This is a response to the article: Corporate Social Responsibility for Inbound Tour Operators in Vietnam: Perception and Reality and introducting Travelife Certification for the Travel sector
I am Emma Duong Thuy Nguyen and I am Vice Director of Eviva Tour Vietnam and President of the Responsible Travel Club of Vietnam (RTC). I am writing my feedback on ‘CSR for ITOs in Vietnam: Perception and Reality and introducing Travelife Certification for the Travel Sector’ by Chi Nguyen. This topic is very important for ITOs in Vietnam, for two reasons:
- ITOs have the power to make an impact. As tourism is one of the three core economic activities in Vietnam, ITOs play a very important role and can influence all buyers and suppliers of tourism products in Vietnam. They buy tourism products from hotels, transportation, restaurants and others and are the (nearly) only focal points in Vietnam for the travel agencies, tour operators and customers overseas before they enter Vietnam.
- Due to the education system after the war, current Vietnam ITO leaders’ awareness towards CSR is very low
Chi Nguyen’s findings are not new but very valuable and practically applicable. There are relevant recommendations for ITOs. Hereby, I refer specifically to the group of pioneering ITOs that are the members of RTC Vietnam. It will take substantially more time for the other ITOs to take steps. The Travelife certification program is new to most of Vietnam ITOs including RTC members. The finding of ITOs “ego-ing” rather than “eco-ing” responsible tourism practices are really interesting and ironical – and relevant in understanding the psychology of the people working in the travel sector.
In implementing Chi Nguyen’s recommendations the following barriers need to be overcome:
- The costs involved in introducing Travelife, e.g. inviting a Travelife expert, are substantial – considering that ITOs’ awareness is not high. The RTC only has a limited budget. Sponsorship by relevant organizations could help to make a good start.
- ITOs are basically busy all year round. Raising awareness for CSR and Travelife has to happen during those small gaps in time when they are less busy, otherwise it will fail. The recommended months are early September or early May (for the majority of ITOs) or June for ITOs specializing in inbound tours only.
- As awareness of CSR is low and the misuse of the terms are common, the benefits of offering responsible travel for ITOs need to be explained (EGO, not ECO first). For example, one of the biggest ITOs does many responsible things, but the owner think responsible is a fashionable word that is not consistent with the company’s focus on revenue. So although they are doing very well, he thinks they would never qualify for a responsible label. It has to be explained to ITOs how CSR can reduce costs, increase revenue, and only then to talk about how good it is for the environment. Information about responsible travel can be spread via social media (Facebook, Instagram, blogs, websites) and email, using infographics and videos that are understandable to people working in the field. This is a low-cost, high-impact strategy. Furthermore, there can be attention for CSR during the monthly networking event of RTC – so that all the people working in the field from different positions can feel, taste and understand and practice responsible criteria.
- RTC wants to partner with Travelife to implement the certificate in Vietnam. After Chi proposed this at the 2017 ITB in Berlin, we have been searching for a coordinator to implement this, but have yet to find one. The limited budget available plays an important role in this. If the right person, who is professional, passionate, and within the limited budget can be found, we will do it right away!
A potential implementation of Travelife fits very well with the existing strategy and actions of RTC. One of our important action plan point for 2017 is to revise the responsible criteria. This will be combined with trainings and on-site inspections with each company bi-annually––to make sure all the companies follow the CSR criteria. While RTC is not so strong and lack experts for doing this, Travelife is known for applying this in a professional manner. We hope that a number of pioneering ITOs in Vietnam can become members of Travelife to apply the real practice and guide the rest towards CSR in the future.