Atas unveils sustainability initiatives at conference

The Association of Touring and Adventure Suppliers (Atas) announced two new sustainability travel initiatives at its annual conference near Warwick (November 1-2).

It has established a sustainability working group, led by Anthony Daniels, Hurtigurten’s UK and EMEA general manager, with representatives from 10 tour operator members.

And in December, it will launch a sustainability hub on its website with information about members’ responsible and sustainable tourism credentials, tips, guest blogs and how small changes can add up.

Claire Brighton, Atas account director, told delegates that the initiatives will help agents find out about environmental matters, local businesses, native cultures and cultural and social responsibility.

“We want to be leaders in sustainable travel but we also respect that all our members – suppliers, associates and agents – are at different points in their journey with this,” she said.

In time, the new working group will also include representatives from travel agencies and destinations to help spread the word about sustainability to all levels of the association.

Speakers on a panel about sustainability at the conference offered agents tips about how to learn about the issue and talk to clients about it.

Peter Shanks, Silversea’s UK and Ireland managing director, urged delegates to research destinations that are unspoilt or remote, such as Antarctica, so they are prepared to answer questions.

“It is good to have this conversation; it is more topical now than before,” he said.

“Your touring and adventure guests are more aware of the environment and want to have that conversation. It’s at the top of their list.”

Joanne Reeve, Intrepid Travel’s EMEA head of industry and tailormade sales, admitted some of the background information about sustainability in supply chains can sound “dull” but commented: “The reality is how it translates on the ground: locally owned hotel chains rather than chains based in the US or China; experiences that are local-owned, female-owned or indigenous-led. Customers come back to us for those experiences.”

She said it was a “hygiene factor” as customers expect operators to incorporate sustainability as a matter of course.

“If you are on dating website, you don’t necessarily say you want [the date] to brush their teeth, you expect it,” she commented.

“Your clients expect sustainability. It’s authenticity and the feelgood factor, knowing the business takes care of that.

“More and more people expect businesses to do that, especially younger people.”

Melissa Tilling, founder of the Charitable Travel agency – a non-profit social enterprise – surveyed 2,000 people earlier in the summer and found 66% were interested in booking sustainable holidays.

“It was higher than we thought it would be – and the fact we asked the question was probably why we got such a high figure,” she said.

“We need to be more proactive…we need to ask about sustainability.”

She agreed reading about sustainable policies can be “dry” but urged agents to sign up for newsletters from responsible tourism organisations so that information “drip feeds” into their inbox.

Claudia Miguel, Turismo de Portugal’s UK and Ireland director, told the conference how the destination embarked on a 10-year sustainability strategic plan in 2017, bringing together stakeholders such as policymakers, businesses and consumers.

The tourist board also trained 180,000 people during the pandemic about sustainability issues.