Traveling has been enormously affected by the pandemic, but travel in general, and long-haul travel in particular, was already criticised long before that because of the flying involved and the negative environmental impact that causes. However, as always, we can not only focus on one type of negative impact (environmental), nor should we limit to measure only one type of positive impact (economic).
This article was originally published before the pandemic and focuses on how RESPONS, pre-pandemic, has been avoiding negative impacts and fostering (and celebrating) positive impacts of its trips. The pandemic has made it even more visible how important a sustainable and responsible form of tourism is for an equal development of countries.
Is RESPONSible Travel Peru a sustainable tour operator?
First, success (and/or development) is often assessed based solely on the economy. And it is clear that this is a relatively easy indicator to see, but it does not necessarily reflect what is happening in the background, because after all: do we know where the money goes in the end?
Thus, relying on a single indicator is a limited view of reality. After all, the economy is about people, not money.
And at RESPONS, beyond worrying about the economy, we get involved in the other aspects of development that others forget, often encompassing issues that do not concern tourism, and on which there is no obligation, but our voluntary commitment.
But indeed, we also ask ourselves: are we sustainable? This is a term that should already be tacit and intrinsic to all economic activity, however it is necessary to make it more understandable and speak of well-being: of people; of the society; of nature. So:
To obtain environmental sustainability, we seek…
- To minimize the environmental impact of a trip through smart planning. With logical routes, connected, and using the most energy-efficient means of transportation available.
- To mitigate our carbon footprint. Mainly through the contribution to forest conservation in the Las Piedras river basin at the concession of the State granted to Arbio.
- To fight against plastic pollution. Through much activism, as Ambassadors for water refill stations; to do everything within our power to eliminate the use of plastic from our operations and as donors of bibliographic tools to combat the use of plastic in hotels. Of course, we banned plastic bottles from our offices! After all, there is no better way to lead than by example.
- To preserve biodiversity. Directly through donations to the NGO Amazon Shelter, and indirectly through the sale of tickets for natural parks and work with lodges and communities that protect the environment.
Towards social sustainability, we strive:
- To make donations to educational and psychological counseling institutions.
- To work with social enterprises and associations that promote decent work, women’s independence and opportunities for low-income youth.
- These institutions, companies and associations are detailed in the section “Specifically, what do we do?”, further down.
For cultural sustainability, we promote:
- Local identity and the preservation of customs. It is our main goal, by offering real and authentic experiences with the local population.
- Visits to archaeological sites, museums and the use of great guides that will enliven Peru’s rich history and add value to its impressive legacy. And through the entrance fees, support direct conservation work.
To reach economic sustainability, we work:
- To honor fair-trade with the communities. We do not take advantage of our role as intermediary and we assume with great responsibility the fact of being it.
- To acquire local products and services from small companies, while helping to insert them on the tourism market in one way or another.
- To pay fair wages to all the people involved in our services.
How do we measure our impact?
By generating Sustainability Reports for each trip sold, where the positive scope of the activities and services contracted by the passenger are evaluated. Some negative impacts create negative points.
Collaborations for more sustainability
Furthermore… We keep our minds open and have a holistic mindset.
Forming partnerships with as many organizations or companies as we can, because in the diversity resides the strength to achieve more and better goals.
Advising and supervising our service providers to meet our standards. In short, knowing personally all the products we sell and accompanying our providers in our quest for continuous improvement.
Specifically, what do we do?
Stimulate longer trips
Our Custom Itinerary department develops long-term trips (we do not accept trips shorter than 6 days and we promote Slow Travel), which guarantees genuine contact with people and destinations. We have the “power” to influence traveler’s decisions towards more meaningful journeys. Travel less often, but longer when you go.
We believe that short trips to Peru only touch the surface and leave less positive impacts in relation to the negative impact of the trip to the country.
In 2019, our average amount of travel days per itinerary was 18.5 days and it has been increasing year by year.
Since 2021, we also offer short excursions through our booking platform, with the aim to get more independent travelers to the communities and other sustainable tourism services. Still, in our communication we recommend the longest possible visits to Peru as a destination.
Sustainability Report for each sold trip
For each trip sold, we generate a Sustainability Report (a tool created by ourselves), and the data obtained is analyzed to learn more about our impact on communities, natural parks, small-scale accommodation, and other providers, as well as to understand the behavior of our travelers.
Thanks to this, every year we can measure our improvements and influence our own behaviour. For example:
- Of all the nights that our travelers slept in Peru in 2019, 15% were spent in homestays and 44% in other small-scale accommodation (with some sustainable strategies). So they supported, to a good extent, local families and the local economy.
- Domestic flights cause negative points, so to keep their overall score high, our travel designers organize their itineraries in such a way that only a minimum number of flights are needed.
We support small and independent businesses
Social companies have our preference in terms of reservations and count on us to improve and become more competitive.
We always seek to agree with our suppliers on the most convenient prices for all parties. We advise families and communities so that their finances are successful (showing the realities of the market and helping them to monetize correctly).
We always suggest cultural exchange through gifts brought from the travelers’ place of origin; and useful donations, for the benefit of host families or communities.
We directly buy farm products from our rural suppliers and promote the purchase of these by third parties.
Responsible eating and drinking whilst traveling in Peru
At each destination we provide our customers with a list of recommended restaurants with the most sustainable known options.
Snacks or “box lunches” for our passengers should always be healthy, local and packed in eco-friendly containers.
We invite our passengers to report activities where unnecessary use of plastic is made, or places where there is contamination by it. And at the same time to accept the challenge of traveling free of plastic using a “zero-waste” kit.
We take actions to completely eliminate the need for disposable plastic bottles, generating affordable or free water sources.
RESPONS’ donations in 2019
We donate annually to organizations like: Amazon Shelter, Abrazos Association, Oye Lena, Casa Mantay, Wees Kind Foundation, HoPe Foundation. Also to primary schools (Mayrasco and Shipetiari) and communities (Coporaque). Our donations fund, which is enlarged with each day of travel per passenger, is distributed every year according to the vote of our employees, according to their favorite socio-environmental causes. In 2019, nearly $ 9,000 was distributed in donations to 10 different organizations.
On an environmental level, we annualy sponsor several hectares of standing Amazon forest to be protected (six hectares in 2019).
RESPONS’ involvement to improve sustainability throughout the sector
We have begun to facilitate sustainability workshops (ten in 2019), and through monthly newsletters (since December 2019) we share relevant information and suggest easily executable strategies to our suppliers.
We have signed the International Tourism Plastic Pledge and donated the Travel Without Plastic “Let´s reduce single-use toolkit” to the Niños (social) hotel, with which we make the most of our reservations. We are also one of their two largest clients.
Leading with example: our internal improvements
We have taken the first steps to certify our internal processes. And in 2020 we will continue the process to achieve it effectively.
The 22 employees that currently make up RESPONS obtained personal sustainability certificates (Sustainability Managers) as part of our continuous improvement and training strategy.
We give our workers more benefits than the law requires, and we try to involve them as much as possible in the company’s philosophy and strategy.
Our communication is clear and direct with all parties involved, regarding our way of working and philosophy.
We align ourselves with and get inspiration from various United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (iconography presented in the beginning of this article).
People, Planet, Peru
At RESPONS we see everything as a whole and we always relate four fundamental terms to achieve well-being: Planet, People, Peru and Experiences.
The Planet, because it needs us more than ever, given that our achievements will depend on maintaining the balance that is necessary, so that all living beings and all natural processes remain in harmony.
People, because they are our main asset. As a company we care about the well-being of the personnel who work in the offices, and all the people who intervene in the operations necessary to produce the travel experience we offer to our passengers. So RESPONS is families and peasant communities; drivers; guides; small hoteliers; cooks in small restaurants; even other partner agencies.
Peru, as it is our home, houses the most diverse cultures and species. A country that celebrates festivities every day and where the richness of ingredients and influences is evident in each meal. It allows us to enjoy the sea, desert, mountains and jungles within one territory.
The Experiences are our definition of a trip, which reaches its climax when in a slow and contemplative way it allows us to be aware of the three previous P’s. Providing closeness to people, connecting with nature and eating healthy, among many other things.
This post was first published in March 2020 and updated in November 2021. To read more about our sustainability philosophy and performance, check our Sustainability Page and other blog articles about sustainability.