News | 18th October 2019

From responsible travel to contributing to a Future-Fit society: is this the ultimate road trip?

By Saskia Verraes

At thl “being sustainable” isn’t about following trends, it has always been about being a responsible operator and charting our own path. The question we continuously ask ourselves is: “What defines a responsible tourism operator?”

When we started on our sustainability journey in August 2014, we knew we wanted it to be integrated in our thinking and our actions. We also knew that being a truly sustainable company was going to be a process. We followed The Natural Step to help guide us, but were never really able to define our “North Star”: the ultimate destination we wanted to reach. We published our second GRI compliant sustainability report in August 2018 and for the first time included some sustainability pages in our standard shareholders report. As this was well received by our stakeholders, we decided we were ready to focus on Integrated Reporting <IR> for our next annual report, an ambition we had since 2014. This drove us to reconsider how integrated our thinking, and especially strategy and decision making, really was.

It was clear that we needed to make bigger changes and just measuring where we were at, even getting gold standards in the different (eco) certification programs out there, or focusing on a zero footprint only did not provide us with the answer to the question “Why would thl still exist in 15 – 30 years’ time?”

As we started to work through our <IR> process, we found the answer to those questions in the Future-Fit Business Benchmark. It is the only methodology we have come across that clearly states the minimum conditions a business must meet to enable a long-term healthy society. The Benchmark doesn’t just help you understand where you are, it tells you how far you really must go to get to a point of future-fitness. The resources and tools are written in “business language” making it easy to pick up, apply and communicate across a range of stakeholders. In particular, when speaking to the Board and Executive team, language like “Break-Even”, which is backed up by fairly easily measurable quantitative goals, certainly helped gain their full attention and understanding.

It wasn’t all celebration to start with though. Announcing that we are adding 23 Goals and indicators to our already overloaded set of KPIs, caused some initial reactions of disbelief, skepticism, and even fear. Fear not just for the additional work, but fear surrounding the necessity for transparency, describing where we are really at and how much work there is to do to get to a Future-Fit Society. Even in the face of this fear there is a sense of relief that there is a way forward towards a better future and a roadmap for how we all can contribute to this future.

We are only at the beginning of our Future-Fit journey and have a long way to go. In August 2019 we publicly committed to measuring against the Future-Fit Break-Even Goals in our FY19 Annual Integrated Report.

Our focus this financial year is to measure all our business units across the globe against these 23 goals and set up an ongoing data collection system. Having completed an initial Health-Check assessment, we already know our main challenges are going to be in our product area. Circularity has never been considered in what we do and deep diving into our very diverse global supply chain whilst exciting, will be a lengthy process.

As with any road trip, becoming Future-Fit is no different. You start with a destination and then you follow a road map to get there. But this is not a destination we can reach on our own. We hope that our actions inspire others to join us on this journey. Not only can we support and lean on each other at times when we hit complex road junctions, we also have many opportunities to collaborate as the goals and data required stretches across sectors, communities and countries.

This is, in the end, about a road trip towards a Future-Fit Society for all of us.

More information about thl’s journey to future-fitness can be found in the accompanying case study.

Saskia Verraes

Saskia is the General Manager of Responsible Management at Tourism Holdings Ltd., leading sustainability, responsibility, ethics and governance of key strategic projects.