AITO – The Specialist Travel Association

AITO travel specialists show continued support for sustainable tourism

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Project Protect

Project PROTECT pledges put into action

Project PROTECT, The Association of Independent Tour Operators’ (AITO) pledge to protect destinations all over the world, has seen 64 members sign up since its launch in October 2016.

Working in partnership with the University of Surrey, the initiative was launched in recognition of the vital role that destinations play in the future of the travel industry. PROTECT stands for People, Resources, Outreach, Tourism, Environment, Conservation and Tomorrow.

On behalf of AITO, the University of Surrey has developed a programme to train, mentor, collect data and analyse the results of sustainability pledges made by AITO members. For 2017/18 they have highlighted some of the key Project PROTECT initiatives where pledges have been put into action:

Improving employment opportunities for women – Explore

Project protectIn 2017, adventure travel operator Explore pledged to increase the number of female tour leaders – initially in Vietnam, India and Sri Lanka – to help improve awareness and equality.

In 2016 Explore trained 282 new leaders, of which just 88 were female. This gender divide drove it to make the Project PROTECT pledge to increase the number of female trainers by 10% and to improve rights for women in the tourism industry.

By the end of 2017, Explore had trained six female leaders (some had to withdraw due to personal reasons) and has increased its local agents’ knowledge and understanding of the topic. Explore will continue to develop employment opportunities for women and to employ more female tour leaders to help make its customers’ trips more memorable, and to support the women in these destinations.

Supporting community development projects – Africa Collection

Project protectIn 2017, Africa specialist Africa Collection partnered with Uthando (meaning ‘love’), a non-profit organisation supporting innovative and inspirational community development projects in Cape Town.

South Africa has been an Africa Collection destination for over 20 years and, while it has seen the country develop and its visitors increase, there are still many areas of social and economic decline. Its Project PROTECT pledge was designed to improve the quality of life for young people in these communities.

The company aimed to donate £5,000 to provide five 1.2 tonne ping-pong tables – fully manufactured, delivered and installed – to Uthando’s exciting youth initiative PingOut. So far, it has delivered and installed one table at a primary school, and the second will be installed by summer 2018. The project continues.

Cleaning up the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains – The Mountain Company

Project protectThroughout 2017, Adventure travel experts The Mountain Company asked each of its 30 groups to pick up at least 4kg of litter during their Himalayan trek, aiming to collect at least 120kg in total. The company’s Leave No Trace philosophy extends to the trekking trails and campsites of the Himalaya and Karakoram mountains, where increasing piles of rubbish not only look unsightly, but also spoil the natural beauty of these stunning areas and will cause long term problems if left.

The initiative has been embraced by the 64 trekkers, who have helped make the environment cleaner and safer by collecting over 350kg of rubbish.

Through its Project PROTECT pledge, The Mountain Company has made steps in the right direction, and wants now to now address the problem even further and to strive for long term change by targeting trekking operators, national parks, tourist boards and associations in these regions.

Protecting Europe’s butterflies – Naturetrek

Project protectWildlife tour specialist Naturetrek operates 450 wildlife holidays, of which 20 are specifically focused on butterflies, so the company’s pledge was to help protect the increasingly fragile habitats needed for butterflies to survive, both in the UK and all over Europe.

In 2017 Naturetrek aimed to invest 10% of all income generated from its butterfly-focused holidays to the charity Butterfly Conservation. A fantastic £21,280 has been raised, and has gone towards protecting and managing an area of the Chilterns to allow the threatened Duke of Burgundy butterfly to expand its range. This will reduce the risk of this rare creature becoming extinct.

AITO Chairman, Derek Moore, says: “The great work done in the first year of the initiative shows the continued commitment of our members to making travel more sustainable, an overarching aim to AITO for the past 30 years.

“From better gender equality to successful youth projects and vital environmental projects, we’re starting to see purposeful and tangible results in the communities of the destinations visited by our members’ customers, and we are encouraged to see that these are part of long-term goals to serve future generations.”

Professor Xavier Font, Sustainable Tourism Thought Leader of the University of Surrey remarks:

“The small successes, surprising jumps forward and the hard work and dedication of so many tour operators has been exciting and encouraging, and the results so far are very inspiring.”

About Project Protect

AITOProject PROTECT is AITO’s pledge to protecting the destinations of the world. The PROTECT stands for People, Resources, Outreach, Tourism, Environment, Conservation and Tomorrow.

Together with the University of Surrey, and under the leadership of Sustainable Tourism Thought Leader Xavier Font, AITO has devised a 5-year programme to encourage and measure its operators’ dedication to Sustainable Tourism.

AITO has invited all of its members to make an annual pledge to Sustainable Tourism; the Association will support tour operators in finding a pledge that is both worthwhile and meaningful.

At the end of the year, participants are required to produce a 250 word testimonial detailing how well they achieved their goal and assessing any measurable factors stated at the time of the pledge. Evidence will also be provided to AITO and the University of Surrey in support of the report.

There are now 119 specialist tour operator members in AITO – see for more information.

For more information on Project PROTECT and how AITO members are practising sustainable tourism please visit


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