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Should Travel Agents care about the planet? The ethics & impacts of travel

roomsXML’s Mark Luckey continues to discuss the power of Travel Agents in part three of his four-part series. Click here for part one and click here for part two.

roomsXML’s Mark Luckey continues to discuss the power of Travel Agents in part three of his four-part series. Click here for part one and click here for part two.

“Travel Agents should care about the planet, including all things ethically to do with respecting the environment and other cultures. It’s fundamentally the foundation of the travel industry.


“Exploration, adventure, personal development, being out of one’s comfort zone, finding a state of peace, excitement, bringing people together. Most of the best agents I know always sell based on their own values.”

Meg Salter, MD Auridian

Sadly, Cambodia seems to be one of the countries highlighted in travel related, triple bottom line and voluntourism scams.  Meg continues:

“I feel ethics have a lot of grey areas and it is difficult to define what is ‘right and wrong’.

“Orphanages over-run by do-gooders wanting to experience ‘giving back’ and accidentally turning them into Disneyland. Tourists flock to tourist destinations and ruin them. There will always be lonely old men who want to go to a destination to have public relations with a minor.

Simla Sooboodoo (MD, Hands on Journeys) sees things in a different light: “Voluntourism, in Orphanages, has been under fire in the press. In many cases this is justified. As ‘volunteering abroad’ became lucrative, involvement was about profit, rather than poverty elevation.

“We can’t let the negative press stop people making a positive impact. The onus begins to fall on the traveller to do their research and ask questions. If you aren’t skilled to deliver at home, you won’t be skilled to deliver abroad. Selfies with children can look nice, but has that community really had a positive, ongoing impact from your visit?”

orphanage tourism

Hands on Journeys has a strong focus on transparency for members. “Seeing tour funds directly in action is a powerful sight that can change one’s life. We aim to deliver an adventure that uplifts.”

Ethically, Karsten Horne, MD of Reho Travel is an interesting case in travel. He runs very successful businesses across two states in Australia.

As stated in an article in 2015 he “spends much time running their triple bottom line initiatives as travel companies”. Ethics seeps into every part of his business from the coffee they drink to giving something back to every destination they work with.

Ethics are embedded in his fibre: “Working in travel has created the structure I crave whilst allowing me to develop as an individual. It has set me up financially and given me the privilege of developing others. It has also allowed me to not work a day in the last 30 years.”

Whilst ethically driven on a similar plane to Karsten, Christian De Boer (Md Jaya House in Siem Reap) has seen some of the negative impacts of travel. In particular the 4.6 million plastic bottles per annum that litter Cambodia every year.  The cause? Tourists. Locals drink water from taps.

“We need to change the perception that clean water only comes out of a bottle because it is clearly not the case. Anyone who says we are recycling that’s not possible, as Cambodia doesn’t have a recycling station.”

“4.6 million bottles in the landfill from tourists. It’s easy to target and fix. The initiative is going to cost $1 per guest per day and we are now partnering with 85 different commercial partners providing free drinking water.”

water bottle

The ethics, the drive, the passion, the desire to fix and make a difference is what great people in the travel industry do. My four contributors are awesome examples of what can be done. Christian continues with:

“If we don’t change the world a little bit for a better future then what’s the point? I’m riding the wave of a changing travel industry where want a more authenticity, an individual hotel personality and experience.

“Jaya house is aiming to be 96 percent plastic free, the only things that will remain in plastic are fresh meat and fresh fish. We broke the ice  but within a few months Victoria hotels has come on board and a few others are getting their deliveries in linen bags.

“I want to make sure that the wave or the ripple that we are creating at Jaya House is as physically as big as possible in the hope of inspiring others either in Cambodia or in the rest of the world.”

The positivity is something that Meg hopes to see communicated more widely and that travel has the ability to be a positive for not only individuals but the planet as a whole.

“Travel allows connection between individuals and cultures and the removal of fear.  Many are afraid of the unknown… the media constantly banging on about how one person sprained their ankle near someone who was wearing a hijab so now they are all banned on that beach.

“Level headed people are those who have travelled and realise that apart from the odd utensil and language barrier, all people are pretty much driven by the same dreams and desires”.

For Travel Agents? Meg summarises with:

“Travel Agents should be a ‘confidence counsellor’ – someone who lets people know that travelling is healthy and being out comfort zones is how humans grow.”

What are your thoughts? Do you think Travel Agents have a part to play?


The interviewees

The hotelier – Christian De Boer – MD Jaya House Siem Reap


I met Christian in 2014 as roomsXML were looking to direct contract with Shinta Mani which he had grown into the most successful hotel in the history of Siem Reap. An ingredient of success was literally raising millions of dollars that went back into the local Khmer Community.

He is now the MD of a brand-new property poised to become the next number one, Jaya House with its mixture of style, grace, luxury and of course, sustainable business practice.

Initiatives he has created and implemented include “Refill not Landfill”, “Ten Thousand Trees”, “Made in Cambodia market” to name a few.


The educator – Meg Salter – MD Auridian

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I was introduced to Meg through Penny Spencer when recruiting speakers for Travel Vision 2020, a series of workshops running collaboration with roomsXML and Amadeus.

Since starting with Flight Centre in the 90s in the days of the telex, Meg has move through a number of roles to eventually start her own successful consulting organisation, Auridian consulting.

Meg was undoubtably the most popular speaker at Travel Vision 2020. Not only was her content incredible but it was the raw honesty with which it was delivered. Meg is refreshingly honest and insanely to the point in the delivery of key messages. An important one being that agents need to change and grow to survive in a competitive machine dominated future.


The Travel Agent – Karsten Horne – MD Reho Travel

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Karsten Horne from Reho is known for great actions and humorous Twitter feeds. Part of the Reho business model is a percent commitment return to causes, a key plank being that 20% of annual profits go towards charities.

He is a true believer in the need of ethics and sustainable standards in the travel industry and this is reflected in the many causes Reho has established.

Rehope Micro-credit Agency has been fully accredited by the Government of Malawi. Reho are the only travel management company in the world to earn B-Corp status. I could write a whole article on Karsten. Actually I have here.


The Empowerment Tourism Pioneer – Simla Sooboodoo – MD Hands on Journeys

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Coming from Mauritius and suffering hardships as a child, Simla had a 10% survival chance from a brain haemorrhage, led to a second chance and the knowledge that others deserved a second chance too.

She not only built a business but defined a new travel movement of “Empowerment Tourism” and wrapped it up in her astounding new business, Hands on Journeys.

Simla undoubtably has some of the best hands on experience and knowledge on ethics and #traveltochangetheworld.