(July 28, 2015) An interview with Khiri Travel’s Graham Read about their recent Travel Life certification and sustainability practices.
The Southeast Asia based destination management company and GSTC member Khiri Travel , recently achieved Travel Life Certification for their Tour Operations in Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. Khiri group’s new certification is a major advancement for creating recognition of Southeast Asia as a region for sustainable tour operators.
What do you do in your offices and the field that help support sustainability?
Offices: We aim to make our offices inspiring, healthy and safe work environments. In our offices, for example,
- we measure our energy use and look for ways to reduce it (e.g. simple things like using LED lighting and having a sensor in restrooms)
- we share best practices and raise awareness for social and environmental concerns and encourage staff to engage with these problems (e.g. via our charity arm Khiri Reach).
- we are working towards reducing waste and managing it in a responsible way (e.g. we use fabric bags and food containers when ordering lunch and separate our waste)
- we use local products where we can buy in bulk to reduce packaging
- we value our employees and are committed to a clear policy that safeguards and advances their well being (e.g. company insurance)
Field: Our business is providing amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences for our guests. This happens throughout eight countries, from remote mountain areas, to large cities, national parks and at tourist attractions.
- prefers to use locally owned hotels, lodges, restaurants, handicraft outlets, and arts and culture centers.
- is consistently looking for creative ways to integrate social enterprises into our programs (e.g. the Friends restaurants in Cambodian and Laos or the buying lacquer ware from the workshop in Myanmar directly, we advise our agents/travelers of these in overviews for responsible shopping and restaurant options in each country).
- takes responsibility for its supply chain, by educating and supporting suppliers to greater sustainability (e.g. via the glass water bottles project).
- is regularly assessing its supply chain to ensure that activities offered do not have adverse effects on the environment or society, especially sensitive activities that may bring travelers into contact with animals, children or remote communities.
In addition, Khiri employs and trains local guides and educates them on issues relating to Responsible Tourism. We aim not only to provide outstanding service but also to educate travelers, so they are able to make more informed decisions during their stay.
Can you tell us more about Khiri Reach?
Khiri Reach aims to help the disadvantaged in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, The Maldives, Indonesia and Cambodia improve their living conditions in a sustainable way.
We have dedicated, on-going people and planet projects in each country – managed by our passionate Khiri Ambassadors. We leverage our business network throughout the region to link donors and volunteers with NGOs and community service projects.
How we do it:
- we get involved in local communities
- we coordinate with local NGOs and projects
- we cover overhead
- we identify bona fide projects that need funding
- we advise donors and volunteers.
100% of the donations from travelers and other stakeholders go to beneficiary projects. Khiri covers all overhead.
Why did you choose to pursue the Travel Life certification?
Khiri has pursued a variety of sustainability initiatives in the past but it was felt that a more structured approach was needed. After exploring various options it was decided that the Travelife certification scheme was the most suitable choice. One of the strengths of the Travelife sustainability system is that it covers a tourism company’s supply chain: transportation, accommodation, excursions and guides. It is in these areas that a travel company’s activities will arguably have the most significant impacts. Other sustainability certification programs that do not conduct an on-site audit are considered less rigorous and therefore not as effective as Travelife. Khiri Travel will realize some cost savings for reducing water and energy use, but not nearly as much as say, hotels. However, for DMCs like Khiri Travel, pursuing sustainability certification is not really about cost savings. It is becoming clear that there is a growing pressure on international tour operators from western source markets to take into account the practices of their suppliers and how these affect the destination being visited. Companies that take sustainability seriously and pursue the rigorous Travelife certification process will score higher on customer satisfaction, staff motivation and business efficiency. As a B2B travel company with many agents in Western Europe and the U.S., certification will give Khiri Travel a competitive advantage over other DMCs in Asia.
How does certification help to build Khiri’s sustainability plan and vision?
Khiri Travel’s mission statement is below:
“It is our mission to grow Khiri Travel to be the leading brand in quality tourism in Asia – and champion of the triple-bottom line: people, planet, profit.”
The Travelife certification scheme provides a clear Triple-bottom line framework for measuring and reporting performance against economic, social and environmental indicators. This involves being clear about the company’s purpose. Therefore the structure of Travelife fits neatly with the company’s mission statement.
Do you have any upcoming sustainability projects?
Yes, we currently are certified in 3 of our 8 countries and are working towards certification for all our offices in the region. The countries that we aim to get ready in the overall field of sustainability in the coming months are Laos, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Later in 2016, Sri Lanka and Indonesia will hopefully be added.
Sustainability is an ongoing and continuous process. Khiri Travel is working with suppliers to create a better industry, e.g. via our Glass Water bottles list to reduce the use of plastic waste. Via educating our agents and travelers on how to responsibly interact with animals while visiting Southeast Asia, and for example via our continuous support for Operation Smile.
How do you plan to apply your newly achieved certification in the future?
Obviously certification will be used as part of our marketing strategy but also Khiri needs to continually improve on its sustainability performance. A company must satisfy all the mandatory criteria to achieve the ‘Certified’ level. Companies are graded as either compliant or non-compliant. There is a bit of flexibility with this verdict as some companies may be doing well in some areas but need to improve in others. Khiri is performing very well but there is still room for improvement. Therefore, the Travelife framework will be used for future improvement and guidance for other Khiri countries that are just beginning the process.