The heart of our business lies in ensuring that travel is a force for good in the world. We want travel to be good for you, good for local people in your destination, and good for the planet. For many of our Local Experts (the companies that create and manage your trips through TravelLocal) climate change and environmental destruction are all too real.
That’s why we were one of the signatories of the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism at its launch, which underpins this Climate Action Plan.
As a significant contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions the travel industry has a specific duty to act to mitigate the effects of climate change, and lower emissions. If we all act in concert – businesses, customers, our Local Experts – we can have an enormously positive impact on travel.
The Glasgow Declaration sets out 5 pathways: Measure, Decarbonise, Regenerate, Collaborate and Finance. Below we have set out our goals, our plan to reach them, and an overview of what we have done in each pathway and plan to do in the years ahead.
All our “Positive Impact” reporting is transparent. Where we have data to publish, we will post it here. Where we have been audited by an external third party, we will publish it here. If you have feedback about this Climate Action Plan then you can get in touch at any time at email@example.com.
The Glasgow Declaration commits us to reducing our carbon dioxide emissions by 50%, by 2030. In 2023 our goals are:
1. To finalise our carbon dioxide emissions baseline
2. To begin our own emissions reduction
3. To commission research on our own financial impact on our destinations
4. To continue working with Travelife (more detail below) to help our Local Experts decarbonise
We use the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GGP) definitions of emissions “scopes” (the World Economic Forum has a useful summary of the GGP scopes). According to the GGP there are 3 scopes, summarised below:
One important point to understand is how the Glasgow Declaration’s different emission “scopes” apply to our business. We are an intermediary – this means that the trips you buy through our platform are not counted towards TravelLocal’s carbon dioxide emissions (even Scope 3). In relation to Scope 3, our product is not the holidays themselves, but the ease in which you can plan and book one with a Local Expert through our platform. Our suppliers therefore are not our Local Experts but actually the digital services such as web hosting that we use to run TravelLocal. In practice decarbonisation is therefore more straightforward for us than for other travel brands.
However, we care about the emissions of your trips and still feel a responsibility towards helping reduce them. Rather than “wash our hands” of them, we instead prefer to think of them as being “Scope 4” – emissions that we can play an indirect but influential role in helping to reduce. In future years we want to work with our Local Experts to offer lower carbon options for your trips. It may also change the trip ideas we publish on our website, to show itineraries that contain fewer domestic flights, for example.
TravelLocal’s scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions are relatively simple to measure – we are a technology business with two small offices, and a small team of 40. Our team travels infrequently, and some members do so by train. Most of our meetings are conducted online. Understanding our own emissions is a necessary precursor to full decarbonisation.
Our key challenge for the future is in “scope 4” – the emissions of the trips bought from our Local Experts through our platform. These trips are tailor-made – e.g. the emissions profile of each trip is different and cannot be standardised. Creating a technical solution to help us understand accurately the entire “Scope 4” emissions profile will take time. We hope to address this in more detail in 2024.
As mentioned above the decarbonisation of TravelLocal itself does not include the emissions of customer trips. Once we have a baseline of our own emissions we can decarbonise in earnest – more details in due course on that. Our wish would be to completely decarbonise our own business in 2023. However our ability to do so will depend on that baseline and the specific measures we can take – the more complex, the longer we may need.
Before the COVID pandemic we mitigated our carbon dioxide emissions through a carbon credit purchasing mechanism, administered by a reputable UK-based provider. During 2022 we have chosen to review this commitment – our feeling is that the efforts to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions may not be doing what they claim. We are considering alternatives if we cannot find a satisfactory way to mitigate our emissions in future.
This Glasgow Declaration pathway is, in many ways, the most important. We need to come together as an industry to share best practices and help each other understand what steps we can take to have the maximum impact on the mitigation and reversal of climate change. We work already with our friends at Explore Worldwide and Much Better Adventures in the UK to improve our understanding of what we can and need to do.
We also, of course, collaborate daily with our Local Experts around the world. We plan to deepen that relationship and commitment to emissions reduction in 2023. We will continue to help our Local Experts in their sustainability efforts by cooperating with Travelife, which provides industry-specific training on environmental sustainability.
Our unique business model – where we act as an intermediary for (at the time of writing) more than 200 locally-owned travel companies in more than 80 countries around the world – directly benefits both travellers and the communities they visit, but is also a complex challenge for the measurement and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. All the trips bought through the TravelLocal platform are bespoke – unique to each customer, and by definition not repeatable or standardised. The task facing our Local Experts – of measuring and reducing emissions on every trip – is therefore huge, but we are keen to help them tackle it. It will take time, as all collaborations do, but the reward is that it will not be 1 travel company that makes the necessary changes but, as of today, more than 200.
Many of our Local Experts already do a great deal to make travel a force for good – some of them have been active in emissions reduction for many years, and make their own contributions to important conservation projects. We hope to further champion and promote their positive impact as well as our own.
During 2022 we created our first ever Positive Impact annual budget (£10,000). This is specifically for internal team projects, to ensure we have the assistance we need from external consultancy (to help us measure our emissions baseline for example) and for projects like creating these pages you are reading.
In 2023 we will commission a research project to understand more specifically the financial impact of the TravelLocal model. We know that by helping travellers book trips directly with local experts it benefits local businesses in each destination but we don’t know by how much – and would very much like to know. The better understanding of the financial impact we’re having, the more we can focus on and improve it.
For now, third party accreditation of some of our efforts is not possible, or is beyond our means. In lieu of that we intend instead to simply publish what we are doing, how we are doing it, why we are doing it, and what the outcomes are – all as transparently as we can. Our aim is that you can see at any time the full range of our activity on the Glasgow Declaration and elsewhere within the business, and that you have the confidence in us that “our palms are open”.
We are an intermediary, so our platform is used by our Local Experts and customers to plan and book trips, but we do not organise those trips ourselves. We did not choose our model in order to avoid the emissions definitions – our business has traded for nearly a decade before the Glasgow Declaration was created. However we understand that we are still indirectly involved, and can influence the situation for the better.
At some point we hope to be able to – it would require a significant change to our technology to achieve it.
We used to do so, but had a rethink after looking more closely at what emissions mitigation (we think “offsetting” is misleading) involves, and concluding that there are better ways to contribute to decarbonisation, not least simply encouraging our Local Experts to put fewer flights in the trips they create for you. We have not yet decided whether we will in future mitigate our emissions – we have the option to do so in future alongside any emissions reduction efforts.
We think the situation is more nuanced than that. Tourism is a globally significant industry – and also hard to automate. This means it has a high employment rate, particularly in countries with high poverty rates and low levels of education (due to cost). In many countries of the “Global South” the tourism sector is a critical part of the economy and the income generated supports businesses, services and families. All of that benefit gets lost if we simply cease to travel.
There is also the intangible benefit of learning about the wider world (and vice versa) and “broadening the mind”. Travel brings people together, and reflects our human instinct to discover, connect and understand each other. There is no better way to do this than by communicating directly with people on the ground, in your destination, to plan and deliver your trip.
We do think that flying needs to be reduced. There is no way to reduce emissions without flying less frequently, because of the proportion of all tourism carbon dioxide emissions derived from aviation (around 80%). However this is congruent with a different way of travelling which we strongly support – meaningful, “slow” travel, that takes in a country from the ground rather than the air, that stops to experience, understand and connect with local people and that meets the world at “eye level” – literally, and metaphorically.
Sustainability and ethics in travel is complex and there are often no easy solutions, but we are committed to learning and improving in collaboration with our local partners and you, our customers, to offer you the best possible travel experience.
If you have any topics or questions you’d like to raise, please get in touch: