Its initiatives include educating staff and clients about the merits of environmental awareness and supporting sustainability in its 500-plus holiday destinations. The company is investing more than £300,000 this year in carbon-reduction programmes in developing countries, to offset emissions for all the flights it books for both customers and staff. It has helped to boost local employment in destination countries by shifting from UK-based to local tour leaders. The judges were impressed by Explore's integrated commitment to environmental, social and economic initiatives.
Founded in 1981 as a division of European specialist holiday group Holidaybreak, Explore's aim is to escort travellers off the beaten path to get a genuine flavour of the countries that they visit. Small groups are central to its ethos, as it not only provides travellers with a more customised experience, but also helps to minimise the impact on wildlife and the environment. The company now has more than 500 itineraries, carrying 35,000 people a year.
Explore has integrated sustainability into its entire operation through a multi-pronged 'responsible travel' plan. This is strongly backed by the company's CEO and MD, both of whom participate in educational forums on responsible travel.
Staff engagement is the second priority. Explore employs a 'responsible travel' manager to train its 150 staff in sustainable behaviour.
Most importantly, Explore has set objectives, targets and definitions of responsible travel, and established a detailed sustainability policy, which takes account of environment, energy and people. It also conducts regular audits to ensure that it meets stated objectives.
The plan also focuses on tour planning and supplier contracts to ensure that sustainable procedures are followed across all destinations, and includes training of tour leaders and suppliers on specific issues.
Explore's marketing team and tour leaders work together to communicate the responsible tourism message to customers through various channels, including brochures, web and pre-departure information. That message is followed through in all tour briefings and a customer questionnaire.
Explore works with groups such as the Travel Foundation and Association of Independent Tour Operators to share best practices on responsible tourism and encourage other travel operators to take a similar approach.
The company supports key conservation projects in the destinations to which it travels and aims to improve the socio-economic benefits of its operations by increasing local employment. Currently, 58% of tourism leaders are locally employed. Explore's aims to employ 63% of staff locally by the end of 2009.
At its Hampshire headquarters, Explore has worked with the Carbon Trust to reduce energy usage by 10%. It is continuing to work with the CT to make further environmental and energy savings.
Other office initiatives have focused on resource efficiency. Through a variety of paper-saving initiatives, the company has managed to cut its stationery bill by nearly one-fifth. Whereas many firms recycle their waste while continuing to generate the same or more, Explore has achieved such a reduction in its throughput of materials that recycling collections were halved in 2007.
Explore believes its business model proves that responsible travel is not just an idealistic statement or cliche. It has strong policies, systems that are fully integrated into daily business, and staff who understand their role and are empowered to act.
Highly Commended - Eurostar p25
Shortlisted - James McNaughton Group p25; Modec p26; National Express p26
Web Links - http://www.explore.co.uk/; http://www.explore.co.uk/ResponsibleTourism/