The Good Tourism Institute – Making Travel Companies Sustainable

When researching sustainable tourism topics, I kept running into the Good Tourism Institute, a platform for helping tour operators and travel companies integrate sustainability into their operations. Founder Anne de Jong was also a name being referred to me, as a Netherlands-based sustainability expert with a passionate zeal for change. One Planet Journey caught up with Anne to have a chat about the story behind the Institute and her view on sustainable tourism and profitability.

Profile picture of Anne de Jong, Good Tourism Institute.

Anne de Jong, Good Tourism Institute. All pictures in article courtesy of Good Tourism Institute

The Institute has recently released an ebook on sustainability and tour operators. In addition they have launched a masterclass to speed up uptake within the industry. Having read the ebook, I’m certain they are on the right track. You can download it here.

Let’s begin with the name, Good Tourism. Is this synonymous with sustainable tourism, or do you make a distinction?

Great question! After careful consideration, we decided on the term “good tourism” as our preferred choice. We believe it’s easy to understand and avoids the vagueness around the often-overused concept of sustainability. In my experience working with various tour operators, I noticed that each of them has their own interpretation of what it means to be sustainable.

As a result, new buzzwords emerge in regular fashion, making it challenging to establish a solid foundation for sustainable tourism. Our aim was to develop a framework that simplifies the concept and also establishes a connection between sustainable tourism and successful entrepreneurship. We recognise that being a responsible, thriving business is crucial for creating a positive impact. Our focus is on doing good for both people and the planet, all while providing incredible travel experiences for travellers.

What made you start the Institute?

I worked as a sustainability certification consultant since graduation, and I have collaborated with over a hundred tour operators in recent years. While working with these businesses, one question came up quite a lot: “What’s in it for me when I implement sustainable practices?”

In my opinion, sustainability is a vital component of any tour operator’s subsequent success. However, I’m also a firm believer in profitability within the tourism sector. After all, it’s a business, and higher profits can lead to a greater positive impact. I acknowledge that some businesses require more than a simple “it’s good for the future” explanation.

To address this, I partnered with Rik, an online marketing expert, to establish the Good Tourism Institute as a platform for teaching tour operators how to be both sustainable and successful. Our focus extends beyond knowledge on sustainability; we emphasise the virtue of profitability, employee satisfaction, customer loyalty, effective communication to build strong relationships, responsible travel experiences, and maximising online visibility and branding.

Anne de Jong speaking in front of crowd in Helsinki

Anne de Jong delivers speech on Sustainable Marketing in Helsinki

By following our guidance, operators not only learn to become more sustainable but also understand the value of doing good for people, planet, and profit. We support them in transforming this motivation into attractive experiences tailored to the target group. Through our approach, they can rise above the “just like any other tour operator” feeling and stand out from the competition.

What are the top factors that make sustainable travel companies and tour operators successful?

The framework we have developed forms the foundation of our online course, comprising 10 key steps for achieving sustainable travel success. By adhering to our model, tour operators can enhance their overall standing in the industry.

To achieve progress an operator has to:

  • Know what they stand for, and for whom

  • Implement all principles of good tourism

  • Develop attractive and responsible travel experiences

  • Attract satisfied and loyal customers, as well as engaged employees

  • Build strong relationships with their supply-chain

  • Claim expert status through valuable content

  • Position themselves to differentiate from competitors

It is important to note that sustainability is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It’s dynamic and influenced by numerous external factors. There is no universal template applicable to any company. Instead, sustainable practices have to align with the vision, values, and goals of the brand, considering their niche, travel offerings, and target audience. By doing so, tour operators ensure they integrate sustainability in a manner that is suitable and impactful for the business.

Ebook excerpt from Good Tourism Institute

Strategy for tour operators – excerpt from Good Tourism Institute’s ebook

From year to year, how much, if any, increase in demand and supply do you see for sustainable travel and tourism?

Answering this question is challenging. When looking at the comprehensive studies conducted by Booking.com and Expedia, it is clear there is a desire to engage in sustainable travel, with 4 out of 5 global travellers confirming its importance. Based on my experience working with tour operators, I have observed this growing interest first hand.

However, despite this expressed enthusiasm, there remains a significant gap between what travellers say and actions taken when booking. We refer to this as the sustainability say-do gap. Factors such as price, availability, and the overall travel experience trumps sustainability considerations.

So, beyond a willingness to opt for sustainable travel, there are still too many roadblocks holding travellers back from following through. Fortunately, there are various measures a tour operator can take to address these challenges. In our perspective, they must assume responsibility and proactively integrate good tourism practices throughout their offerings to make sustainable options more accessible and convenient for travellers.

