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Transparency is the best policy

Being transparent isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also proven to be the smartest thing to do. 

Transparency is the basis for trust between a firm and its customers, partners, investors, employees and other stakeholders. When companies are transparent about important things like working conditions, environmental footprints, equality, ownership and cash-flow, they also contribute to a more sustainable industry, because a transparent company has to stand accountable and be measured by their claims and actions. 

Very few businesses that claim to be sustainable support their claims with data. Some say its’s impossible to calculate, but that is not true. Collecting information take some effort, but any business who claims to be sustainable can and should do it.

Also very few journalists or review sites that highlight the most sustainable businesses, support their claims with data. Many travel journalists and influencers get invited/paid to visit and write? Big companies like Google, Facebook and online travel agents tend to rate companies with many reviews higher or simply those who pay for it. These sites have the power to influence peoples decisions. 

When you travel to The Maldives, you’re supporting local people. Right?

Unfortunately it is more likely that the resort is owned by foreign companies. Employees are flown in and so are the goods you buy and the food you eat. Actually most of the values from tourism don’t go to the destinations. According to the UN it can be as low as 5% for mass tourism in developing countries and areas.

Money that could have gone to local communities, protection of fragile environments and to development of sustainable solutions, instead leaks out to middle-men and investors.

In 2019, tourism contributed to 10.2% of the global GDP. Tourism influence every single SDG and it creates enough value to finance a sustainable development that reaches beyond the industry and it’s supply chains. But not as long as the money are astray.

If we only stopped as little as 0.1% of the economical leakage, it could mean billions of dollars to local economies and projects. 

One of the main challenges in tourism post-covid, is recruitment. While tourism traditionally has held every 10th employee in the world, many workers have switched to other industries and areas during this period. