Last November, Canadian Affair became the first major international tour operator to earn a Travelife certification for its commitment to sustainability. Managing director Chris Hedley tells Abigail Healy what this means to them
Why is the Travelife certification important for Canadian Affair?
Climate change is the single most important challenge humanity faces today. As the leader of a business unit that is part of Transat AT [Canadian Affair’s parent company], I feel we can collectively play our part in helping raise awareness and push for responsible change in our industry. Over the past five years, Canadian Affair has been proud to work towards formal recognition and compliance with Travelife.
What did you have to do to achieve it?
To hold and maintain Travelife Certified status, tour operators must comply with more than 200 criteria covering its workplace practices, product range, business partners and customers. Since 2006, Transat and its subsidiaries have had initiatives in environmental stewardship and heritage protection, efforts to thwart child-sex tourism and collaborations with communities. It has also established policies that recognise and highlight sustainability certifications by its hotelier partners, adopted a code of conduct for tourism service providers and created volunteering and humanitarian leave programmes for its employees. Transat is now following a new Action Plan (2018–2020) aimed at influencing tourism providers and raising awareness among both employees and customers of innovative sustainable development and responsible tourism practices.
What have you have achieved in working towards the certification?
Highlights range from encouraging employees to take up either our cycle-to-work scheme or free season ticket loan to reduce car use to halving the number of [international] board meetings to reduce potential transport usage between the UK and Canada. We have improved waste recycling; in November, we recycled 81.4% of all waste in our London head office. All office paper is now FSC certified and we have reduced brochure/direct mail printing to a minimum with a plan to stop this completely. Other highlights included completing our Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) audit in June 2018 and installing motion sensor LEDs to improve energy efficiency.
Is travelling responsibly increasingly in demand from consumers?
It has been a subject of particular interest to younger generations, while eco-orientated holidays have become increasingly popular in recent years. While this is not our largest [market] today, it may well be in the future. Sales benefits will obviously be well received, but I feel that as a market leader in holidays to Canada, Canadian Affair has a responsibility to show that you can operate a successful travel business while promoting sustainable tourism.
What itineraries are looking popular for 2019?
Our rail and cruise holidays in the west of Canada continue to be extremely popular. We’re seeing a marked increase in tailor-made holidays across the country as people move away from out-of-the-box holiday itineraries. The popularity of our motorhome and self-drive touring holidays has increased dramatically over the past couple of years. They are now our second most-booked holiday types.
Are there any lesser-known spots that might come into the limelight?
We are investing in developing further adventures to meet the demand from visitors to Canada to explore further. We are developing itineraries exploring the lesser-known areas of west Canada, the Okanagan, southern Alberta and Yukon. On the East Coast, we have put together holidays taking customers further into Ontario, experiencing the great lakes and wildlife of Northern Ontario and cruising the St Lawrence river.
Bookings to Canada have been strong lately – is it a similar story for 2019 and which products should agents encourage clients to book early?
Western Canada is particularly popular; hotels across Vancouver and the Rockies can sell twice over during peak summer months. Early booking is essential for most of our rail and cruise, motorhome and self-drive touring holidays to secure the best prices, routes and sites, which guarantee the trip of a lifetime. Booking with Canadian Affair offers a greater chance of securing availability in all the high-demand regions. With a 23-year proven track record of delivering high-quality holidays, we have unrivalled access to inventory that is out of reach to most operators in Canada.