For this interview Anula Galewska spoke with Jim Sano, Vice President for Travel, Tourism and Conservation, WWF, about the partnership between WWF and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Jim serves as the senior advisor on sustainable tourism programs and develops new initiatives to engage WWF’s most committed supporters. He was formerly President of Geographic Expeditions, a San Francisco-based adventure travel company that offers educational travel, location management, and sustainable travel consulting services.
Prior to joining Geographic Expeditions, Jim served as a ranger and special assistant to the Superintendent at Yosemite National Park in California. Jim was on WWF’s National Council for 10 years and is an Emeritus Board Member of the Trust for Public Land.
This article is part of the interview series with Speakers of the GSTC Conferences in Suwon, Korea and Athens, Greece held in October and November 2016.
Anula: How did WWF come to be partnering with Royal Caribbean Cruises?
Jim: Earlier this year, WWF and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd entered into a five-year partnership that focuses on ensuring the long-term health of the oceans. Over the next five years, our global partnership will work to achieve several ambitious and measurable sustainability targets that will reduce the company’s environmental footprint, support WWF’s global oceans conservation work, and raise awareness among the company’s more than 5 million passengers about the importance of ocean conservation.
The targets include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, responsibly sourcing food, including seafood, and promoting more sustainable tourism operations and destinations. For example in sustainable tourism, Royal Caribbean will offer guests at least 1,000 shore excursions by operators certified to the GSTC standard by 2020. Learn more about all of Royal Caribbean’s 2020 environmental sustainability targets on our website.
Anula: How is this partnership encouraging suppliers to improve their sustainability standards?
Jim: Improving sustainable tour operations through the company’s suppliers is one of the primary goals of the partnership. RCL has worked with many of their tour operators to improve sustainability over the years, and as a great first step, these operators have conducted internal assessments and some have been certified or recognized against international sustainability standards. Getting GSTC-recognized certification is the next step in this process.
One of the strategies we are working on with Royal Caribbean is to add a sustainability preference into their responsible tour sourcing policy. RCL will give preference to tour operators who have made progress towards certification or have been certified against a GSTC standard. Not everyone will be certified by 2020, but the new sourcing policy will be in place by 2018, encouraging tour operators to begin the certification process.
Of course we need to be realistic as it is not always possible to get 100% of suppliers certified, especially in places where there is only one company capable of delivering the service.
Through this commitment, Royal Caribbean is be sending an important signal about the importance of GSTC. And, more and more, we’re seeing a shift towards sustainability in the tourism market. Having a large company like Royal Caribbean endorse the GSTC standard will hopefully spur others to follow suit.
Anula: So another aim has to be educate the customer about conservation issues and the project itself?
Jim: We want to increase consumer awareness of GSTC as the leading tourism sustainability standard. In the future we hope that all certified suppliers will be able to use the GSTC logo. By increasing awareness of the GSTC logo, we hope to create a brand like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and reduce the confusion caused by the proliferation of ecotourism labels in the marketplace.
As part of this partnership, we’re actively working to educate Royal Caribbean’s guests about ocean conservation. We’re developing educational content across three brands, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. There’s a special edition of WWF’s magazine, “WWF At Sea,” in every stateroom across these brands. We also have dedicated oceans-focused programming on the stateroom tv channel.
In April 2016 Royal Caribbean committed to combatting wildlife crime, through an event organized by the White House and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. To support this commitment, WWF is developing educational materials on smart shopping while in port – advising Royal Caribbean’s guests what to look out for and what not to buy. WWF is also developing a special guide about sharks and rays, to provide best practices on how to conduct tours in an ecologically-sensitive manner. We hope this will provide needed guidance to the industry as a whole, and not just Royal Caribbean.
Anula: Do you also have any special education programs for the staff?
Jim: Yes. We know that educating the crew is going to be critical in building awareness with guests. The staff, whether its cruise directors or waiters, are allies in helping spread our message on board the ships. We are in the process of developing trainings and content on a variety of topics – from sustainable seafood to wildlife crime.
We plan to leverage the experience of the tour operator Natural Habitat Adventures. Their training programs have proved to be a success, so we want to do a similar thing with the Royal Caribbean.
Anula: Why did WWF decide to work with Royal Caribbean?
Jim: Our oceans under threat. According to WWF’s Living Blue Planet Report, in the last four decades populations of some marine mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have declined on average by half. The loss of mangroves—perhaps one of the most valuable habitats on the planet—is estimated to be occurring at a rate three to five times that of the loss of rainforest. If we are going to reverse the downward trends, we must take bold steps to repair, restore and protect the oceans.
We believe it is important to harness the power of the global marketplace as a force for conservation.
We believe it is important to harness the power of the global marketplace as a force for conservation. Our objective in partnering with Royal Caribbean is to contribute to the conservation of important ocean ecosystems and safeguard vital natural marine resources for generations to come. And, we hope to inspire other companies in the tourism sector to become more sustainable.
So one of the reasons why we work with big travel companies is to create a certain amount of critical mass, which has a profound influence on smaller companies to behave more sustainably. If you want to know more about why WWF works with these big players, watch this TED Talk by Jason Clay. In tourism we followed the same principle, and this is how we started working with Royal Caribbean.
Anula: But big players are very often frightened to commit to sustainability. Why is that?
Jim: The travel industry, unlike other industries such as clothing, has very low margins. On top of that, tourism is a highly competitive market. The big barrier is how much money it will cost a company to raise the bar and be more sustainable.
At my former tour company, Geographic Expeditions, when we first offered tours to Nepal it was very difficult for the end customer to make a connection with a tour company. Now everyone has a nice website, and someone from customer service can answer all your questions online.
But big companies have a competitive advantage, which small ones don’t have – years of experience and a good insurance. At Geographic Expeditions our value proposition was the peace of mind. If a customer cares about sustainability and also health and safety, we offered them a customizable travel experience and the comforting feeling that all the issues had been taken care of.
We need to show these companies that sustainability and strong business fundamentals are not mutually exclusive.
Anula: How important is tourism for WWF?
Jim: This project with Royal Caribbean is our first large project in the travel and hospitality sector.
There’s a growing realization that tourism, when done right, offers a financial opportunity for countries to develop their economies responsibly and protect nature.
For example, I was on the board of The Trust for Public Land for many years, and it conducted numerous economic benefits of parks and open space studies and demonstrated that on average they had a hand in making the case with government and communities that this is a good investment – on average there was $10 in economic benefit for every $1 invested. This research is powerful and persuasive. TPL played an instrumental role is raising over $50B for protected areas – many of which benefit the travel industry.
We should be developing more case studies that present the economic benefits, and reports that showcase the compelling case for economic development and jobs creation thanks to tourism activity.
We should be developing more case studies that present the economic benefits, and reports that showcase the compelling case for economic development and jobs creation thanks to tourism activity. If we want governments to take tourism more seriously, we have to be able to document these numbers. Evidence and money talks, it is the only way to convince big businesses to choose sustainability as their development path.
If we want governments to take tourism more seriously, we have to be able to document these numbers. Evidence and money talks, it is the only way to convince big businesses to choose sustainability as their development path.
GSTC Global Sustainable Tourism Conference took place in Suwon, Korea in October 2016. To view presentations from the past conference and learn about upcoming GSTC events, visit GSTC website.