With the need for responsible, ethical, and sustainable travel more acute than ever, demonstrating transparency in business reporting and operations is a key way for travel companies to not only build consumer trust, but also drive revenue and achieve long-term growth.
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In light of the challenges posed by climate change, economic anxiety, and political uncertainty, today’s travelers are looking for companies that openly demonstrate responsible stewardship of the environment, their employees, and the communities in which they operate. Being transparent denotes clarity in the way a company conducts business, communicates with customers, and maintains ethical marketing practices.
Leading with transparency is not only the responsible thing to do — with travel companies competing to earn the trust of customers, transparency is also good for business.
“Making a positive impact in the world is the most important element of our success,” said Jared Meyers, chairman of Legacy Vacation Resorts and co-founder of B Tourism, a growing network of purpose-driven travel companies. “With greenwashing so commonplace in the travel industry, transparency is the mechanism that helps us show travelers, suppliers, and employees that we truly are making an impact.”
Another strong case for elevating transparency as a core value can be made by Australia-based tour operator Intrepid Travel, whose continued focus on public transparency and purpose-driven initiatives has contributed to its post-pandemic financial resilience. But what steps can travel executives take to actually build a more transparent company?
“It starts by creating a culture of openness and communication within the company itself,” said Sara King, general manager of purpose at Intrepid, “and that can be done in lots of simple ways. Our CEO shares information via his monthly video update about environmental and social issues. This helps our team understand the impact that we’re having — both positive and negative — so we can take action to change what we can.”
According to King, Intrepid’s transparent communication gives employees a shared sense of responsibility and fosters company-wide accountability for the products they design, the places they take customers, how they work with local communities, and the way they interact with other companies within its supplier network.
Beyond internal transparency, here are three actionable tips for travel companies to deliver on the promise of becoming publicly transparent:
1. Create a Robust Integrated Reporting Plan
Though not required of private companies, voluntary integrated reporting is an important way to build trust and transparency, especially as travel companies face increasing pressure to reduce their environmental and social impacts. Integrated reporting aligns internal and external stakeholders on the progress a company is making toward living up to its values and delivering on its financial goals so they strategize in a holistic way about improving future performance.
“We’ve been doing integrated annual reporting at Intrepid for the past six years,” King said. “In addition to our audited financials, we report on how we’ve impacted local communities and our supply chain, the difference we’re making in the lives of our employees and customers, and many other details that paint a full picture of who we are as a company and how we’re creating value for all stakeholders.”
While proof points that measure how a company is progressing toward its goals are always worth touting, it’s important to remember that integrated reporting is not just about positive achievements.
“Acknowledging where your business isn’t living up to its ideals is the first step toward fixing it,” Meyers said. “This transparency can open up productive conversations between stakeholders, suppliers, and customers — who are all seeing the same information. It also keeps companies honest. For example, if you have a metric to show you’re closing the gender pay gap, you can honestly say you value diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
2. Apply for Third-Party Certifications
Third-party certifications are a type of verification where an independent organization reviews a company’s processes or products to ensure they meet specific standards. In the context of transparency in travel, third-party certifications can be used to validate claims about sustainability, service quality, safety, and other factors that can influence consumer decisions.
B Tourism, the organization co-founded by Myers, comprises around 120 certified B Corporations in the travel space. B Corp certification (the “B” stands for “benefit”) requires adherence to rigorously high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.
“The B Corp framework is all about balancing purpose and profit. It helps businesses be inclusive, regenerative, and equitable in what they do, and that can also be good for revenue growth,” Meyers said. “Our revenue per available room (RevPAR) at Legacy Vacation Resorts has been up 50 percent since we became a B Corp in 2019.”
For travel companies interested in B Corp certification, Meyers suggests joining one of B Tourism’s monthly global impact meetings to meet other members and learn more about the requirements. Companies can also initiate an impact assessment that benchmarks them against industry peers and helps them set environmental and social impact goals.
“Intrepid has been a certified B Corp since 2018,” King said. “It’s a super tough process that requires recertification against higher and higher standards every three years, but getting audited is extremely valuable because no matter how much you want to do the right thing internally, having external eyes on your business is one of the most powerful things you can do to progress in your sustainability journey. It’s a big motivator and keeps you honest.”
Travel companies can choose from a wide range of other well-recognized third-party certifications, including the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), but King advises choosing one that, like B Corp, promotes continuous improvement.
“Some people are disillusioned with certifications because they see them solely as logos that can be stamped on marketing materials, so make sure you’re actually being audited and can show you’re on a path of improvement,” King said. “As a first step, consider choosing just one thing — say, carbon emissions — and measuring your impact against a well-recognized framework like the Science Based Targets Initiative. You don’t need to go for a big certification like B Corp right away.”
3. Develop Ethical Marketing Guidelines
Ethical marketing guidelines are principles and standards that businesses should follow to ensure their marketing practices are fair, transparent, and respectful to consumers, competitors, and society as a whole. Adhering to ethical marketing practices builds trust with customers and contributes to the overall reputation and sustainability of a company.
For example, Intrepid’s Ethical Marketing Guidelines highlight the company’s commitment to openness and transparency, including a promise to “reject all forms of greenwashing and impact-washing” and to “openly acknowledge that international travel contributes to the climate crisis.”
“We worked with a group of consultants from across the travel industry to develop our ethical marketing guidelines,” King said. “This framework helps us ensure we’re representing diverse people and a range of perspectives in our marketing efforts. Travel needs to be more diversified and more inclusive. If we’re not making our representation more diverse, we’re not going to attract the people we want to travel with us.”
Progress on the commitments made in these guidelines is documented in Intrepid’s annual report, along with efforts to improve the company’s B Corp score. If more travel companies can adopt these practices and shift to a transparency mindset, the entire industry will be better off.
“We live in an interdependent world,” said Meyers. “We will have happier and healthier travelers, communities, and environments if we make these changes. If we don’t, we’re putting the future of travel at risk.”
For more information about Intrepid Travel’s ethical marketing guidelines, click here.
Please join James Thornton, CEO at Intrepid Travel, for a special session at Skift Global Forum, September 26-28 in New York City.
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