Jeff Element

“There is no Planet B”: Going green with The Travel Corporation

Jeff Element

April is Earth Month, a time when people – and companies – can highlight the importance of sustainability and focus on ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Leading the charge in the travel industry is The Travel Corporation, which has implemented green measures across its brands.

In this week’s edition of Take Five, we sit down with Jeff Element, President of The Travel Corporation Canada to discuss the hows and whys of going green, and what everyone – travellers and travel agents alike – can do to help the cause.

1. With Earth Day quickly approaching (April 22), what are some of the initiatives The Travel Corporation Canada and its roster of brands are doing to make travel matter?

We are doing quite a lot to celebrate Earth Day, here in Canada and abroad. Our brands and The TreadRight Foundation, our not-for-profit dedicated to making travel matter, have been focused on how we can further engage our partners to really make a difference. For The TreadRight Foundation, we will be centering around the ‘Planet’ pillar, and will be directly focused on how we are enabling our teams and clients to make their own personal impact. We recently launched a series of ‘how to’ clips for social media, with the intention to provide meaningful and easy ways that advisors and clients alike can reduce their own impact.

Both Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold recently participated in a tree-planting day at the Oak Ridges Trail north of Toronto, kicking off Global Volunteer Day on April 11, in partnership with One Tree Planted, a leading not-for-profit organization focused on global reforestation whose mission is to create a world full of trees. Along with One Tree Planted, Insight Vacations has committed to planting one tree in California for every client who chooses to receive their travel documents electronically as e-Documents and Luxury Gold made the same commitment in India.

Trafalgar and Costsaver will be raising awareness in the trade community by organizing an action and awareness campaign alongside longstanding brand partners, including Craig Kielburger, co-founder of charity ME to WE, releasing weekly content aimed at inspiring agent partners with easy, actionable tips to pique their interest on how to live and travel more sustainably. In addition, as part of this holistic approach to Earth Month, and in keeping with their #AgentsFirst philosophy, Trafalgar will also be releasing an ‘Advisor’s Guide to Making a Difference’ on Earth Day. This easy-to-follow guide is full of simple tips and small changes travel advisors and other customer-facing members of the industry can make that can have a big impact. By educating on the fundamentals of sustainable tourism, it aims to empower them to act as ambassadors of responsible travel to their customers.

Contiki recently launched its new reusable water bottle in an effort to curb the plastic pollution. The new foldable, travel-friendly water bottle is made from 100% recycled material packaging and comes with an advanced built-in filtration system that removes 99.95% of bacteria, creating clean, safe drinking water wherever clients are in the world. They can simply pop in the filtration tube and carbon pouch, which lasts for up to 100 refills, pour tap water in the bottle as they normally would and presto, clean drinking water! It also doesn’t need an external power supply, making this bottle extremely easy to pack and travel with. Learnings from this launch will then be shared with our other brands, as the long-term goal is to ensure all of our guests have a refillable water bottle they can carry with them at all times, ensuring they change their habits and dependency on plastic water bottles.

2. The Travel Corporation recently announced its intention to no longer make single-use plastic bottles available on any of its brands’ coaches, along with its pledge to eliminate all non-essential single-use plastics across operations by 2022. Can you explain the significance behind this and how it can help?

For many years, plastic waste has been and continues to be one of the biggest environmental and health hazards in the world. The chemicals used in manufacturing plastic gets transferred to animal tissue and human food chain creating health hazards. Plastics also do not biodegrade but breaks down into micro plastics which gets transferred to our food chain with potential health implications that we are not even aware of. Not to mention most plastics, such as water bottles and shopping bags, end up in our oceans and water waste creating huge environmental issues and health hazards, especially to aquatic life. While we all have a duty as citizens of this planet to curb our plastics addiction, we in the travel industry have an even bigger responsibility to eliminate plastics usage. Especially when you realize that an average traveller consumes about three bottles of water, usually from disposable plastic water bottles, during peak summer season. Multiply the three bottles of water by 1.4 billion, the number of international tourist arrivals in 2018 according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, and you start to get an idea of the kind of damage being inflicted on our planet.

