Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of The TreadRight Foundation at The Travel Corporation (TTC), Shannon Guihan, is passionate about contributing to sustainable tourism and creating measurable goals across TTC’s 40 travel brands.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you came to be working in sustainable and ethical tourism?
At age 16, I was a sea kayak guide in my home province of Newfoundland, on the east coast of Canada, when the province was trying to reinvent itself following a moratorium on cod fisheries. The province was founded on the fisheries so you can imagine how devastating the impact of such a move had on the communities. I was guiding in the very early days of a now booming tourism destination, but it felt as though tourism development was happening to my home, rather than being developed with any intention.
What are you most passionate about in terms of the opportunities that responsible tourism presents?
Manners and stewardship. Building a more sustainable tourism sector means recognising our shared responsibility to care for the world and actioning this responsibility through choices. We are among the largest industries in the world, moving people from place to place and currently relying on fossil fuels to do so. Yet, we have such power: massive, intact forests and colourful marine protected areas — both tourism resources and impactful nature-based climate solutions. Regenerative agriculture and walkable cities — both reasons we choose to explore a place as well as ways to mitigate climate change. Electrification of transport networks is something we are currently focused on at TTC.
What are some of the TTC initiatives you’re most proud of that you have championed and helped to implement?
In 2020 we launched our sustainability strategy, How We Tread Right (HWTR), with 11 measurable goals — not as common as they should be in the tour operator space — and the ability to report against progress annually is something that travellers should know to look for when trying to understand who is legitimate and who is greenwashing. It’s not labels or certifications, it’s proof points on what a business is actually doing. The MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences program enables TTC’s 40 brands to identify immersive impact experiences against a strict set of criteria. In 2022, TTC became the first tour operator in the world with validated net-zero targets, and we established an internal Carbon Fund to support our brands to decarbonise. Uniworld, Adventure World, Red Carnation Hotels, Trafalgar, Contiki, and the rest of our brands, now have a dedicated resource that they can access to fund their ongoing decarbonisation efforts.
Across the TTC brands, which Make Travel Matter experiences are proving to be most popular and what are some of your favourite stories about their direct, positive impact on communities and wildlife?
We created a set of criteria, based on the UN Global Goals, and many of our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®’s support local food systems, wildlife and conservation or benefit marginalised communities. Uniworld guests, for example, visit Austria’s oldest winery, Nikolaihof Wine Estate, which practises permaculture and biodynamic farming — no pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilisers or sprays are used. The grapes are harvested by hand, fermented without artificial yeast, and stored in big, old Austrian oak casks for up to 20 years — and we get to taste it! Adventure World takes travellers on a Colombian-style safari, searching for the giant anteater, to help researchers at the Cunaguaro Foundation gather data to support conservation efforts, which is critical to Colombia. Travellers leave appreciating its vital position as a mega diverse country that we all need to support.
How can guests get involved in the mission of the TreadRight foundation when travelling on any of your tours — or independently?
Join us! Adventure World, Uniworld and Red Carnation Hotels have each integrated our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® mission into the way we vet partners and suppliers, choose experiences, prepare meals, and address the impact of our trips. Our teams are eager to share their favourite Experiences, why we have an Animal Welfare Policy or why our chefs are passionate about selecting local ingredients and reducing food waste. When travelling in general, bring your sensibilities with you and I encourage you to read our Checklist.
The company’s five-year HWTR sustainability strategy was launched in 2020, and an inaugural Impact Report released in May 2022. What progress are you excited to witness, from within the organisation?
We will release our 2022 Impact Report in June 2023 but I’m extremely enthusiastic about Red Carnation Hotels’ reduction of food waste by 34 per cent and Uniworld by 36 per cent, both brands using AI technology. Adventure world has identified 31 MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, and our Xigera Safari Lodge in Botswana runs on 100 per cent solar power from our advanced Energy Centre, generating more than 1 million kwh of electricity for the lodge. In its inaugural year, I’m most excited about 2023 proposals to utilise our Carbon Fund.