Hear from our CEO, Niel Alobaidi, in a Q&A on responsibility and wellbeing in the travel industry. Niel shares his belief that travel has a significantly positive influence on society and discusses the steps that Newmarket Holidays is taking to identify, prioritise, and deliver a range of initiatives focused on our wellbeing and sustainability.
What do you believe is ‘responsible travel’, and why is it so important to us as a travel company?
For me, it’s simply about doing as much good as you can through travel, whilst also minimising any negative impacts. Taking the first part of this, I’m a strong believer that travel has a significant and positive influence on society across several areas.
The most obvious of these is the global redistribution of wealth. I completely understand that we have a ‘cost of living’ crisis in the UK at the moment, and for many, this is making life extremely difficult. In no way would I want to underestimate the seriousness of this for those particularly affected. However, our nation is still one of the wealthiest on the planet, and a lot of the things that many of us take for granted are simply out of reach in a lot of other parts of the world.
I read a recent article that suggested that over the last decade, in 46 of the 49 least developed nations, tourism has become one of the primary sources of economic income. Travel provides employment at both a skilled and non-skilled level, and builds infrastructure and wealth, which in turn can be used to improve health and education.
There are also well-documented areas where travelling a lot currently has some negative impact. I think we’re all aware now of our individual obligations to reduce the amount of greenhouse emissions we generate, and this is particularly the case within the travel industry. Whether by land, sea, or air, travelling clearly creates a carbon footprint and, whatever your personal beliefs might be, the government target of net zero by 2050 means, we’re all obligated to find a way to offset this.
Fortunately, there is a lot of excellent work already being done in this area, and I’m optimistic that through the creation of new and increasingly effective offsetting measures, as well as ongoing work on innovative technology solutions, the industry is already making good progress on this. As travel companies, we also have a particular responsibility to look at the partners we work with, both in the UK and abroad, to ensure that they are also doing the right thing.
In summary, I’m really pleased with our first steps on this journey. We all know that there are areas where the travel industry has work to do to become truly sustainable, but I think it sometimes gets a bit lost that the industry does do a lot of good, whether that be through the hundreds of millions of the people it employs all around the world, either directly or indirectly, to the redistribution of global wealth from richer places to poorer places. It also provides a lot of social benefits to those lucky enough to experience travelling to new places. As such this project is all about acknowledging that we have a lot to do and creating a plan to deliver positive change, but also sharing the importance of global travel.
What steps are we taking to offset our carbon production and negative impact as a travel company?
If I’m honest, we're still quite early into this process, and it’s important to recognise that, however it is now a specific area of strategic focus for the business.
We have selected a team of people from across the business who are assigned with identifying, prioritising, and delivering a range of initiatives focused on responsibility and sustainability.
We're also working with an external specialist to measure our carbon footprint and help us identify where we can make the biggest differences most quickly and enable us to set some more specific goals.”
In addition, we’re in constant dialogue with our travel partners, including airlines, coach providers and hotels, so we can clearly identify who is the best in the class already, and those with more work to do.
Finally, we are in detailed discussions with several sustainability charities, including ones that specifically enable carbon offsetting opportunities, and expect to announce a partnership with at least one of these very soon.
What do you think our responsibility is as a travel company with regards to the wellbeing of the places that we visit and the people that live there?
This is incredibly important. Looking back, this was an area that we probably neglected in the earlier days of travel, but to give the industry its credit, it has been something that’s been front and centre for most travel businesses for some time.
For tour operators, working within overseas destinations takes a lot of effort and resource, so it needs to be a long-term investment. To make this work, we must treat relationships as a partnership, which means a consideration of the welfare of the people that work with us, both directly and indirectly.
Additionally, whilst our customer expectations of value are getting higher, there is also an increasing demand for authenticity, especially in the touring sector. Customers have a greater understanding of sustainability, and they will quickly identify companies that are not considerate of this. In this day of social media, companies that don’t take account of this will very quickly find themselves in the spotlight.
What do you think are the dangers of ‘Greenwashing’ as a travel company?
'Greenwashing’ is an issue for any business, but I guess that travel’s close association with aviation puts it much more in the media spotlight, so the dangers of negative publicity are clearly greater.
However, the concept of ‘Greenwashing’ only exists because there is a positive PR opportunity from being seen as embracing sustainability. Therefore, to properly leverage this opportunity, like everything else, it requires commitment and dedication – anything else is fraud.
That said, for me, it’s a basic principle. You either believe in the importance of providing a sustainable future for the planet, or you do not. If you do, then there’s an obligation to do what you can to support this.
What do you think employers can do to better the wellbeing of their employees?
Ironically, this is one area the pandemic did change some things for the better. Before Covid-19, we had always had a small number of staff that worked in a hybrid way, with their time split between home and the office, however now this is much more the norm.
Obviously, not all roles are as suited to this new way of working, and we’re still very much learning the best technology and processes, but for most people this brings a lot more balance between their work and home lives. Importantly we’re not seeing it harm people’s productivity, and in many cases, this has even improved, so overall this can only be a positive for everyone.
However, the pandemic also brought a plenty of challenges to people’s wellbeing. It was an extremely stressful and difficult two years for everyone, whilst many were having to cope with it all alone. I’m so proud of the way the Newmarket Holidays team supported the business throughout this period, and without that, I’m honestly not sure where we would be, however I am also conscious that this has taken an immense physical and mental effort.
With this in mind, I know there’s a lot more we can do to help here, but we are working hard to confront this head-on and give everyone opportunities to discuss their general welfare, and how we can try to help.
How do you think travelling promotes wellbeing for our customers?
I remember reading something nearly 20 years ago that argued that holidays, in some capacity, were no longer seen as a luxury in the UK, but were a necessity. I’m not sure if I would go quite that far, but I certainly strongly believe that being able to periodically break away from the norm, and have time to relax, is a critical part of a healthy lifestyle. The opportunity to travel and spend time somewhere different provides for this more than anything else.
Travelling also provides a unique opportunity to enjoy new experiences alongside friends and family, as well as giving an opportunity to make new friendships. This builds bonds and strengthens relationships, which are so important for our wellbeing.
Visiting new places and having new experiences is proven to be a great support for people that are struggling with their mental health. It certainly helps broaden the mind and fosters greater understanding and tolerance across different cultures.
What does the future of wellbeing and positive impact travel look like for Newmarket Holidays?
In some ways that’s a very difficult question to answer. In the medium term, I’m confident that the actual trips we send won’t be that different, from a content and experiential perspective, but that underneath we will find a way to make the whole process of travelling carbon neutral. Clearly, this won’t happen overnight, but I am hopeful it can change quite quickly – I think many of us thought, only a few years back, that electric cars were a concept of the distant future, but now it sometimes seems like every other car is either electric or a hybrid.
From a wellbeing perspective, I expect things to visibly change much more rapidly. The dynamics of the world around us are changing so quickly in every possible way, including both good and bad, and to look after the wellbeing of our customers and our people, we are going to need to adapt to this continuously. Where this takes us, I genuinely have no idea, but I do know that we must embrace it wherever that may be.
What is the most important thing our customers can do to be more responsible when travelling?
We’re lucky, in that we sell amazingly experiential holidays, immersed in the process of exploring and learning about new destinations. Our customers tend to be naturally curious, and they care about the environment they are visiting.
As such I think the most valuable thing that they can do for us is to continue to share where they think we are doing well, and where we should be doing better. They’re our eyes and our ears, and as such are an essential part in helping us to continuously improve.
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