also very effective for checking environmental management at the office location, especially waste management, water and energy saving initiatives and purchasing.
One of the strengths of Travelife is that it covers a tourism company’s supply chain: transportation, accommodation, excursions and guides. It is in these areas that a travel company’s activities will arguably have the most significant impacts.. Other sustainability certification programs that do not conduct the on-site audit are considered less rigorous and therefore not as effective as Travelife.
Travelife Grading System
A company must satisfy all the mandatory criteria to achieve the ‘Certified’ level. Companies are graded as either compliant or non-compliant. There is a bit of flexibility with this verdict as some companies may be doing very well in some areas but need to improve in others. If the audit shows that the company is nowhere near the required standard of compliance, then the company will fail the audit. However, if the company is close to satisfying the criteria, they may be allowed more time to make improvements to achieve compliance and become certified in the near future.
Benefits to Khiri Travel
Hotels that implement sustainability criteria realize a direct return on their investment. Khiri Travel will realize some cost savings for reducing our office’s water and energy use, but not nearly as much as hotels. However, for DMCs like Khiri Travel, pursuing sustainability certification is not really about cost savings. Khiri Travel pursues the value of sustainability, as stated prominently on our website, as “no longer a luxury, but a must-do so we leave a world that is livable for our children.”
The trend in consumer demand for sustainable products is also growing. Companies that take sustainability seriously and pursue the rigorous Travelife certification process will score higher on customer satisfaction, staff motivation and business efficiency. As a B2B travel company with many agents in Western Europe and the U.S., certification will give Khiri Travel a competitive advantage over other DMCs in Asia.
Khiri Travel is one of the founders of the PATA’s Tour Operator Sustainability Working Group, created to establish common regional principles and standards. The Dutch government’s CBI Programme supports this initiative. Khiri’s efforts will also inspire and support other companies in the region to follow the sustainability route. The more companies that join, the more effective the sustainability process and benefits will become.