Sustainable Tourism: the 1st free voluntary standard based on an international model for touristic operators

Published on 2022-05-20

Startup Story

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Teresa Agovino, CEO at Faroo, explained what it means to do sustainable tourism and how they managed to get the first free international standard to evaluate tour operators.


It was really difficult to come up with the name Faroo, but it basically comes from two different words "far" and "loop," meaning a positive circle that takes us far, which is the main idea of our startup and, in general, our mission. 

The project was born after years of working in the field, mostly in the global industry. I started my professional career as an environmental engineer and spent many years working in the corporation field in Africa, South America and also in Asia. There I became aware of the negative impact of tourism on the environment and local people. I then began to wonder how to use my professional skills and abilities to create a positive impact on tourism instead. 

I specialized in sustainable tourism with a pathway at the United Nations and began working as a third-party auditor, that is, the person who can determine whether or not a tour operator or tourism entity is truly sustainable. 

After years of working in this field, I decided to found my sustainable tourism startup, Faroo, with the goal of transforming tourism into a positive force for the global goal. 

What does sustainable tourism mean for companies?

We organize events and travel just for one meaning: to address climate change and support a local population. What we do is to involve touristic operators that really act for reducing their negative impact on the environment and also on the local community. We try to give them an economic opportunity by organizing events for companies.

Right now we are focusing on B2B markets, so we offer companies a positive impact on team building. We organize sustainable events for employees for two main reasons: to give them the possibility to build a stronger relationship with each other, and also to be trained on the ground on sustainable topics.

So it's a moment that they can really spend enjoying themself and also Learning something related to sustainability. The company is not only organizing something nice and also good for their employees but also is doing its CSR activities - corporate social responsibilities - because it's supporting a local tourist, that really does something positive for the environment and the population.

So this is the positive loop, the positive circle that I told you before

Sustainable tourism is also for individual customers

Our project started less than one year ago during the pandemic. We decided to focus on the B2B market and provide solutions for companies with the aim of creating a stream of revenue in order to start our business.

We are now working on the B2C market since tourism is slowly restarting and we are travelling again. Really soon we will offer customers the opportunity to travel especially into the global south and certainly, this travel will have a positive impact.

Customers will visit the country, of course, but they will also know deeper about the local communities and also the project: so it will be a trip that can be useful both for the local community and for customers. 

The aim is to generate a positive impact through tourism, so it will be exactly the same as B2B, but the product will be a little bit different from the one that we are offering right now. 

Sustainable tourism and greenwashing practices

Right now all companies are slowly moving toward more conscious choices and options in general. 

Some of them really believe that we have to change in order to decrease our footprint on the Earth, but others do this change only because customers are really interested in this topic, and so they are also demanding a more sustainable choice.

This is the main reason why companies are moving from like usual business to a more sustainable one. 

There is another reason related to a bigger picture: there are bigger players investing in sustainability - someone because they believe in it, someone because they're doing greenwashing - but in this way, they create a direction that the smallest one has to follow. 

So that's another issue to think about. 

In fact, CSR is a hot topic to deal with and when it comes to sustainability and companies' choices in general everything is related to the person and also to the personal sensitivity. I'm referring to the person in charge, that could be the CSR manager or also the CEO or co-founder of the company.

There are companies that are not trying to change their main businesses but they're less than before. 

We can say that companies are starting to understand that greenwashing is not a good option for them either in a short period or in the middle long term. The people in charge understand that they have to change their business and not only create something like marketing or a community strategy related to sustainability. 

How to link sustainable tourism and CSR activities 

When we organized almost ten team-building for different companies, all companies and employees were enthusiastic about the service. They always point out that the main important thing is that we are able to combine two different things: the joyful moment for people and also an opportunity to really involve employees and people in general.

Right now, CSR opportunities or services are mostly related to donations or specific conferences or events, but none of them really involve people.
So we were able to involve people and also train people in an unconventional way on sustainability and sustainable topics in general. 

The main thing is that they're happy with our service and also they were really enthusiastic about the idea to support sustainable tourism operators.

In the beginning, they didn't understand how to link a dare CSR activity with a touristic feel, but after the team-building event, all of them considered this way to create a link between these two different filters and create a positive effect. 

Sustainable tourism in Italy

Especially in Italy, in the field of sustainable tourism, we are a little bit lacking. 

