Positive Voices in Travel - Jo Baddeley, Thomas Cook
For the second instalment in this series of profiles showcasing positive voices in travel, I talked to Jo Baddeley, Sustainable Destinations Manager with Thomas Cook. She recently got married so will slowly be segueing into her new name, Jo Hendrickx. Congratulations Jo!
I first met Jo a few months ago at Sandele Eco-Retreat in The Gambia and we instantly hit it off, spending hours talking about our mutual interest: Responsible travel. Jo’s story is the tale of a small voice that gradually grew louder in a bid to introduce responsible tourism to a large organization from within.
It is an interesting one to me, as it demonstrates the amount of work that sometimes goes on behind the scenes by dedicated individuals to make mass tourism more sustainable.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to he a holiday rep”, Jo says closely followed by her infectious laugh. On holiday with her family, she would be at the rep’s desk, hassling them to show her their work. As she grew up, she learnt Spanish and wanted to travel, but backpacking was just too scary for her at that point. Solo female travel has come a long way since then.
Faced with the choice of getting a secure job and buying a house or going off to travel the world, she chose the safe road and went into the police force in a desk job. Although this was a world away from her dreams of being a holiday rep, her passion to pursue travel continued to simmer in her mind.
In 1997 an opportunity to take a career break presented itself and Jo leapt at it. She never looked back. She finally became a holiday rep with Airtours and learnt the ropes of a large holiday company from within. After three years she wanted to stay in one place and got an administrative job with the Mallorca operation of the company. This evolved into a position in health and safety, which took her to Gran Canaria where she stayed for six years.
During this time the Travelife audits were created and she recognized that the sustainability of destinations was something she was immensely interested in. In 2007 her curiosity got the better of her and she signed up for an MSc in Responsible Tourism Management by distance learning with the International Centre for Responsible Tourism. Over the next three years she worked full time by day and studied responsible tourism by night .
During her studies, Thomas cook merged with Mytravel and the Corporate Social Responsibility department grew bigger. In the right place, at the right time and well on her way to graduating, Jo landed a job as Sustainability Manager. The only condition was that she had to return to the UK, something she was reluctant to do at first.
The last year of her studies was hard – not only was she learning the ropes of a new job, she was living and breathing responsible tourism almost 24/7. The degree provided a great foundation for the cultural and marketing side of things, but Jo felt she needed practical advice: “That’s why I decided to assess the Travelife sustainability criteria for my dissertation.” She went on to design very practical solutions, writing training for Thomas Cook’s auditors and creating formulas for how sharing and consultation could be carried out.
It turned out that the cross-over with health and safety was larger than expected: “Tour operators are concerned by health and safety, so by concentrating on where responsible tourism compliments good health and safety practice we could really have an impact”, Jo notes. An example of this is how money saved on energy through efficiency measures could be used to install up to date safety equipment or to improve quality through refurbishment.
Over time Jo has has come a long way and it has often been an uphill struggle. “I’m still trying to overcome large challenges, but it feels like changes are starting to happen” Jo says with optimism in her voice. She is untiring in her approach to improve things, a positive tourism David in the Goliath world of a large bureaucracy.
The innovator and creator of the Thomas Cook’s Destinations of Excellence programme, Jo took her combined learning and experience into providing a sustainability framework for all overseas staff to engage with sustainable tourism. The programme has run since May 2012 and there are now 24 destinations with a Bronze award. This is 88% up on last year and represents about a third of total destinations in the Thomas Cook charter portfolio.
Another project is the Taste of Fethiye programme, developed by a number of tour operators in conjunction with the Travel Foundation. This helps farmers understand the needs of hotels so they can synchronise their production cycles, enabling them to market their goods efficiently.
The Local Label is another example of an initiative thought up by Jo to improve the sustainability and impact of tourism on the local economy in destinations. These are guidelines rather than a certification, but the numbers tell a powerful story. In Rhodes alone one particular excursion saw a year on year sales increase of 347% purely from communicating the authentic experiences with a local focus that help the local economy. The average increase using Rhodes and Crete as an example of eight Local Label excursions is 59%.
What is clear is that the language used by reps is incredibly important and generally people want their holiday to be a force for good, whenever possible. This stuff sells and when executives start to grasp how responsible tourism can help improve their bottom line, that’s when things start to happen. So far 40 Local Label excursions have been introduced in 20 destinations and passed against the Travel Foundations ‘Greener Excursions’ checklist criteria.
How to communicate sustainability to local staff has also been a considerable learning curve. The message that seems to hit home is again about the bottom line: Increased efficiency generates revenue. "Finding the right local champions to lead the way with you to prove it works is also key" says Jo. She has witnessed the success of this method, with people eventually hopping on to the responsible tourism train with no reservations.
Jo’s opinion on certification
“We have to bear in mind that any audit, not just sustainability audits is usually carried out in one day and the certificate can last for up to two years. For this reason, a commitment to ongoing improvement and a means to allow customers to feed back their opinion is crucial if a system is to be robust. Travelife for example does have a function allowing people to share their experiences. Any transformation in thinking for the better is going to help, but let’s not have unrealistic expectations.”
Advice to people wanting to book a responsible holiday
“It really depends on what you want. If you want to go the full hog, you need to know the complete background. Often there isn’t a lot of information available and it’s all about knowing what questions to ask.” Again we come back to the heart of the matter: Who benefits and where?
Jo has been in the travel industry since starting her career in 1997 as a holiday representative, she took on an overseas health and safety role in 2001 and became the Sustainable Destinations Manager for Thomas Cook when the role was created in 2008.
She is passionate about her work and enjoys bringing sustainability to life for customers, staff and suppliers. Jo has created Thomas Cook’s Destinations of Excellence programme, providing a sustainability framework for all overseas staff in order to drive engagement with sustainable tourism. She has also created the new ‘Local Label’ excursion programme, promoting excursions that contribute to local economies and that celebrate traditions, cultures and preservation of environments.
Jo particularly enjoys working closely with the overseas teams, their innovative ideas and enthusiasm never fails to inspire. She holds a Masters Degree in Responsible Tourism Management from Leeds Metropolitan University.
She is on the panel at a session on Tuesday 5th Nov at the 2013 World Travel Market in London looking at how to secure a market advantage through good communication of Responsible Tourism. If you're at WTM, come and check it out! I'll be there for sure.