Koning Aap, Shoestring and YourWay2GO are leading travel companies that specialise in organising trips to distant holiday destinations. Quality and service combined with the natural environment, cultural heritage and the local people are the starting points for our travels.
Our sustainability mission
As a provider of adventurous tours to far destinations we find it of great importance to reduce the pressure that tourism exerts on the natural and social environment of our destinations. Our mission is to acquire more and better sustainability in our business. We are a responsible company that is committed to a continuous improvement in the field of sustainability. We put our own products under the microscope on a regular basis and we contribute to projects seeking sustainable solutions.
Greater numbers of people travel than ever before and therefore the effects of tourism locally are increasingly palpable. We all know that travel is not very good for the world but if we do travel then we should do so taking into account the environment, people and culture, so that travel remains possible in the future. We try to promote the sustainable aspect of travel as much as possible and do our utmost to reduce negative effects. Our partners are selected on this basis. We offer excursions that are justified and have many contracts with accommodations that try to take measures to minimise adverse effects.
Our practical measures and activities in terms of responsible travel are regularly evaluated. In this Environmental Statement we describe how we manage our environmental responsibilities both now and in the future. For this purpose we have employed a DTO (sustainable tourism development) coordinator and a support team.
Sustainability is a big part of our organisation!
Thanks to our policy, we have not gone unnoticed over the years! In 2013 and again in 2015, we received the Travelife Sustainability Certificate, one of the first travel organisations in the world to do so. We were also the proud winner of the "Green Feather" (2014 and 2015), a great reward for our efforts in the field of responsible travel. Again in 2013, we gained the Rank a Brand Award for the most sustainable travel company. Another great performance, of which we are very proud!
The remainder of this Environmental Statement is explained in the following components, showing the action that we take by means of examples:
- Local agents
- Information to our travellers
- Tour leaders
- Internal environmental policy
The plane will take you to the most beautiful places on earth but through the emission of harmful gases (including CO2) it presents a threat to all this beauty. We want to act against this by doing something positive:
- Starting from 1st January 2016, Shoestring and Koning Aap will compensate CO2 emissions from all trips in their entirety (I.e. both the international flights and the associated land package) as standard.
- We sponsor the forest restoration program in Malaysian Borneo in partnership with Trees for All. Since 2007, Trees for All has been working on forest restoration in Malaysian Borneo, near Danum Valley, bordered by the state of Sabah. Local trees are planted in the damaged forest. This is of importance for the rich biodiversity, which makes an area special. Read more about the project here.
- The international flights for business trips, the study of the office staff and the international flights of our travel counselors are also compensated in the above manner.
- Flights booked as free tickets for staff (worth up to 550 euros), will also be offset as standard.
- If possible, (Berlin/Paris), preference is given to travel by train instead of by plane.
- Some of our Belgian travellers depart from Schiphol and these customers receive a (train) ticket for this journey.
- Where a choice exists we choose airlines for intercontinental flights that give a high priority to sustainability. Unfortunately we are often unable to set high standards for the airlines and for long distances; we often have no choice but to use the aircraft as our means of transport.
- Sometimes we use public transportation during our travels. This involves luxury night buses (long distances) or train journeys. If possible, we give preference to these methods over the arranging of domestic flights.
- Local transportation used during our travels is governed by our local agents. They take care that transport is as environmentally friendly as it can be and we regularly tutor them on its importance. How far one goes with this is very dependent on the region in which an agent operates. One tries to use the latest models of vehicles which emit the least CO2, and to renew them regularly.
- Our agent in Thailand uses a GPS system which enables drivers to carefully control the speed that the engine is running.
- All buses in Sri Lanka that we use in our trips are part of the first fleet in Asia to be both internationally certified and CO2 neutral.
- We try to use small-scale accommodations and restaurants that are owned by the local population. This benefits the local economies.
- We travel individually (= minimum 2 persons) or in small groups, which significantly limits the impact on the environment. Koning Aap has group sizes of up to 18 people and safari trips in Africa up to 20 people. Shoestring has groups of up to 24 people and safari trips also up to 20 people.
- Our local agents are encouraged to use accommodations that harm the environment as little as possible. They have received guidelines concerning the sustainability of accommodations (training manuals, videos from Travelife and the Travel Foundation).
