Our responsible and sustainable travel sourcing criteria for sustainability in tourism | Fair Voyage

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Our Sourcing Criteria for Sustainability

At Fair Voyage, we only promote verified socially and environmentally responsible suppliers. As part of our Terms of Business, suppliers commit to become independently audited for sustainability by a certification body that is accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).

Have you already become certified by a GSTC accredited body? Congratulations! Create your Fair Voyage account now.

Not sure what we mean or still in the process? Keep reading:

Why GSTC accreditation?

Tourism touches all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set by the United Nations (UN) – from sustainable local economic development that empowers tourism workers and local communities, via conservation of nature and wildlife, through to climate action.

Any tourism solution that only focuses on select goals risks creating negative consequences for all other SDGs. At Fair Voyage, we believe that sustainability in tourism requires a holistic and balanced solution consistent will all SDGs.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), created by UN agencies and prominent international conservation NGOs, has developed and manages a comprehensive set of global sustainability standards for travel and tourism. The GSTC Criteria align with all 17 SDGs. The GSTC also accredits certification bodies for conducting independent audits consistent with the GSTC Criteria.

This means that suppliers audited by a GSTC accredited certification body can reliably prove that they are operating consistent with all SDGs. Therefore, we believe that GSTC accredited certifications are the best and only way to verify the holistic implementation of sustainability on a global scale.

Why require sustainability audits?

We believe that independent sustainability audits are the only way to implement sustainability and make the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality by 2030.

Imagine you are an investor who wants to invest sustainably, a consumer who wants to buy sustainable products, a traveller who wants to travel sustainably, or a business manager who wants to source sustainable products. As humans who want to make sustainable decisions, how can we do so without a reliable guide?

Our world is ruled by a financial system. To make this system work, we have financial audits. Any sizeable company, and as a minimum any company that wants to become listed on a public stock exchange, needs an independent financial audit. Sometimes, investors or tax authorities also meet senior decision makers or financial managers of companies to obtain additional insights. However, no credible investor or tax authority would regard a personal meeting or site visit as replacement for the requirement to also have independent financial audits.

Now we are facing an unprecedented sustainability crisis and we need to act quickly to implement sustainability on a global scale, but our world is still ruled by an outdated financial system. Most companies only have one ultimate goal – to increase shareholder value by increasing profits. Inherent conflicts of interest caused by our legacy financial system is making it near impossible for senior decision makers in companies to move towards sustainability at the sacrifice of profitability, even if they want to. If they do, they violate their own mandates and employment agreements.

Forced with increasing societal and consumer pressure, however, companies need to act to appease the public. The most rational decision any corporate leader could make: Use a small amount of budget to create a sustainability initiative and create a big marketing message about your sustainability efforts. As long as the public is happy and you are no worse than your competitors, your shareholders will be happy.

Rather than having a positive impact for society, the resulting proliferation of sustainability communications creates even more confusion amongst the public and dangerous believes that "someone else" is fixing our broken system. Amongst all those marketing messages, it is almost impossible for investors, consumers or travellers to distinguish between legitimate sustainability efforts and greenwashing.

We at Fair Voyage therefore strongly believe that independent sustainability audits are the only way to prevent greenwashing and truly implement sustainability on a global scale. It seems implausible to get rid of financial audits if we want to maintain a financially sound system. Likewise, we need independent sustainability audits to move from a purely financially driven and unsustainable system to a sustainable system.

Our sustainability sourcing criteria

All our suppliers must hold a valid certification by a Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) accredited certification body ("Certified"), or commit to follow our process to become Certified within a defined timeline ("Sustainability Verification Process").

When screening for new suppliers in a specific destination or receiving applications to use our platform, we give priority to Certified Operators. Approval and access can usually be granted within few days to Certified Operators, and we will generally also grant access to Operators who are already in the process to become Certified (e.g. Travelife Partner companies).

When we meet a new supplier and have reasons to believe that such supplier is committed to sustainability (e.g. upon reliable third party referral), even though such Operator may not yet be Certified, we may approve such supplier as Operator subject to following our Sustainability Verification Process.

