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    EXO Travel is a Destination Management company (DMC) based in Asia and creating tailor made tours for tour operators and travel agents worldwide. As being one of the first DMC based in Asia to be awarded the Travelife certification in 2016, over the years, EXO Travel has made serious investments and commitments in developing sustainable tourism through driving responsible tourism and contributing to the local community in its markets. With a methodical vision and strategy, EXO Travel has rolled out many programs to reduce the impact on the environment and brought many meaningful projects to the community, becoming one of the successful pioneer DMCs in sustainable tourism development in Asia.

     

    Destination Review had a talk with Mrs. Alexandra Michat, Director of Sustainability & Manager of EXO Foundation, about EXO Travel’s efforts and strategies in responsible tourism development in Asia and Vietnam.

    For more than 25 years, responsible tourism and sustainability are part of our core values and we have seen a real shift in the industry, from a willingness to tackle the issue to a necessity, especially because the destinations we live in and we are promoting are greatly damaged and may no longer be. It is a very challenging time for our industry still growing very strongly and at the same time is threatened by the un-sustainable economic development of emerging countries. Our industry also realizes that tourism “can cook the meal or burn the house” that its negative effects are affecting local people and their way of living by for example increased pollution, constrained access to natural resources, overcrowding, destruction of natural habitat, etc. Thus, at EXO Travel we do not only commit to operating sustainably but we take action to protect the natural habitats of our destinations and give back to local communities.

    EXO Travel believes the privilege of living and operating within a marvellous natural and cultural heritage carries with it the responsibility of preserving it for generations to come and, ensuring our business is significantly beneficial for the destinations and the communities living there. Essentially, our idea of responsible tourism transcends conventional perceptions of travel, instead immersing clients in authentic experiences that mutually benefit locals and visitors. If our decision of conducting our company’s sustainably was initiated by a genuine ethical attitude with Respect as a basic principle, respect towards our hosts, nature and Asia’s fantastic cultural heritage we marvel at every day, it also makes perfect business sense; these are our main assets and it is not only our duty but our interest to nurture them.

    We truly believe responsible tourism is the future of travel, bringing people closer together and developing a style of travel that is conducive to making the world a better place. We implement the same strategy for all of our 9 destinations and have in-country sustainability teams and leaders. Thus, the implementation of the different activities we launch varies slightly. As a destination management company catering for travelers and tourism businesses, we can influence the choice of consumers, practices of suppliers and the development of destinations. This unique position enables us to contribute to sustainable development and the protection of the environmental and cultural resources of our destinations.

    In 2016, we have started to take a step further by engaging with Travelife certification for our main offices, it has helped us to define our core guidelines and policies. In the frame of this certification, we have also started to assess the level of sustainability of our supply chain and to promote sustainability to our clients with several very tangible initiatives such as offering refillable bottles & water stations to guests instead of plastic bottles, offsetting domestic & regional flights, distributing responsible travel advice booklets upon arrival, offering welcome gifts sourced from social enterprises etc. Vietnam is one of the first countries that achieved Travelife certified status for Excellence in Sustainability and we have a very active team. It is definitely a leader within our EXO Travel’s destinations!

    Besides, we train our teams to identify, design and promote responsible options to our clients, such as for the choices of hotels and excursions we offer. We’ve invested heavily in training especially tour guides and in disseminating codes of conducts “Tips for responsible travelers” to guests visiting Asia. Moreover, we donate $1 per traveler from our profits to our EXO Foundation and the funds are 100% used to support projects in Asia benefiting local people, the environment and the sustainable development of countries we operate in.

    The EXO Foundation is EXO Travel’s not-for-profit arm and its mission is to foster responsible tourism for a sustainable development of the travel industry throughout Asia. With this purpose, the EXO Foundation works in two main directions:

    In this regard, EXO Foundation’s website constitutes a key platform to promote carefully selected initiatives throughout Asia, which demonstrate a genuine commitment to the human and economic development of local communities, whether through human protection, health and sanitation, empowerment of the most vulnerable, the creation of economic activities, cultural revival or, environmental conservation.
    Donations raised through our website are collected by the Foundation and further distributed to the corresponding projects on an annual basis. Any costs associated to these operations are fully covered by the Foundation, thus guaranteeing that 100% of funds raised are directed towards selected projects.

    It’s hard to share a typical project since we’ve been actively involved in very different projects, however we’ve supported a lot of initiatives towards education, enabling young vulnerable people to learn skills and competencies especially in the field of tourism and hospitality, notably through a long term partnership with IECD throughout various countries. We’ve also been actively involved in Children protection with Child Safe network, organizations supporting families instead of institutional care. Over the last years, we have focused more intensively on waste management especially plastics and invested in large innovative projects such as Reform in Da Nang and with Ocean Kita in Indonesia.

    Over the years, we have set up rating & classification systems, enabling our clients to choose our responsible hotels (either eco-friendly and/or socially aware) and excursions (carbon friendly/ social impact/ local benefits/ cultural interaction/ make a difference). This classification is also giving very clear guidelines for our Product managers on how to create more responsible experiences. All the details of the rating for hotels and classification for our experiences are clearly explained on our website. For example, with ‘social impact’ experiences, we ensure that goods or services are purchased from social enterprises, while ‘make a difference’ experiences include automatically a donation to a local non-profit organization, for local benefits we ensure that at least 30% of the cost of the tour goes back to individuals or families, etc.

    We feel that sometimes challenges can be linked to the lack of data available and best practices applicable in Asia and especially in Vietnam, that is why we have co-founded IMPACT Vietnam. It is an informal network of like-minded companies engaged in sustainable tourism and sharing ideas, contacts and working together on common projects to drive positive change in Vietnam. We are also involved in other networks such as Tourism Declares Climate Emergency focusing on the topic of climate change which is essential in our work. We hope that sustainability and responsible tourism will become a popular topic among tourism and hospitality students to enable our industry to #buildbackbetter.

    The road to sustainable development is long and unpredictable. We would like to see responsible tourism organically blooming and a growth of projects avoiding tourism leakage and really benefiting our beautiful Asian destinations, but they are still very limited in numbers. There is a rise in the civil society and more numerous non-profit organizations engaged in the environmental crisis and helping to find the right solutions/innovations. However, we see a lot of regional and mass tourism growth in Asia and that is really shifting the demand of products and the industry itself. The only thing we know for sure is that things are changing really fast and better or worse can happen overnight, let’s hope that it will turn out to be the most sustainable solutions helping to preserve Asia!

    Thank you so much for your meaningful sharing!

    EXO Travel and its efforts to foster responsible tourism in Asia

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