- Further conditions for the use of sustainable accommodations are contained in the "Code of Conduct", signed by the local agents.
- The social component is an important aspect. We generally use small-scale accommodation, often family businesses, which do not always meet all environmental standards. This is sometimes due to a lack of (financial) resources. On a social level however, we prefer to work with these hotels because one or more families live from the revenues generated. Many major hotel chains have very good environmental policies but are often too expensive for our type of travel, or not consistent with the adventurous and local character that we aim to offer within our travels.
- According to our local agents, many accommodations have already taken sustainable measures, such as installing solar panels and recycling waste. Furthermore, some of our small-scale accommodations do not have air conditioning or a swimming-pool which significantly reduces the environmental damage.
- In Peru and Ecuador, in some cases we use accommodation which carries the Smart Voyager certification. These hotels actively recycle waste, conserve energy and make use of phosphate-free detergents and building materials that have a limited impact on the environment. In addition, staff is hired from nearby villages and by means of courses, work and health measures, better living conditions are created. A number of accommodations in Thailand have the Thai Green Leaf certificate and in Costa Rica, most of our lodgings hold a 'Certificate of Sustainable Tourism' (local certification).
- In the Pantanal/ the Amazon we do not work with any hotels that discharge untreated sewage into rivers or groundwater.
- Relating to our travels through South India, you can read tips on our website on how to visit the so-called "houseboats" (Backwaters) in a responsible way.
- Our agent in Sri Lanka organises workshops for accommodations on the topics of waste, energy and water management.
- Our agent in India (among others) gives workshops to accommodations about child prostitution and how to prevent it. The agent in Thailand and Cambodia work as much as possible with accommodation associated with ChildSafe, an organisation engaged in combating child prostitution. In Thailand this is valid for our hotel in Bangkok and in Cambodia; this applies to 80% of the hotels we use.
- Regarding the African continent, we give advice on our website about how to reduce water consumption in the accommodations.
Camping and homestays:
- During our camping trips we have drawn up so called ‘safari rules’, which can be found on our website. This enables travellers themselves to make a contribution to the conservation of fragile ecosystems. These rules include the behavior of both passengers and drivers during safaris, sanitation and how to be economical with water. We cook on gas to limit the use of wood or charcoal. Generally speaking, 20-30 liter water tanks are used, so that travellers do not have to buy bottled water everywhere. This applies to all of our camping trips and camping overnights in the United States, South (ern) Africa, East Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia and Madagascar.
- In some destinations such as Peru, Cuba, Nicaragua, Nepal, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand (during optional trek), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Tajikistan, Georgia and Uzbekistan one night (or several nights) will be spent staying with the locals in their homes. The contact with a local family is not just educational and fun, the population gets much needed additional income besides their regular activities. It is important to organise this properly so that revenues are distributed evenly across the community.
Animals and Nature
Thanks to the 'animal-welfare' workgroup of the ANVR (of which we were a part) there is now a clear list of dos and don'ts when it comes to excursions involving animals. This list is distributed to our agents, tour leaders and staff and will be published on our website.
Since 2013, we no longer offer animal unfriendly excursions. Elephant rides, swimming with dolphins, ostrich rides and visits to tiger and crocodile farms have all been removed. Other inhumane excursions, such as those involving captive animals (animal shows, animal circuses etc.) we have never actively offered anyway.
- In Sri Lanka and Thailand, we are going to select elephant projects where rides are not offered.
- We do not recommend helicopter flights, for example the flight over Iguazu Falls (Brazil/Argentina) where the noise and pollution have a negative effect on the animals and birds in the surrounding jungle.
- During safaris our local agent ensures (through educating drivers and tour leaders) that the impact on the natural ecosystem is minimised.
- Sensitive excursions lead to indigenous villages or poor areas (favela tours for example). Everything stands or falls by how things are organised on the spot, and the guidance of the local leader. Our local agents play a major role in this selection. Our agents say that they try to limit the negative impact by choosing professional local tour operators that have sustainability as a high priority already. These excursions often have a positive economic impact. This lies in the use of local facilities such as guides, restaurants, shops and accommodations.
- We sometimes use so-called "Community Based Tourism" initiatives, for example in Arequipa (Peru).