Italy is a little bit far from a Northern European country: sustainable tourism is something New in Italy but we are starting to understand and comprehend the importance of being sustainable, especially when it comes to tour operators.

In Italy, we don't have just Italian tourists, but we also have European ones who are really keen on sustainability. Tourist operators are just understanding how to deal with this kind of new sensitivity on the topic. We are a little bit far but we are slowly moving toward this topic. 

At the European level, we are a little bit more developed because they spent a lot in investing during the past year and also in raising awareness on this topic.
So tourists, and people in general, are a little bit keener on and also more informed on sustainable tourism.

The different problems of sustainable assessment in the tourism sector

Sustainability assessment is a really hot matter because we don't have one official evaluation of sustainability in Europe, we can say neither throughout the entire globe.

In the past years, a lot of private sustainable assessment has appeared: all of them are based on different criteria and also different topics and not all of them really involve all the different elements, like the environmental and social impact of tourism. 

This is the main problem but there is another one which is quite important too related to the cost.

All sustainability assessments are voluntary and the private one also charges touristic businesses just to give them this assessment and give them the certificate. 

What we did with Faroo is to create a sustainable certificate for touristic operators, which is totally totally free for every single operator.

It's based on international criteria - more specific on 82 criteria - and this is related to all the environmental and social impacts of a touristic service. So we take into consideration every single field and also every single impact that a touristic service generates and we try to evaluate the level of impact that specific business is generating. 

It's totally free because we think assessments should be like a way to evaluate the level of sustainability, not a way to just validate something and pay for it.  

Faroo has been validated by UNWTO, which is a United Nations agency for sustainable and also responsible tourism: so we have just obtained an international and official validation 

Tourist operators and providers' response was positive. Because an international assessment it's really useful just to understand where they are and how they can really bring a positive impact into their industry and reduce their footprint.

Faroo's certificate for tourist operators

The importance of partnership in sustainability

I really believe in partnership and collaboration, because I think sustainability is a really tough topic to deal with: we have to join forces on that kind of topic.

We collaborate with different partners related to the different topics and also products that we offer.

We collaborate with nonprofit organizations or associations to organize activities in specific places and also offer companies these kinds of activities during their retreat. 

But we also partner with other companies, for example, on community-based projects and other kinds of projects that really involve engaging employees in order to reduce their environmental footprint. 

What Faroo offers to companies

Regarding our certificate of assessment, we have an Italian database with 2000 structures not only for accommodation, but also for touristic operators, and we are slowly certifying them in order to have an official database full of opportunities and examples of really sustainable services and touristic operators.

As for the companies, we have already organized very different team building and events for almost 10 companies right now. 

The last one that we organised was for Engineering, an international IT company that has just started its transformation in order to reduce the environmental and social impact of their services.
They decided to organize a two days event not far from Rome. So we chose our sustainable partner - which was an accommodation EcoFarm not far from the centre in Rome - and we organized the two different activities, which are eco-orienteering and foraging. 
The idea was to deepen SDG number 15 - related to biodiversity and interaction with biodiversity - so we organized a more dynamic activity, which is eco-orienteering and another one, which is a little more technical but indeed really funny that is called foraging. They have to go around the place, select the different herbs and also the different ingredients for their eco cocktail, in that way they create their moment before dinner to chill and also deal with deeper sustainability issues. 

These two different activities that we have organized for them generate a positive impact that we calculate and also provide to the company because of course companies can really use this information in sustainability reports.

So related to CO2 not released, when we calculate 280 kilos of CO2, not released, we also calculate 36,000 liter of water which was saved, and also we supported 11 people during the entire organization and enhance 15 local products and also provide 8 hours of training on sustainability issue for 25 people in that event.

Faroo's difficulties in sustainable tourism

We are faced with only two challenges.

First, introducing new forms and new ways of doing CSR for companies is very difficult.  Very often people do not understand the correlation between tourism and its negative impact on the environment. So it is a difficult and very slow introduction into a world that people usually don't think can be so close to tourism.

It is also a difficult topic to measure the social impact of our event.

It is not always a direct impact, but rather it is usually formed by an indirect impact. So we are trying to look at how we can measure it effectively, but also very quickly. 

About the author

Teresa Agovino