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Exclusive Interview: Shannon Guihan, TTC’s Chief Sustainability Officer & Head of The TreadRight Foundation

In an exclusive chat with Shannon Guihan, we get the lowdown on The Travel Corporations's latest Impact Report, explore their future objectives, and gather invaluable insights for travel advisors seeking to incorporate sustainability into their services.

In an exclusive chat with Shannon Guihan, we get the lowdown on The Travel Corporations’s latest Impact Report, explore their future objectives, and gather invaluable insights for travel advisors seeking to incorporate sustainability into their services.

In 2008, The Travel Corporation (TTC) founded the TreadRight Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the planet, its people, and wildlife. With a deep-rooted commitment to sustainable travel, TTC has devised a strategy for its 40 travel brands to collectively further their mission of MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®.

Karryon caught up with Shannon Guihan, Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) and Head of The TreadRight Foundation at TTC to discuss their latest Impact Report and what the future of sustainable travel looks like.

As the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) for The Travel Corporation and the Head of the TreadRight Foundation, can you tell us what your role involves and how it’s evolved over time?

The role, in some respects, depends on the stage of evolution that an organisation might be at with respect to sustainability. The Travel Corporation has been involved in this since 2008 initially via philanthropy through the TreadRight Foundation. And I’ve been involved personally in some way, shape or other since 2011.

This role has developed to really set the direction, oversee the implementation and report on progress of all of our sustainability efforts. In the case of The Travel Corporation, that includes a sustainability strategy that rolls over every five years.

The thing that’s really important to articulate about The Travel Corporation though is our approach has been to take a business function approach. When developing our most recent sustainability strategy, it was very much, “How does this apply in Operations? How does this apply in Sales?” And what that’s enabled us to do is to take those KPIs and break them down into business function tactics. It wouldn’t ever be successful without that.

What are the key highlights of TTC’s most recent Impact Report?

Our Carbon Fund is a considerable highlight. All of our brands contribute to it based on the carbon footprint of that brand. It enables our business now to have a mechanism that will then invest in decarbonisation while we can then measure the carbon reduction per brand. Eventually in theory we can shrink the carbon fund.

We dabbled in carbon offsets, though offsets weren’t going to help us reach our carbon reduction targets. And so we had to make a shift and, in my opinion, this is a very progressive step for a business.

You see it in other sectors but not so much in ours. So it says to the marketplace we’re gonna pay for this party, we’re gonna make this happen. So I’m proud of that.

What are TTC’s long-term sustainability aspirations?

Our science-based targets, our Net Zero Target, is for the Travel Corporation to produce near-zero emissions effectively by 2050. In order to have science-based targets, you have to have near-term targets, those are 2030. So we’re focused on 2030. And once you break it down to a shorter time scale, then you’re able to get tactical.

We have to take these really big ideas and we need to break it down to tactical steps over a number of years. So, the Net Zero, it’s ongoing, it consumes me. Our high-level sustainability targets are also up for renewal. We’ll start thinking, “Where are we going to go next? Where are we going to take these 11 goals? What are the next level of goals?” And so then we’ll produce another set of goals for 2025 all while working to educate guests, letting them know that we are doing the work for them, travel advisers as well. So, there’s never a dull moment and there’s no down season. Unfortunately, the climate crisis doesn’t have a down season.

Your MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences have been integrated throughout the entire portfolio. How are these resonating with guests?

The MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences are pretty exciting because it’s sort of the path of least resistance on the topic of sustainability in order to capture the guest’s attention. And they really are capturing their attention.

It’s been a real shift in the way we identify a quote-unquote travel experience. So for those who don’t know, the MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences are immersive impact experiences chosen directly for the way in which they advance the United Nations Global goals. And, our operations, travel experience teams initially looked at it and thought, ‘I don’t know, this might be tricky.’ And then they looked at it and really started to get into it, and then they ran with it.

So the goal was fifty per cent of itineraries would have one main MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experience by 2025. We’re nearing in on a hundred per cent. It’s a beast now, and it’s really amazing to see, and it’s really wonderful to see your sales teams fluent in the United Nations Global goals. And they are. It’s an impressive lot of individuals.

What guidance do you offer travel advisors seeking to incorporate sustainability into their services?

There’s power in embracing the vulnerability that we all feel talking about sustainability. You know, I’m not an expert on a lot of things. The topic of sustainability touches a lot of things and I’m just owning the fact that I’m in a position to make powerful change. And I think that our advisors are in a very impressive position of power, and they need to just own that fact.

I want for them not to be fearful that they’re going to say the wrong thing, and I want them to say something. Take a look at what your supply chain, who they are, your litany of operators and hoteliers that you’ve been working with. Just do a little bit of research. Have they identified more than just a sustainability statement or policy? Have they made work you can feel good about selling those operators and those destinations? Have you, do you try to consider shifting somebody over to a longer trip in the shoulder season that you know will benefit a community more than a shorter trip in peak season?

Talk to clients about packing tips, bringing a filtered water bottle. We should be there by now, but we’re not there, you know. Go buy yourself a UV filter with your water bottle and save an awful lot of plastic when you’re anywhere.

There’s power in being a little bit curious and appreciating that we’re all vulnerable on this and nobody has all the answers. When we go out to market with a message or you see our Impact Report, know that we’ve made mistakes, we probably will again, but we’re also a game to talk to you about them, because the more buyers of local and organic in a destination, the more buyers or requests of electric vehicles or train travel that we have in a destination, I mean, you’re just helping me get my job done.

What hopes and aspirations do you hold for the travel industry in terms of fostering positive sustainability changes?

I want the travel industry to truly understand it’s not a soft industry. It’s become extractive. I want for us to support one another, as many of us are doing, but not see this as a competitive edge. Certainly, consumers are demanding it more and need to see it.

I want for the travel industry not to view this as altruism but just a missed opportunity or perhaps a cost that we didn’t articulate or account for in our models previously. At the end of the day, it’s about manners, isn’t it? I’m gonna be the good Canadian girl; it is about manners. You’re in somebody else’s backyard and that means respecting everything from please and thank-yous to how long your shower is, to how much weight you’re carrying in your luggage, to what you’re doing on the local infrastructure. Be a good guest. And I think that that just needs to be articulated throughout the supply chain from all of us.

Watch the full interview

We’ve only just scratched the surface of this incredible conversation with TTC’s Shannon Guihan. Watch the full interview here to uncover even more insights.

Learn more about The Travel Corporation’s sustainability strategy, goals, and progress in their full How We Tread Right Impact Report.

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