- We encourage all local agents to obtain a sustainability certificate (Travelife, Tour Cert or local). And this will become a requirement. This will then mean that they are rated in the field of sustainable tourism. A travel company must meet strict criteria in terms of sustainability (in the broadest sense of the word) in order to obtain certification. This also ensures that we are becoming more sustainable in our business chain.
- We have identified which of our local agents have been certified (10 agents) and those that are on their way (8 agents).
- The contracts we have with our agents include our 'Code of Conduct' as an annex. In this 'Code' we make the agents aware of the guidelines that we use in the field of corporate responsibility. This annex has been signed by (almost!) all of our agents.
- A large number of our agents followed the local Travelife training. This is a two-day international training session in the field of sustainability. Our local agents from the following countries were present; Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Nicaragua, Colombia, Suriname, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.
- We make our suppliers and local agents aware of the guidelines that we apply ourselves in the field of responsible travel. This is done verbally during our twice-yearly meeting and throughout the year by email and newsletter. There is reciprocal communication on various sustainability issues based on comments from our customers, our own staff and tour leaders.
- The selection of our agents and suppliers will, where possible, also be based on the services that our partners deliver in the areas of environmental and social responsibility. If we receive too many negative signals from an agent then we may have reason to terminate the cooperation.
- We strive for long and lasting partnerships with our local agents because in practice, this will lead to the best possible tours.
We support a number of projects in cooperation with our local agents. Since our suppliers play a major role in maintaining and supporting these projects, we are confident that the contributions will be well spent. A few of these projects can be visited by the travellers but this is not the starting point in the choice. Shoestring distributes annually € 12.500 to the following projects:
1 New Day Foster Home (China)
2 SAFA Senior House (Egypt)
3 Karigari Project (India)
4 Shree Panchya Kanya School (Nepal)
5 Corcovado Foundation (Costa Rica)
6 Club Deportivo (Colombia)
7 Ngwavuma Mpontshini School (South-Africa)
8 Ibu Harnik Foster Home (Indonesia)
9 Tolong Flores foundation (Indonesia)
10 Primate Rescue Center (Vietnam)
Our travellers contribute as well: in 2013, a number of customers converted their 'loyal customer discount' into a donation worth € 1015, given to the Shree Pancha Kanya School in Nepal. In 2014 a significant contribution was again given to this school (€ 1225). Since 2015, customers have been able to donate their 'loyal customer discount' to a project of their choice. This has amounted to € 3640, distributed among the various projects. And starting in 2016 our travellers can make a donation to a project of their choosing.
Every year we evaluate the projects on the basis of (annual) reports. We support these projects on ethical grounds and not based on political motives.
During our tours there are many options for projects. Often at the initiative of the tour leaders, sometimes initiated by the agent or by us. These projects therefore fall outside of the above listed projects. Many of our local agents, in addition to the projects mentioned are also involved (to a greater or lesser extent) in other projects. For example, since 2014 we have supported a new initiative of our local agent in Costa Rica, named Pack for a Purpose. This project encourages travellers to bring with them some essential items for poorer schools in Costa Rica.
We have a number of partnerships with organisations which are working in the field of sustainability. These include:
- IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). We work together on sustainable tourism by propagating the 'Think!' Campaign. This campaign is an initiative of IFAW for travellers to not purchase wrong souvenirs made from endangered species. The wrong souvenirs bring the local flora and fauna in danger and promote the illegal trade of wild animals.
- ECPAT Netherlands. We support ECPAT in the fight against sexual exploitation of children in tourism destinations. In 2013 the signing of ECPAT's Code of Conduct is scheduled (if financially possible).
- TE GAST IN
- TOFT (Travel Operators for Tigers Campaign). Our local agent in India is affiliated to TOFT and so we directly contribute to the work of this organisation. We also offer a number of India tours that visit parks where tigers are located. We calculate 25 euros per passenger; the money goes directly to TOFT.
- SPOTS foundation. Protecting wild cats in (Southern) Africa and Asia. We support SPOTS in this fight.
Thanks to the MVO tourism network we have started (2015) participating in various related workshops, which should lead to concrete policies in one year’s time. We follow the 'sustainable customer communication' and 'impact measurement' workshops. This will be pursued further in 2016.