That is why we recently announced that, from the beginning of our 2019 operating season, our brands – Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, Costsaver, Brendan Vacations, Contiki, AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys – will no longer make available single-use plastic bottles on coaches. These brands join sister companies Uniworld, Red Carnation Hotels and U River Cruises, which have already removed plastic water bottles from their operations previously. With single-use plastic water bottles no longer being made available on our coaches, we will continue our momentum to eliminating unnecessary single-use plastics across all of our operations by 2022. This latest initiative is expected to reduce plastic waste by several hundred thousand plastic bottles per year. And this doesn’t just stop at plastic water bottles, we will also be eliminating several hundred thousand pieces of single-use plastics from various brands’ operations, such as Trafalgar, Costsaver, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, by moving away from the use of non-biodegradable name tags for all clients on trips. Further, these brands are also replacing single-use plastic luggage tags with reusable, durable luggage tags. The ultimate goal is to contribute to the reduction and complete elimination of plastic waste from our waters and environment which contributes to the overall health of the environment, water and places we travel to and do business in. There is no Planet B.

3. How can agents and their clients help phase out their own plastics use? 

There are many ways that we can kick our addiction to plastic, whether in everyday life or travelling abroad. One simple switch in our daily routine that can make huge impact is by simply using and travelling with a reusable produce and/or shopping bag. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade, so purchase or make your own reusable bag the next time you are grocery shopping. The same goes for using a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, especially when getting your coffee to go. When travelling abroad, we encourage our guests to bring along their reusable plastic water bottles on their vacations. In fact, by introducing Contiki’s new reusable water bottle, along with Trafalgar and Insight Vacations offering their own versions of reusable cups and bottles, we’re giving clients an easy opportunity to do their part. Clients should also stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. They can simply ask the restaurant staff not to provide them with a straw when placing their order. If a straw is a must, clients can purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw – something that Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold has available for their guests. These are just a fraction of methods one can apply and we at The Travel Corporation and The TreadRight Foundation are happy to continue to provide support for agents and their clients through continuous education and engagement on the impacts of plastic waste on our environment, habitat, and human health. Agents are encouraged to reach out to their local sales managers from any of our brands if they have questions or even suggestions.

4. The Travel Corporation Canada’s own office features some notable green technology – what are they and why were they installed?

At The Travel Corporation, we, along with The TreadRight Foundation, firmly believe in adopting responsible business practices in an effort to create a more sustainable future – whether that be in how we work with advisors and their clients, on the road abroad or simply in how we operate in our local communities. Our (Canadian) head office in Toronto is one prime example of how reducing the environmental impact of our business isn’t just a “nice-to-have”, it’s at the core of all that we do. In addition to phasing out all avoidable single-use plastics at our office, we have invested significantly in installing green technology in our building. Our Facility Manager, Craig Lee, has installed LED lighting throughout the interior and exterior of the office, exterior lights on timers, interior lights on occupancy sensors, that come on only when our employees are in offices and washrooms, and they shut off when everyone has left. We use a geothermal heating and cooling system with a CO₂ sensor control that brings in fresh air from the outside to parts of our office only when required, keeping the office temperature consistent, thus reducing our need to use air conditioning which uses up a lot of energy. Our data centre, which is the hub for all of our eight main offices and 40 sales offices worldwide, utilizes a relatively new technology called a “Kyoto Wheel”. Data centres tend to use a lot of energy to keep servers at a certain temperature. To ensure we would use the least amount of energy, we decided to install the “Kyoto Wheel” as a way to draw heat out of the room and cool the server containment area using cooler air from outside. This uses significantly less electricity on cool days and nights which is most of the year. One small electric motor is needed to turn the wheel, compared to the old air conditioning systems that continually pumped fluids. We have seen a reduction in our usage, such as hydro, simply by changing our operating procedures and consciously investing in green technology. Not only do we want the destinations we visit to remain vibrant for generations to come, we want to also ensure our home – community – thrives.

5. As more and more clients look for ways to travel more sustainably, what more can the travel industry do to help reduce its impact?

The most meaningful way is for us, collectively as an industry, to work together on the issues of plastics and supporting the supply chain to see it reduced and ideally, removed. The more our industry bands together to demand and support the implementation of safe water stations in communities, at hotels, airports, the more we can mobilize travellers to choose more sustainable options. We can’t do this alone, but we need to do it.