What can travellers do to put pressure on tour operators in order to faster accelerate market growth?

Book sustainable trips and demonstrate interest by asking questions and sharing experiences. It is essential to showcase visible enthusiasm for sustainable tourism and demand change.

Several tour operators wait for traveller demand before adapting any business practices. While we encourage them to take responsibility and lead the way, some hesitate until tourists express a genuine need.

You recently published an ebook, Roadmap to Sustainable Travel Success. Who is the target audience?

The Good Tourism Institute primarily targets tour operators, destination management companies (DMCs), travel agents, and (day) activity providers. Our latest ebook offers valuable insights into six proven paths that help create best-selling sustainable travel experiences. These paths are carefully designed to enhance the overall quality of travelling while providing unique and sustainable experiences for both travellers and local communities.

Anne de Jong from Good Tourism Institute holding a book on sustainable travel.

The ebook – Roadmap to sustainable travel success

The ebook entails the theory, background information and research to help implement these paths in an effective manner. Moreover, it aims to demonstrate to tour operators that incorporating sustainability adds significant value and contributes to long-term business success. In line with this, we are excited to announce the launch of our first online masterclass “Profit from Positive Impact.” It provides practical guidance, tips and insights into using sustainability for generating positive outcomes.

You’re based in the Netherlands. Can you name some constructive steps taken in your country to transition towards sustainable tourism?

I appreciate the approach of the Dutch tour operator associations, ANVR, as they developed very specific guidelines and targets that members must adhere to.

An example is the comprehensive animal welfare policy to safeguard captive wildlife in the tourism sector. This bold stand, which includes prohibiting certain activities, symbolises the necessity for change within the tourism industry.

It is noteworthy to see tour operator associations taking a proactive role in promoting sustainability and setting clear expectations for members. Such initiatives contribute to the transformation towards more ethical and responsible practices.

If you look ahead, when do you expect the majority of travel offers on option to be sustainable?

Unfortunately, predicting the future is a major task and the path towards sustainability comes with its share of challenges. While I’m a strong believer in good tourism as the only way forward, not everyone shares the same perspective. Too many tour operators and travellers still prioritise the “best” travel experience, often neglecting the potential negative impact on local communities and the environment.

At the Good Tourism Institute, our mission is to educate businesses about the importance of combining responsible practices with attractive and enjoyable experiences for long-term success. It is about creating positive change in the world while providing travellers with unforgettable and cherished memories.

Travellers will make the right decisions when tour operators actively embrace their responsibility and have sustainability as the default option, prioritising the genuine wellbeing of people and the planet while offering travel on these core values. Once the foundation is established, and sustainability lies at the heart of operations, tour operators can inspire travellers to choose responsible options without compromising on the quality of travel.

Last, but not least, what is your favourite destination and fondest travel memory?

One of my favourite destinations is Uganda, and it holds a special place in my heart. The country offers a remarkable diversity that truly has it all. From the majestic presence of the Big 5 to the expansive steppes, lush coffee plantations, numerous lakes, rich cultural heritage, and warm hospitality of the locals, Uganda captivates every traveller.

However, my most cherished travel memory was the opportunity to encounter the mountain gorillas. Trekking up the mountains in Mgahinga National Park to witness these magnificent creatures up close in their natural habitat was an awe-inspiring experience.

Anne de Jong in Uganda encountering mountain gorillas in the wild.

Mountain gorilla encounter in Uganda

The rangers who accompanied us left a lasting impression of their own. Their passion and dedication were sincerely inspirational. Not only did they share knowledge of the gorillas’ lives and behaviour, but they also emphasised the broader impact of our trek. For example how it supported conservation efforts of the park and contributed to the direct wellbeing of local communities. This reinforced the value of sustainable tourism, where preservation of nature goes hand in hand with supporting locals and having an amazing time.

Wow, I can only say I concur. One of my top travel moments also centres around mountain gorillas, when I trekked through jungles on the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda and saw a gorilla family of 20, including the very imposing alpha male. Anne, thank you for your insights into the world of sustainable travel companies and tour operators. Actors like the Good Tourism Institute constitute the vanguard of the positive forces that aim to grow the sustainable tourism market. Best of luck with your mission. To support and keep up to date with the Institute follow them on YouTube, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Have you used a tour operator with sustainable offerings? How did it differ from previous experiences? Tell us in the comment section! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and benefit from travel tips, interviews, and inspirational examples of sustainable travel and tourism.

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