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Q&A with Midcounties Co-operative Travel

This month we caught up with Sheena Whittle, Head of Direct at Midcounties Co-operative Travel, to talk about our partnership and their amazing activities to support the Travel Foundation and champion sustainable tourism…

Q. Hi Sheena, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your partnership with the Travel Foundation. You’ve supported and worked with us for many years and have rolled out a number of initiatives during that time. What’s new for this year?

A. “We’ve adapted our approach this year and now automatically include the Travel Foundation donation into our own tour operation, Co-operative Holidays.  This means we can confidently talk to our customers about our own product contributing to sustainability projects around the globe.  Whilst customers can, and do still contribute on other third party tour operator holidays, this approach has almost doubled our donations since we put it into practice.

We’re also close to finalising the details of our Travel Foundation fam trip where we are partnering up with two of our suppliers to visit Jamaica and see the Travel Foundation projects live for ourselves.  We will be taking our colleagues, who have supported the Travel Foundation the most, to help further boost their knowledge and engagement.”

Q. Have you noticed a growing demand for sustainable tourism products?

A. “Yes, headlines about plastics, suppliers putting SeaWorld on stop sale, and the increase in adventure/activity holidays linked with some kind of sustainable project, are increasing customer’s awareness for sustainability. There’s still very few customers that sit down with one of our agents and only want to look at holidays that include a sustainable element, but I do believe these days will come. Particularly with “generation sensible” breaking the mould in many areas.”

Q. What do you consider to be your big sustainability successes?

A. “Naturally the launch and buy-in of The Travel Foundation across all of our trading divisions at Midcounties Co-op Travel, along with increasing donations, is our biggest success but I also look for the changes in behaviour of our colleagues and what they say and do as an indicator. A great example of this was a recent fam trip for eight of our Personal Travel Agents to Saint Lucia and Antigua. I was aware of the Travel Foundation project in that area that was educating and teaching the local fishers to safely catch the invasive lionfish (which are destroying the coral reefs) and use them on local menus, so I gave our agents a challenge…to find lionfish on a menu and try it.  They were so engaged with the challenge and the project, they went one better and found a local fisherman with a boat to take them to the reef to see the lionfish being caught!  This for me is where customer engagement will start and flourish. When the agent can talk about stories and personal experiences like this, the topic of sustainability can really come to life for the customer.”

Personal Travel Agents on a fam trip to Saint Lucia get a close view of the infamous lionfish and learn about the Travel Foundation’s efforts to protect the marine environment.

Q. We offer all our partners access to our online Go Greener training. Has this benefitted your organisation?

A. “The Go Greener training has been invaluable. It takes our colleagues through a journey that’s easy to understand and helps them identify the key points and projects that are important to be able to talk about when booking customers’ holidays.”

Q. Why is it important to have organisations like the Travel Foundation working with the travel industry? 

A. “I think it’s really important, as travel retailers we are not experts on how to make the biggest differences in the countries we send our customers to. But organisations like the Travel Foundation are and this means we can form a great partnership.  We can be confident that the funds we raise are being used to have the maximum impact.”

Q. Thank you for your being such a loyal supporter of the Travel Foundation. Why are we such a good fit for you?

A. “As a Co-operative we share a lot of common values with the Travel Foundation, indeed our Mission Statement is “We strive ‘to be a successful consumer co-operative working towards creating a better, fairer world and to enhance the lives of our colleagues, members, customers, and the communities we serve.” The Co-operative is a global movement so partnering with an organisation who serves communities globally, sometimes even working with local co-operatives as part of their projects is a perfect fit.”