We generally do not approve unsolicited applications from suppliers who are not yet Certified nor have independent proof that they are in the process of becoming Certified. However, we may introduce such suppliers to the Travelife system so that they can initiate their Travelife sustainability process and re-apply to use our platform as Operator upon reaching Travelife Partner status.

To offer an inclusive sustainability solution that enables access for small local operators and operators based in countries without locally implemented sustainability standards, we partner with Travelife for Tour Operators & Travel Agencies. Travelife is a GSTC accredited certification body for tour operators and offers a comprehensive online sustainability audit and training system.

Through our collaboration with Travelife, Fair Voyage is able to offer curated suppliers access to the Travelife system free of charge, so that tour operators can easily prepare for the first level in their sustainability audit. Once approved to use the Fair Voyage platform, all suppliers must – as minimum requirement – follow our Sustainability Verification Process.

Why we recommend Travelife?

Travelife is a Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) accredited certification body for Tour Operators and offers a comprehensive online sustainability audit and training system developed specifically for tour operators and travel agencies.

The Travelife system is available to tour operators globally, including countries that do not yet have locally implemented sustainability standards. Through a phased approach, tour operators have the opportunity to work towards sustainability certification over time.

Through our partnership with Travelife, we can offer local tour operators access to the Travelife sustainability management system free of charge, so that operators can easily start their Sustainability Verification Process. Operators only pay a cost covering fee to Travelife once they are ready to request audit by a Travelife representative. Furthermore, we have defined our Sustainability Verification Process (when Operators need to become audited) in a way that Operators can easily fund their certification fees based on revenues generated through the Fair Voyage platform.

Together with Travelife, we are excited to offer an inclusive sustainability platform solution to help socially and environmentally responsible local tour operators from around the world access global markets.

Sustainability Verification Process

As part of our Terms of Business, Operators who wish to use the Fair Voyage platform and are not yet Certified commit to follow our Sustainability Verification Process:

  • Fair Voyage Curated: If Fair Voyage has reasons to believe that an Operator is committed to sustainability, Fair Voyage may grant platform access to such Operator even if the Operator cannot yet prove their sustainability commitment through independent verification (“Verification”). Operators must initiate their certification process with a Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) accredited certification body. Fair Voyage normally recommends Travelife for Tour Operators & Travel Agencies.
  • Verification: Once an Operator surpasses an aggregate business volume of bookings made via Fair Voyage (in terms of net tour prices paid out by Fair Voyage to the tour operator) (“Total Bookings”) of USD 10,000 (“Verification Threshold”), Fair Voyage will request the Operator to reach Travelife Partner (or similar level of other GSTC accredited certification body) within 6 months of reaching the Verification Threshold. If the Operator does not obtain Verification within 6 months of being notified by Fair Voyage of reaching the Verification Threshold, Fair Voyage will un-publish all Tours of the Operator on the Fair Voyage platform until the Operator can prove Verification. If an Operator does not reach the Verification Threshold within 2 years of initial access to the Fair Voyage platform, Fair Voyage will also request Operator to prove Verification. Fair Voyage reserves the right to un-publish all Tours of an Operator if the Operator cannot prove Verification within 2 years of initial access to the Fair Voyage platform or if Fair Voyage assesses that it is unlikely for the Operator to achieve the Verification Threshold within 4 years of initial access.
  • Certification: Once an Operator surpasses Total Bookings of USD 100,000 (“Certification Threshold”), Fair Voyage will request the Operator to become Travelife Certified (or Certified by another GSTC accredited certification body) within the later of (a) 1 year of reaching the Certification Threshold or (b) 2 years of reaching initial Verification, giving new Operators who quickly reach a high business volume enough time to prepare for the independent on-site audit required for Certification.

How much does it cost as Operator?

