Walking the Talk
Walking the Talk
Ever since our first beginnings Albatros Travel has been characterised by strong growth and development.
Growth is an expression of vitality and we find that being innovative and stimulating has enhanced our business expansion. Good businesses are dynamic and act rationally when confronted with the global challenges we face today. And today we face more global challenges than ever, be they in the form of epidemics, natural disasters, political crises, war, terrorism or ecological or climatic problems.
Although every strong business grows, growth should be the result of sensible decisions and dynamic operations. Growth for the sake of growth is not appealing if it comes at the expense of people or nature. Ever since Gro Harlem Brundtland defined the concept of sustainability in her famous 1987 report ‘Our Common Future’, the concept has found its way into nearly all areas of human activity. Sustainability, as it was defined back then, is all about ensuring our current needs are met without compromising future generations.
It can be difficult determining whether growth is sustainable or not. But that does not automatically mean that growth and sustainability are opposing concepts. Growth could mean the development of new foods or technologies that, in turn, could contribute to the security of future generations, for example.
But it is even harder for us to determine whether travel for leisure can ever be described as sustainable. Would it not simply be better for us all to stay at home?
There can be several answers to this question. The concept of sustainability, as defined by Brundtland, is a relatively narrow one based on natural, cultural and political values. Today, sustainability is about ethics in the broader sense: use nature wisely and treat people as you would have them treat you. We must preserve nature, of course, but we should not place too much of a focus on it if it ignores people’s rights or democratic freedoms. Travel, trade and the exchange of cultural values are human activities that can bring us all closer together. The transfer of wealth from industrialised to developing countries moreover, can be achieved without damaging natural resources if we take all things into consideration.
Tourists bring attitudes and behaviour with them, which can be interpreted as either culture or cultural imperialism depending on your point of view. In countries ruled by military dictatorships the leaders would rather we kept our ideas and opinions to ourselves, although the locals might not share this view. Indeed indigenous tribal people may not want us to visit them at all, and in this case we can choose to stay away if that is what they wish.
In fact, it’s not so much about whether we travel or not, but how we travel. Taking the situation with the climate as an example we don’t believe that staying at home will have much of an effect on solving the problems we face. Perhaps we would consume more if we stayed at home, which would take place without contributing much to development and growth. That’s why our slogan in Danish is ‘Rejse med Hjerte, Hjerne og Holdning’ which translates roughly as ‘Travel with Heart, Mind and Attitude’.
What this means in practice is that we must work together to find sustainable solutions that ensure there we still have fish in the sea, a life-sustaining atmosphere, democracy and harmony for our children and grandchildren.
Supporting the Penan people in Borneo
One of our long term projects is something totally unrelated to Africa. The Penan people of Borneo are traditional forest nomads in the Malaysian part of the island. They have long fought for the preservation of their habitat but their forests have been cut down with incredible speed and without a thought for anything other than profit, meaning that today much of the forest has already been destroyed.
In the late 1980s the Penan began a rebellion against the logging companies, blocking roads and stopping the machinery from cutting down the trees. We lent our support, along with the Rainforest group Nephentes, and thus began a long running project which has involved smuggling in journalists and television crews, anthropologists, medical assistance and providing ongoing financial support to buy food and medicine. Today, alas, the battle continues and the much of the forests have been lost to the timber companies and palm oil plantations. Thus we have had to change our strategy and we now build villages and houses for the displaced Penan, giving them the chance to stake a claim to the land on which they have always lived. The Malaysian government does not recognise the rights of tribal people unless they own permanent dwellings on the land and so we intend to continue supporting the house building project as long as is required of us.
Supporting the Penan has been an entirely philanthropic endeavour and has not been linked in any commercial way to any of Albatros’s business interests.
An ethical commitment
Although we may from time to time, provide significant financial contributions to relief efforts, such as was the case with the tsunami disaster in Asia and the recent famine in east Africa (2011), we do not consider this to be part of our CSR strategy – it is merely a humanitarian response to a disaster. Instead we prefer to work closely with victims and lend assistance when it is in our power to do so. Examples of this have included the rebuilding of a teahouse in Nepal that we often visit on our trips, and the emergency assistance to people in Burma, where we cancelled a river cruise and instead used the boat to deliver rice to people facing starvation.
