Interview: TTC’s sustainability chief on how agents can drive change

Shannon Guihan tells Samantha Mayling that frontline sellers must be well-informed to educate customers

“It is important for travel agents to know that their choices encourage change. I urge agents to read our impact report – it is a tool to educate guests on the value of our work,” says Shannon Guihan, chief sustainability officer at The Travel Corporation.

Her appeal to the UK trade comes as TTC issued an impact report on its five-year sustainability strategy, detailing progress on 11 goals launched in September 2020 by the parent company of tour operators Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Contiki, and cruise line Uniworld.

The ‘How We Tread Right’ review reveals that travellers are seeking a “meaningful holiday experience” with the guidance of a knowledgeable travel agent.

And Guihan says that agents who know about the environmental credentials of TTC and its 41 brands – affecting issues such as the climate crisis, food waste and wildlife – have a “massive opportunity” to help their clients make sustainable choices.

She says the onus is on operators such as TTC to set measurable targets for their sustainable initiatives – and be transparent on “successes and shortcomings”.

“It should be easy for agents to find this information and have a roster of tour operators and hotels that are setting targets and reporting progress,” she says.

“Not every guest wants to hear about the climate challenge but they do want to know that companies have a climate action plan and are investing in a climate solution.

“We need to let travel agents know what we are doing.”

She highlights how the TTC family of brands covers a wide range of demographics – from the youth operator Contiki to the likes of Insight Vacations and Red Carnation hotels – and holiday styles, such as family, solo and multigenerational.

“We can support the guest wherever they are along their journey,” she says.

But it’s not just up to TTC brands to promote green initiatives.

“I feel it is a shared responsibility; there is a cooperation between competitors,” she adds.

“I speak regularly with my peers and I sit on Abta’s committee on sustainable tourism, representing The Travel Corporation.”

One of the targets set in 2020 was to have half of TTC’s itineraries offering a Make Travel Matters experience by 2025 – and already the group has passed that, reaching 51%.

The Make Travel Matter experiences reflect the UN global sustainable development goals – a set of 17 commitments to tackle poverty, inequality and climate change.

The experiences offer clients the chance to meet a wide range of people from different cultures, such as moccasin makers in Canada and weavers’ projects in Peru and Laos.

“Our product and experiences team can answer agents’ questions about how these experiences advance our goals,” she says.

One of the experiences features Marta Cucchia, a fourth-generation weaver in Perugia, Italy.

“Marta is wonderful – she is a firecracker. And you know you are supporting the conservation of that heritage,” adds Guihan.

More: Interview: ‘Business, not government, must lead on sustainable tourism’

The Travel Corporation sets out 11 sustainable travel goals

And while flying does create a carbon footprint, she suggests travelling less but staying longer in destinations, as well as supporting companies that have climate action plans.

“Destinations are reliant on tourism – it drives employment, conservation and diversity,” she says, pointing to a recent TTC partnership with The Travel Foundation and VisitScotland on a pilot project to tackle emissions in tourism.

TTC is developing its net-zero targets, which will be shared later in 2022, and carbon-neutral trips were announced in January by four brands including Contiki.

She admits Covid-19 “put a spanner in the works” when it comes to tackling single-use plastics but TTC brands have cut plastic where possible by using fabric masks and implementing electrostatic cleaning.

While the scale of environmental problems can be daunting, Guihan comments: “We all struggle with it – but do not lose sight of what’s positive in the long term; it is not doing us any good.

“People are travelling; the greatest education for children is to travel.

“Covid did nobody any favours…but there is growing awareness among agents [about sustainability] and a massive opportunity.

“The consumer might not be asking questions yet, they may still be figuring it out, so you need to offer choices; it is a strong position for an agent.”

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