The tourism network of MVO Netherlands is a collaboration between agencies, tourist programs, NGOs and local governments through which knowledge, inspiration and the development of initiatives is used to promote sustainable tourism in the tourism sector.
Within the 'pioneer-group' with the ANVR, we are the 'group leader' when it comes to responsible travel. We are part of a workgroup beginning in 2015 to develop 'sustainability training' for local tour leaders.
We are part of the CARMATOP which works on the mapping of carbon dioxide emissions from travel packages in a simple way. This was a two-year project, started in 2013, together with 16 other Dutch tour operators and 2 universities. The aim now is to clearly communicate that information to the consumer, by means of a label and to improve our travel packages in terms of their emissions.
Again, we are rewarded for our efforts because in 2015 we received, together with our partners, a 'Green Feather’. This is an award for the most sustainable initiative in the travel industry.
Information to our travellers
Website and brochure
- On April 1, 2016 we launched "Feeling Responsible" (www.feelingresponsible.org), a new website dedicated to our sustainability policy. All information about how we highlight the green nature of our trips for all brands (Koning Aap, Shoestring and YourWay2GO) is now in one place!
- The brochure of Koning Aap features four pages focused on sustainability. This is mainly about our partnerships, awards and certificates, the projects that we support and tips for travellers.
- The decision not to publish a separate brochure for Shoestring has meant a saving of paper. YourWay2GO has never had its own brochure.
- For some time already, we have stopped sending out papers to our customers (think invoices and/or travel documents). We only use digitised files. Our clients receive a personal login code for the 'my site’, a personal site where they can access all necessary information (departure letter, e-tickets, hotel lists, tips for travellers etc. ...).
- All travel information is detailed on our website. We have presented ourselves for quite some time as a travel company with a major focus on the internet as an information source.
- Various 'sustainable' tips are listed on the website (in the broadest sense of the word: charming/ authentic/others). These tips can be found in the day-to day description of most Shoestring and Koning Aap tours where about 3 to 4 items per trip are highlighted.
- On the homepage of our Koning Aap site we have several links to pages concerning CO2 compensation, the projects we support, tips for travellers and Travelife. These links are also shown in the day-to-day descriptions. Our Shoestring site links from the homepage to pages with information about our general policy, projects and tips for travellers. These links are again shown in the day-to-day descriptions. Thus, sustainability occupies a larger amount of space on our websites!
- Our websites provide our travellers with tips on how to reduce their own 'CO2 footprint' during their trip. We also give tips regarding what to do when begging is encountered, photographing people, waste disposal (if possible) and being economical with electricity and water in the accommodations.
- Generally our travellers are environmentally conscious and committed to the local traditions and values of a country. One of the unique selling points' of our trips is the contact with the local population, which is reflected in certain trips through eating in local restaurants, buying in local stores, the use of public transport etc. ... In short, an important factor in supporting the local economy!
Durable linen bags will be distributed at fairs and information days (Koning Aap and YourWay2GO). So no paper or plastic!
(Local) Tour leaders
- Since 2013 we have devoted more energy into raising awareness among the tour leaders (where necessary). Local training sessions were given in Thailand and India (2013), Morocco and South Africa (2014) and Cuba (2015). In 2016, training is planned for Bolivia and Peru. In addition to the 'standard' training, much more attention is given to sustainability with an hour and a half/ two-hour brainstorming session on the basis of practical examples. ECPAT also receive the necessary attention.
- In 2014, we had three training days for the Dutch and Belgian Koning Aap tour leaders, where time was set aside for sustainability in the form of a presentation and a brainstorming session. In 2015, ECPAT held a presentation during our training days and the sustainability coordinator provided an update of our policy in 2016.
- Many of our tour leaders are aware of the impact that our tours have and do their best to minimise the negative effects. They make us aware of any wrongdoing (in terms of our tours and hotels). Our tour leaders are very important because they have the best local knowledge and are best placed to inform participants in our tours.
- Shoestring works with local, English-speaking tour leaders. This gives people the opportunity to get to know a country really well. For our customers this is something that adds value to the trip and in addition, by employing local tour leaders, we support the local economy.
- We also make increasing use of local tour leaders at Koning Aap.
- Our local (Dutch and English speaking) tour leaders are mostly trained by our local agents, including in the area of sustainability (often through workshops). Generally speaking, they also have handbooks available to them on such topics.
