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The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has named 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism. The declaration is aimed at promoting change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more sustainable tourism sector.  WYSE Travel Confederation is proud to have hundreds of travel organizations within our membership that are committed to fostering inclusive economic growth, social inclusiveness and the protection of cultural and natural assets. Our member and industry partner, Travelcuts, shared with us how they raised their social responsibility game to make a lasting, positive impact.

Boy with water

Photo credit: Zute Lightfoot, WaterAid Canada

Travelcuts is in the business of connecting travellers to their dream travel destinations, but they’re also delivering on a much more essential desire for millions of people around the world – clean drinking water. The Canadian company has been operating for around 50 years and over time they’ve evolved to meet the demands of industry developments and appeal to new generations. Throughout these changes, corporate social responsibility has remained a core value at Travelcuts and their parent company, Merit Travel Group. However, in recent years Travelcuts decided to take the plunge into a full-scale social responsibility initiative. They formed a long-term partnership with WaterAid Canada, providing the organization with substantial assistance to reach the United Nation’s goal of bringing clean water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030.

 “Our support for WaterAid is deep rooted and overarching throughout Travelcuts, including subsidizing a large portion of WaterAid Canada’s travel and developing large scale campaigns to raise awareness and funds. We’re very fortunate to work with such a fantastic organization,” said Travelcuts’ President, Jason Merrithew.

The partnership with WaterAid Canada is what Travelcuts considers their contribution to the “team effort” of creating a more sustainable travel industry. Last year, the company donated all proceeds from their film festival to WaterAid and featured a video from one of WaterAid’s projects in Madagascar. They also promoted a companywide “Wear Blue for World Water Day” which raised awareness and money for clean water initiatives. Merrithew said WaterAid’s mission is aligned with both the values of the company and the values of employees, which makes it easy, and fun, for everyone to contribute to the cause. “Water is a universal necessity; our team members get that and are passionate about helping out. We’re helping to empower communities through the gift of fresh water and safe sanitation, an issue that overwhelmingly affects women and girls.  Because the travel industry overall employs a significant number of women, our team takes pride in empowering them to reach their full potential through the work done by WaterAid.“

Merrithew emphasises that individual employees must feel personally invested in the cause for corporate social responsibility programs to be truly successful. This was a key element of their program design. “Engage your people and they’ll tell you where to start,” Merrithew explained. “We created a committee that interviewed, researched and analysed how our people felt about the world around them, what types of things are important to them and how they see their impact on the world within the context of the travel industry. That board still exists and guides our initiatives in the same way they were conceived, through base level engagement.”

Three people standing with an elephant

Employees volunteer in an elephant sanctuary during their “Share a Week”

Individual participation doesn’t stop there. Travelcuts encourages employees to volunteer in their own communities and get involved with organizations or issues they’re passionate about through “Share A Day” and “Share A Week” programs. This is annual company-paid time off, an additional benefit to holiday time, so that employees can participate in volunteer projects both at home and abroad. “We know that connecting with your community is important for the mental health and personal well-being which is why we encourage everyone to get out and get involved,” Merrithew said. He’s personally very proud of the “Share A Week” initiative because few other companies offer employees an annual week of paid leave to volunteer abroad. “It is really the best of both worlds to be able to experience a new culture, discover something about yourself and give back to a community.”

Of course, Travelcuts is still a business and profits matter. Merrithew said that while donating a portion of company earnings does subtract from their bottom line, he sees this as an investment, rather than a loss. “Travelling is about social and environmental interaction, with our industry touching people around the globe on economic and societal levels.  We want to help these communities any way we can because they are so integral to the traveller experience.” Merrithew said they also do get positive feedback from travellers who learn about their work with WaterAid. Additionally, the initiatives contribute to overall happiness companywide and Travelcuts is contributing to the world in a way that will have a lasting impact.  “Our volunteer programs help to enhance our society in Canada and our partnership with WaterAid helps to build prosperous communities that can hopefully support tourism and drive further economic growth around the world.  It’s a phenomenal relationship because through the donations we make, the work WaterAid does today could open a new travel destination for Canadians to respectfully experience tomorrow,” he explained. Merrithew is adamant that any company can make social responsibility an integral part of their business practices.“If anyone, anywhere wants to get involved, I encourage you to do so, there is lots to do and we need all the help we can get.”

Read more about the work WaterAid Canada is able to do with help from Travelcuts and Merit Travel.