We like to help where we can to make a real difference on the ground but we are also interested in contributing to long-term projects in which we can play an active part. Thus, for many years, we have been running a joint project with the Danish Red Cross whereby we donate money from our South Africa marathon to help support the South Africa Red Cross. When we participate in this kind of support work we prefer to incorporate it into the company’s long term operations rather than promoting it as a ‘one off’ marketing stunt.
Energy and Climate
In recent years there has been more attention paid to energy and the environment. Energy consumption is the travel industry’s Achilles heel because transportation is considered to be one of the major causes of CO2 release. At the same time, however, soaring oil prices have caused great technological change to occur in the various forms of transport, meaning that cars, planes, buses and ships are all becoming more efficient. We contribute to this continued development by always trying to choose the most efficient and environmentally friendly options, even though they may not be the cheapest. We support suppliers who knowingly work to promote solutions to the climate problem and have certified environmental qualifications to optimise our transport needs.
Furthermore we have opted to enter into environmental partnerships with organisations such as the Danish energy company Dong Energy, from which we draw knowledge and inspiration to give us a wider global perspective on energy solutions. We are also open to experimenting with other modes of transport, and have used trains on several occasions in preference to buses.
On several of our tours we have included information and a discussion about the climate situation. We bring travel managers, experts, journalists and politicians on these trips, especially the ones that take place in the Arctic.
There are environmentally responsible options in all areas of the tourism industry: airlines, bus companies, hotels and lodges. Often the environmental claims of these companies are certified, and so it is easy to make the right choice, but unfortunately we often encounter instances where the claims do not seem to be justified. That is why our tour managers and producers constantly monitor and report on conditions and report back in a standardised way as part their everyday workflow so that we can always tilt our business towards those who consider the environment rather than those who don’t. There are also, unfortunately, numerous examples of ‘environmental consideration’ being used as an excuse for poor service. We emphasise that we do not believe this should ever be the case: environmental efforts go hand in hand with quality. It can be done.
Saying that, environmental factors are not always paramount in our eyes if they compromise other social, cultural and political considerations, as we explain below.
Cultural and social engagement
When we talk about the ethical dimension of travel we are talking first and foremost about treating people with equality and respect. This applies to both the people we work with and the people in other parts of the world whose land, neighbourhood and homes we are visiting. There is both an economic dimension – i.e. ‘fair trade’ – and a cultural aspect that must be considered.
Trade must be fair and there must be a real correlation between price and performance. It may seem difficult to implement in practice, but suppliers must vouch that they respect the country’s labour laws with special emphasis on minimum wages, working hours and union participation. For our part, Albatros will not work against any laws or take part in bribery or other unwholesome practices that are contrary to the ‘UN Code of Conduct’, to which we are signed up.
Given that we are in the travel business, the meeting of cultures is something that is our responsibility. As a result of our operations there will, inevitably, be a meeting of different cultures. Today, our tours are run by our own well-trained guides who have specialist knowledge about local cultures and conditions. This helps to ensure that cultural encounters take place in the spirit that we want them to take place in i.e. an equitable one.
What’s more, you will not see our company logo used in questionable associations with sponsorship deals or anything else. In fact we only enter into partnerships when the aim of doing so is in accordance with our own ethical aims.
Our staff, producers and tour guides have great experience and expertise in many of the countries in which we work. We usually speak the local language and this experience and knowledge enables us to better meet our principles. Of course, we must never lose sight of our primary business of organising and selling travel experiences, although we find that there are many opportunities for combining our commercial interests with our ethical considerations. We see in fact no contradiction between the two goals.
At Albatros we will continue to develop new concepts in sustainable tourism in order to be able to offer our customers more options for reducing their ecological footprint and engaging in community projects. One new concept that we are developing in cooperation with aid agencies would allow customers the opportunity to take part in community and aid projects. In this way we could conduct tours to various projects and at the same time make ourselves available to ‘chip in’ with help as required.
We also offer both individual travellers and organisations the chance to make financial contributions to local projects, the value of which we have assessed in order that any donated money has the intended effect. All work Albatros does in this area will always be funded by the company and never by an external source.
Albatros continues to strive for an objective and continuing accounting and disclosure of all our CSR activities. If we choose to use tour participants or others’ financial support for specific projects, our efforts will at all times be supervised by the responsible authorities and fully open to scrutiny by a chartered accountant.