Please refer to our Sustainability Verification Process for details on our staged approach. Assuming you follow the Travelife system:

  • Fair Voyage Curated: Through our partnership with Travelife, we can offer you access to the Travelife system free of charge. This enables you to implement a sustainability management system and initiate your sustainability verification through a self-guided process. If you require personal coaching, please refer to the fee schedule for Travelife Engaged companies (currently EUR 200 per year for small companies with up to 25 employees). To help speed up your certification progress, we recommend 1-on-1 Travelife coaching by Fair Sayari (currently EUR 215 for Travelife Partner trajectory).
  • Verification / Travelife Partner: Once you apply for Travelife Partner, which means that you request a Travelife auditor to check your sustainability documentation, the Travelife Partner fee applies (currently EUR 200 per year for small companies with up to 25 employees).
  • Certification / Travelife Certified: Once you apply to become Travelife Certified, you will need to cover the costs for an independent on-site audit which varies depending on the size of your business (currently EUR 400 for small companies with up to 5 FTE) as well as economy travel and subsistence cost for the auditor. To minimize travels, Travelife will engage local auditors as much as possible.

Sustainability is a highly debated, confusing and controversial topic. There are lots of different philosophies and often contrarian views on how to best implement sustainability. Let us try answer some critical questions that you might have:

No audit will ever be perfect, so aren't you greenwashing?

No, we don't think so. Greenwashing means conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products or actions are sustainable and environmentally sound.

We provide full transparency about our sourcing criteria and Sustainability Verification Process. For each Tour promoted on Fair Voyage, we make fully transparent the sustainability level reached by the respective Tour Operator (as per our sourcing criteria) as well as for accommodations included in the specific itinerary.

We acknowledge that promoting verified sustainable Tour Operators doesn't automatically mean that each and every itinerary is fully sustainable. We also acknowledge that there is a risk of corruption in the conduct of sustainability audits.

The current system isn't perfect; it is a starting point to work towards ever more integrated monitoring and control of the entire supply chain as well as increasingly tighter sustainability checks across elements of individual elements over time.

To achieve a comprehensive global system of sustainability checks and audits, we need efficiency created by scale and collaborations. We believe that the Fair Voyage platform in close partnership with the Travelife sustainability audit system and other global and local partners integrating within a shared eco-system is an ideal starting point to achieve such a global system over the coming years.

How can you avoid corruption of auditors?

Corruption is definitely a challenge globally, and even more so in many lower income countries that we focus on. We cannot 100% avoid corruption in the conduct of financial audits. Likewise, we cannot 100% avoid corruption in the conduct of sustainability audits. However, that doesn't mean that we should not make an effort to conduct independent audits in the first place. Assume your pension fund manager decided to invest in companies without independently audited financial accounts, because of the unavoidable risk of corruption. Not acceptable! The same applies to sustainability.

The Travelife system goes a long way in mitigating and minimizing the risk of corruption. Companies are required to upload detailed sustainability documentation, which is being checked remotely by Travelife trained global sustainability auditor. It is unlikely that a company not interested in sustainability makes the effort to go through such a comprehensive process and creates fake documentation.  Furthermore, the on-site audits for certification are conducted by a different auditor every two years, which helps spot significant mis-behavior.

Once again, we acknowledge that the system isn't perfect and corruption is a risk. Over the years, there will be room for improvement to implement ever tighter processes and verifications to further mitigate the risk of corruption. The sooner we start implementing sustainability audits on a global scale, the quicker we can realize efficiency improvements and work towards an ever more reliable global system. However, to get there, we need to start somewhere, even if the status quo isn't perfect.

Why enforce a global standard rather than local schemes?

We believe that global and local standards are not mutually exclusive, but need to integrate and collaborate to create more clarity and strengthen sustainability throughout the supply chain. To achieve an inclusive and locally driven solution, global standards can be adopted locally, dual recognitions can provide for the effective co-existence of local schemes, and pricing can be managed in a way that certifications are accessible also to small local businesses:

Clarity: Currently, one of the biggest challenges in making sustainable travel mainstream is confusion amongst consumers and trade buyers, caused by too many labels and standards. As a decision maker, it is difficult to understand the differences between labels and filter merit-based schemes from amongst myriads of purely membership and donation-based organizations. To make this easier, we need more clarity; and to create clarity, we believe it is important to collaborate globally and focus marketing resources on creating awareness and global recognition for one shared label.

