Taking a stand on climate change: EXO Travel leads the way in carbon neutral travel

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Southeast Asia is particularly sensitive to extreme weather conditions. Being based there for more than 25 years, EXO Travel has seen firsthand the impacts of climate change and can attest to its growing impacts on the region and understands the need for private sector companies to take action to avert climate change. As a company that takes pride in sustainability leadership, EXO Travel genuinely want to set a good example in the tourism industry, and hopes that to instigate change and demonstrate a model that others can follow.

Since 2016, they have been engaged with Travelife and most of their offices are certified for Excellence in Sustainability (Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar) a level of certification that is officially recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. All their reporting, policies are available online here, and they strive for full transparency with regard to their achievements. Consequently, certification enables them to monitor activities and to undergo regular third party audits. They are actively monitoring their use of natural resources, setting up reduction targets and offsetting their own footprint calculated by an independent organisation, Nexus for Development.

But, for EXO Travel, carbon offsetting is only one of the many solutions that can be used to try to make a positive impact. They do a lot of work on the ground to minimise the negative impact of their tours and have a team of six dedicated Sustainability coordinators working full time on this. With transportation, for example, they are:

  • offering tours that have coherent itineraries (taking into consideration flights and optimisation of motorised vehicles usage)
  • promoting trains / public transport (metro etc.) whenever it is feasible because it is an experience for travellers but also with regard to the environmental impact.
  • using the newest/ well maintained cars polluting less,
  • training drivers and guides on eco-friendly behaviours,
  • offsetting all the domestic and regional flights that our clients book through them, thanks to an automatic input in their reservation system, their clients only see the price of the flight ticket including this carbon compensation.

They are also working hand-in-hand with their supply chain, especially hotels and transport companies to tackle the pressing issues of : energy efficiency, sustainable sourcing/purchasing, food waste and plastic waste. This translates into thorough on-site inspections, collective workshops organised for their suppliers with other specialists organisations, specific criteria also appears in their contracts and they highlight suppliers that are taking real actions in their communications towards their clients in order to incentivise them. We have even worked with external partners to publish an eco-guide that they share widely to their suppliers.

For this project “Carbon Neutral Holidays”, they have been working with partner organisations such as Bookdifferent.com, a social enterprise based in the Netherlands, which analysed hotels they are working with and provided them with an estimate of their carbon footprint so that they can work collaboratively to reduce it.

Having first begun their carbon offset strategy in 2016, they felt it was time to take things a step further by not just holding themselves to a high standard, but also their supply chain and even the clients they work with who can now financially contribute to projects that preserve and protect the destinations they visit.

Regarding the tours they have to offer, EXO Travel works with many local communities in all their destinations to create tourism products that will benefit them because one of the difficulties surrounding deforestation is that it’s often considered an expendable asset by local villages: wood for cookstoves, wildlife for trafficking and land for farming. This is driven by economic motivations and needs to be combated with something that motivates them similarly. For example, places like the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park initiative in Laos have created wildlife tours and accommodation run by locals. The result is that their forest and wildlife assets become an income generator that improve local livelihoods and, thus, the inherent economic value encourages protection rather than consumption.

EXO Travel is keen to stress that, by putting initiatives like this on the forefront of their tour offerings, and through work with NGOs, local stakeholders and overseas agents, they can channel tourism revenue into projects that encourage the preservation of natural habitats and ecosystems.

In summary, EXO Travel encourages their clients to opt for : eco-friendly/socially aware hotels / responsible touring options (classified in five categories) / offering refillable bottles / a choice of ethical/eco-friendly gifts to travellers. To this end, they distribute booklets to raise awareness on responsible travel solutions and help them to find local non profit organisations to donate to with through their not-for-profit organisation, EXO Foundation.

Since 2011, EXO has donated $1 USD per traveller from their profits to projects leading environmental innovations tackling current challenges and crisis. They are very much involved in waste management, with financial support to a variety of low scale and civil society-led solutions happening in Southeast Asia, only to name a few of them:
– Refill My Bottle – mobile application to locate water stations,
– Reform Centers – giving a second life to plastic waste,
– Sumba Bisa – building roads with plastic waste,
– GAEA – recycling glass in Cambodia,
– OceanKita – cleaning up marine & rivers plastic debris with a trawl
– Khmer Green charcoal – creating coconut char briquettes etc.

EXO Travel is also heavily involved in wildlife protection by working with many conservation centres in their tours and donating to them to protect endangered species in their destinations. They are pro-actively supporting community based tourism projects, education (especially for sustainability in hospitality industry with IECD & climate change with Sunx leading partnerships with universities and advocating in the political field as well) and children protection for example.

Through their new Carbon Neutral Holiday Initiative, they hope to leverage a boost in funding which will go towards supporting forest management projects (through purchasing carbon credits certified by Plan Vivo) and planting mangrove trees in Indonesia (7 trees per tonne of carbon).