- Tour leaders have their own Facebook page where they can interact with each other and we can share all kind of information with them (including in the area of sustainability).
A student of InHolland will examine the experiences of Koning Aap customers regarding homestays. This is done within the context of her thesis. She will look at what we can do to improve communication with our customers in order to give them the best possible experience.
Two students from the Wageningen University travelled with two Shoestring groups in India with the intention of measuring the financial impact of the tours. How and where do our customers spend their money? What is the role (herein) of the local tour leader and agent? The Thesis will be ready in May/June 2016.
A student of the NHTV Breda studied the experiences of Shoestring customers regarding homestays. The purpose was to find out what we can do to improve communication with our customers so that they can have the best possible experience. The homestays in question were located in Nepal, Peru, Cuba and Kyrgyzstan.
Internal environmental policy
- The sustainability team (DTO team) is composed of members from different departments within the company (product, tour operating, sales (all groups), marketing and YourWay2GO). It is therefore very easy to approach anyone with questions on the subject.
- The DTO coordinator holds a Travelife degree awarded upon successful completion of the Travelife sustainability training.
- Our staff will be encouraged to come to work by public transport or by bicycle. The compensation for this is favourable. 91% of our employees come to work by bicycle or by public transport.
- We are convinced that caring for the environment is important to all of our employees. A list of tips about internal sustainability has been circulated among the staff by email. Sometimes a presentation is given (ECPAT/ Trees for All) and relevant information on projects, volunteering, etc. ... is communicated by email.
- In 2014, around 25 members of staff followed an external course in the field of responsible travel and communicating sustainability to our customers. This was done under the inspiring leadership of field expert, Dr Xavier Font.
- 10 of our staff have completed the ECPAT course on 'the Code'.
- Fruitful Office: once a month our office eats the fruit from 'Fruitful Office'. Besides being healthy, we contribute a little towards a better world. By doing so, we support the campaign "Planting Fruit Trees in Africa."
- Nature Workday: on November 1, 2013, 2014 and 2015 we participated in the Nature Workday. We keep it close to home! During the Nature Workday we contribute to the preservation and restoration of nature and landscape in our own country. In 2013 we worked in Middenduin (at Overveen) and in 2014 and 2015 at the Lange Bretten in Amsterdam.
- Sustainable procurement and waste disposal
- Where possible we try to minimise the use of consumables and disposables within our office. We try whenever we can to print doubled sided and make use of scrap paper. At least 90% of our printing paper has the PEFC label. Used paper is separated from residual waste, collected up and recycled.
- Our staff and our customers do not drink from plastic cups but from ceramic mugs and glasses.
- When purchasing goods for internal use we give preference to products with a sustainability label. 100% of our tea and coffee carries a fair trade label. Four times a year we do "bulk purchasing" at the Makro, saving time, fuel costs and packaging.
- When purchasing new furniture for the office, it is partly bought secondhand. We purchase few new items and much is reused internally.
- We separate glass and plastic from the waste. In addition, batteries and cartridges are collected separately, taken away and then recycled.
Energy and water
- Since January 1, 2013 our office has made use of green energy.
- We have T5 lighting (LED) which is energy efficient.
- Lighting in our office is switched on and off by a presence detection (circuit). Therefore over time, the light goes off when a room is not in use. After office hours, all lighting is switched off. Furthermore, electricity meters are installed so that energy consumption can be measured by department.
- Since 2013, electricity meters have been installed to measure consumption by floor (of our building) so that we can monitor the usage of only our company (not of the other tenants of the building).
- Employees switch off their computers completely and do not put them on standby. The same applies to the printers. When purchasing new equipment for the office (monitors, computers, copiers, etc.) "Low energy equipment" is preferred.
- In 2014 we implemented a system to measure energy, paper and water usage. This gives us an accurate measurement tool that records exactly what we consume each year allowing us to adjust this consumption on the basis thereof.
Brochure (Koning Aap only)
- The brochure is printed by a printer with strict environmental standards. The printer carries Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and uses FSC paper that can be reused for the most part.
- We distribute our brochures carefully, as demand dictates. Customers that have booked a trip with us in the last 3 years and have indicated their wish to receive a brochure will be sent one. Customers can also elect not to receive a brochure (via our site). Then they are removed from our mailing list.