Why was Gavin Tollman, CEO of Trafalgar Tours, painting benches in New York’s Central Park on a recent fall morning?
He said it was part of the vision of the company to participate in a Day in the Dirt program sponsored by the Central Park Conservancy, an organization that seeks to improve and maintain the famous green space.
Tollman said he had lived in New York for 20 years, a period when Central Park was “the most important part of my life.” That is one reason Trafalgar is a corporate partner of the conservancy, offering a donation to help sustain the park as well as the volunteer service of painting.
Tollman said that while sustainability is a big buzzword right now, The Travel Corporation, Trafalgar’s parent, established the nonprofit TreadRight Foundation 10 years ago to protect the planet. He said that the company has always been about “doing the right thing” when it comes to environmental issues.
Instead of talking about making a difference, said Tollman, Trafalgar aims to actually make a difference through action. “Talk is cheap,” said Tollman, “but it’s more about the execution.” He said the effort in the park was “not just about sustainability” but about continuing the “high level of detail, engagement and care” found on Trafalgar travel products. The goal of efforts like the one in Central Park, said Tollman, was to ensure that future generations ”will be able to see what we have loved to see.”
He said Trafalgar has become focused on issues like over-tourism, saying “we cannot stand on the sidelines and say it’s somebody else’s problem.” He added, “It’s not so much about eco-tourism but about how to make tourism a force for good.” He said there are three pillars around that goal:
— Dissemination. This means spreading travel more evenly throughout the year through pricing and other tools so there is less stress on popular attractions during peak periods.
— Dispersal. This involves going beyond simply bringing in “ice cream tourists” to places like Venice and Barcelona but doing something to help those communities. Tollman said ice cream tourists ” get off a bus, buy ice cream and leave.” He said one example of dispersal is Trafalgar’s Be My Guest program where travelers eat in the home of locals or spend time with winemakers and farmers. He said there is a goat cheese maker in the Loire valley and an organic farmer in Hawaii that are able to keep going because of Trafalgar business.
— Direct action. ”We can’t accept the status quo,” said Tollman. He explained that there are opportunities to make significant efforts toward protecting the planet. For instance, he said Trafalgar recently began offering e-documents to save on paper despite the protests of some trade partners. In exchange for each guest who does so, a tree is planted, either in California where fires have devastated forests or in Tanzania. Within a short time, a large majority of guests chose the e-documents. He also said all 1400 Trafalgar employees get two days a year to volunteer.
All of these initiatives, said Tollman, are “just the beginning as far as where tourism is going.” He said that ten years from now, using tourism as a tool to sustain communities will be “essential.”
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