How Tour Operators Can Become More Sustainable | Orioly

How Tour Operators Can Become More Sustainable

Sustainability has been the center of discussions since climate change has turned into a global concern. But when we talk about sustainable tourism, the environment is just one aspect of this subject.

Sustainable practices within the travel industry drive economic growth and benefit the local community of a destination. This is something that more and more travelers are getting aware of.

Conscious travelers are not only worried about their carbon footprint, they are also looking to connect with a new culture, food, and people when traveling.

This is also known as slow travel.

The fact is, like any other economic activity, tourism has also a negative impact. Reducing it requires a joint effort between the public and private sectors.

In this article, we will point how tour operators can become more sustainable in this year that starts.

Why invest in sustainable practices?

The concern on how our actions impact the world grows year over year. As of March 2021, 83% of travelers worldwide believe that sustainable travel is important.

But before we continue, do you know what is Responsible Travel?

According to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council

“Responsible Travel refers to the behavior of individual travelers aspiring to make choices according to sustainable tourism practices. The behaviors usually align with minimizing the negative impacts and maximizing positive ones when one visits a tourism destination.”

young curly woman traveller in plaid t shirt sitti

Most people want to make the right choice, the issue is that 37% of them don’t know how to make their travel more sustainable.

The demand is out there, now it’s up to tour operators, accommodations, restaurants and other industry stakeholders to develop and offer sustainable travel products for this audience.

Environmental impact

Growing demand for sustainability is definitely a change driver, but should not be the only reason for tour operators to become more sustainable.

Travel has a high environmental impact. We are talking about high carbon emissions, waste production, resource consumption and human interference in nature.

It is forecast that CO2 emissions from tourism-related transport will grow to represent 5.3% of all man-made emissions worldwide in 2030.

Regarding solid waste, it’s expected that international tourists will generate 12 million tons of it by 2050.

Actively working to minimize the negative impacts of this activity should be a priority of all in this industry. That’s why we listed some actions tour operators can take to become more sustainable.

Reduce your carbon footprint

Do you know the size of your company’s carbon footprint? Measuring it is the first step to becoming carbon neutral. Check out this carbon measurement blueprint created by Intrepid Travel especially for tour operators.

Once you know your carbon footprint, the next step is setting goals to reduce it gradually.

Signatories of the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism, launched during COP26, committed to halving carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050. Signing this pledge could be an extra incentive to cut your company’s emissions.

local apples with carbon label

Here are some actions you can take in order to cut your CO2 emissions:

  • Using eco-friendly transportation in your tours: Replace vehicles moved by fossil fuels for electric vehicles, or use public transport during a tour.
  • Reducing the waste produced during your tours: You can offer bottles of water as an addon instead of giving them for free during a tour, or, ask guests to bring their own reusable water recipients.
  • Investing in tree planting projects: To compensate for your carbon emissions you can partner with a tree-planting project or create your own.
  • Acquiring reusable materials for your office: Replace paper and sheets with online applications.
  • Offering carbon-free travel experiences: Experiences such as biking, hiking and sailing are carbon-free, you can add them to your portfolio or develop your own sustainable experience.

Intrepid Travel is a tour operator that has been carbon-neutral since 2010.

They have managed to reach this status by supporting initiatives committed to restoring and protecting carbon ecosystems and also by constantly measuring, reducing and offsetting their CO2 emissions.

Partner with businesses that value sustainability

In your journey towards sustainability, it’s important to have partners that share the same mindset as you. It’s no use promoting sustainable practices if, for example, you bring your guests to lunch at a restaurant not committed to minimizing food waste.

Why not create a local association of environmentally conscious businesses?

The members could promote each other services, create new partnerships and improve their sustainable practices.

As a tour operator, you can support projects that preserve the environment, or entities that promote local development. You can even give your guests the option to make a donation during the booking process.

Tip: If you are using Orioly as your online booking solution, you can do that through the addon feature.

group of volunteers planting tree in park

Lapa Rios Lodge, an accommodation provider and tour operator in Costa Rica, promotes an annual fundraising race to support different charitable projects at their location. The founds have helped so far equip local schools, support the local Red Cross and health clinic, and create a sports area for teenagers.

Giving back to the destination that has embraced your business is also a way of being sustainable.

Give preference to everything that is local

Surprisingly, of all money a tourist spends on a holiday, only a small amount ends up in the pockets of the locals. This is called tourism leakage and has a negative impact on the development of the local economy.

According to the UN’s Ocean Atlas:

“On average, of each $100 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist from a developed country, only around $5 actually stays in a developing-country destination’s economy.”

One reason is that tourists generate demand for certain products that the local economy cannot meet. Another reason is that international organizations export their profits back to their home country.

Tour operators can fight back tourism leakage by:

  • Hiring local workers: Giving a job to a local helps the money reach the right people. Furthermore, locals are a great addition to your team. They know the destination and its history better than anyone.
  • Buying from local suppliers: This not only helps the money stay inside the location but also reduces your carbon footprint. Products produced locally travel short distances, which generates less amount of CO2.
  • Promoting local business: Always recommend local accommodations and restaurants to your guests. The money spent on resorts and international restaurant chains usually leaves the destination and the country.
  • Creating itineraries containing less visited areas: Prioritizing only popular attractions and sights in your itineraries is more likely to restrict the money to those areas. When you bring your guests to a nearby village or a remote area, you are stimulating the economy of those places.
smiling caucasian female-hr-manager handshake hire

OneSeed Expeditions’ suppliers are all independently-owned businesses located within the community where their service is being rendered. Also, 3.5% of their revenue is dispersed through a profit-sharing program among all local guides.

Educate your customers on sustainability

The experience industry works as a link between the tourists, community and environment. A tour is a great opportunity to teach outsiders how to preserve the local culture and nature of the destination they are visiting.

If you are a safari operator, you should discourage your guests to interact with any wild animal. Instead, teach them how to preserve the wildlife while observing it from afar.

Creating an educational tour is also a good idea to increase the environmental awareness of travelers.

group of diverse kids learning environment at farm

Lapa Rios Lodge designed a tour called Twigs, Pigs & Garbage Tour. This experience shows their guests how they keep their operations green by using biogas-producing piglets.

You can also teach sustainability to your guests before they arrive at your destination.

On your website, add a page with relevant information on responsible travel and sustainable tourism. You can also send this information by email together with the booking confirmation.


Travelers are getting conscious about their travel decisions and how they impact the environment. Now, it’s up to tour operators to give them responsible options to book and contribute to a more sustainable future in travel.

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