Supply chain: Travel is a complex inter-connected industry. Many businesses and organizations are involved in organizing a single trip: international travel agencies, local tour operators or destination management companies, accommodation providers, transportation providers, activity organizers and local attractions, restaurants and a myriad of other small local businesses and services providers. To monitor sustainability of the entire supply chain on a global level, we need to work towards a shared inter-connected system.

Local adaptation: Using global standards isn't equal to imposing Western standards on local cultures. For example, Travelife is currently partnering with tourism stakeholders in Kenya to roll out the Travelife certification for local tour operators. In doing so, the standards are being adopted together with stakeholders in Kenya to suit local requirements.

Dual recognition: To manage local adaption and implementation, we believe that global certification bodies need to enter into partnerships with credible local organizations. Through dual recognition with a global standard, the local organization can use its local brand to enlist the local industry, whilst also providing its local members the global marketing benefits of the brand of its global certification partner.

Pricing: Global certifications are not necessarily more expensive than local schemes. Through our partnership with Travelife, we are excited to offer an inclusive solution and provide an affordable Sustainability Verification Process to our Operator partners. See how little it costs.

How can travelling long-distance be sustainable at all?

Are you wondering: Can travelling overseas be sustainable at all? Greenhouse gas emissions caused by flying contribute to global warning. Climate Action is the most urgent of all Sustainable Development Goals – we agree! We also agree that the tourism industry is a major contributor to climate change, and that much of tourism – as practiced nowadays – might be causing more harm than good.

Unfortunately, the same applies to almost all industries, because we do not pay the real costs for the products and services that we consume. There is no doubt that we all need to consume less and more consciously, and that we need to start fair prices.

In travel, this means that we need to travel less, but more consciously. For example, instead of going on frequent weekend trips to crowded cities, take a pro-longed vacation once a year to travel slowly and explore less visited destinations. And it means that we need to pay more to compensate for the effects of GHG emissions and choose more environmentally friendly options, amongst others.

However, this doesn't mean that we need to stop travelling altogether. To the contrary, we live in a complex global system with lots of inter-dependencies. Taking extreme action towards one goal is likely to come with a lot of negative side consequences, that eventually will come to harm that very same goal.

We at Fair Voyage believe sustainable travel is not the problem, but will be part of the solution to mitigate climate change and other urgent problems – by giving local populations a sustainable income source that will help them and us protect and restore a biodiverse nature, and by fostering intercultural understanding for peace and collaboration.

Imagine a local community living in the rainforest. To make a living, they have the option cut down the forest to make use of the land and wood for food production, construction and firewood for heating. Or they might sell their land to agricultural, forestry or mining companies who again will destroy the forest and its biodiversity. All of these outcomes have negative effects for our climate.

Now imagine we can provide an alternative income source to the communities, a source of income that encourages them to protect and restore the forest and biodiversity. What could that be? Sustainable tourism! Imagine communities can make a living from accommodating travellers, guiding us through their biodiverse habitat and helping us experience their traditional ways of living. That way, we can preserve nature, foster mutual understanding, lift everyone out of poverty – and experience a truly enjoyable and sustainable vacation.

The above is just one example how sustainable tourism can be the solution for our climate and sustainable development. We are currently conducting a research project to provide more details, facts and guidelines, including:

  • Tourism as vital source of employment and income, especially for the world's most vulnerable regions
  • Tourism as funding source for conservation and restoration of nature, biodiversity and cultural heritage
  • Tourism as means to foster inter-cultural understanding and compassion, thereby encourage more sustainable behavior and protect world peace
  • How to best calculate and mitigate the GHG emission footprint when travelling

Would you like to contribute or collaborate with us to create more transparency, share relevant research results or create meaningful solutions? Please email partner@fairvoyage.com.

We expect to share our results on the above in 2020, and to implement mandatory GHG offsets by 2021. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn or Facebook to stay updated.

More questions?

We aim to collaborate and engage in open dialogue to implement the best possible solution for sustainable tourism. If you have more questions or suggestions, we would love to hear from you!
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