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  • Writer's pictureDavid Atkin

What is responsible travel?

An interview with Heather Magnussen, Responsible Travel & Sustainability Manager, Audley

What exactly does it mean to travel responsibly?

That’s something we ask ourselves every day here at Audley and I have to be honest — it’s hard to define. The phrase ‘responsible travel’ encompasses a wide range of issues, from ecology and conservation to preserving local communities to supporting women and girls to simply improving our own employees’ quality of life.

We have a holistic approach and work hard to ensure that thoughtful sustainability infuses every aspect of our business. We try to do a little better each day and have a series of initiatives to pursue specific aspects.

Can you tell us a little about some of those initiatives?

We started by writing policies that guarantee high standards, both in our offices and our destinations. To improve transparency and keep ourselves accountable, we publish our policies, and then make annual public reports on our progress.

Additionally, this is a really broad and complex issue, so we’ve found experts who can help inform our choices and policies. For instance, we were certified as a Travelife Partner in January 2020 and we’ve recently started calculating our trips’ carbon footprint with eCollective.

We’re also in the process of spotlighting hotels and experiences that have strong sustainability qualifications. Eventually, clients who are interested in improving their sustainability will be able to choose from that menu of options.

Tell us about one of these sustainable experiences?

There are so many it’s hard to choose but I think a personal favourite is a chance to track jaguars in the Pantanal. We work with the Onçafari Association, who are dedicated to preserving and protecting these vital animals. I love this experience because it really embodies everything that’s excellent about responsible travel.

Not only does a client’s visit support their important work, it also gives them the best chance of spotting the elusive big cats. And the association’s passion for education gives the client a much richer experience while also bolstering the animals’ chances of survival.

How did Audley Travel get started with sustainability?

Sustainability has been part of our DNA since we started, more than 25 years ago. We’ve always worked with local people and businesses in the destinations we visit. That has a two-fold benefit — not only does it give our clients the best, most authentic experience, but it also helps to preserve the culture and landscapes that our clients want to see. We like to think that our passion for exploring informs our passion for preserving it.

Over the years, we’ve added roles and programmes that are dedicated to the issue. It’s my full-time responsibility and I work with Sonal Patel who is our chief sustainability officer. We have employee groups that meet regularly to discuss a whole range of issues: from reconsidering some of the language we use to the sustainability of our snacks in the tuck shop.

Any tips for tour operators who want to improve their sustainability?

Sustainability is an all-hands-on-deck situation. Because of the urgency and the sheer breadth of the issues, it can be overwhelming. So my advice is always this: narrow your focus and broaden your team.

What I mean by ‘narrow your focus’ is that you can’t do it all right away. So pick just a few areas to hone in on and set some reasonable targets. Then, bring in everyone you possibly can to work on those issues — the entire company, from the CEO to the interns.

Bring in outside experts, get your business partners involved, talk to clients about it. Their collective efforts can turn the impossible into the easy. And, with everyone invested, you’ll have the momentum to set the next goal. And the next one. And the next one.

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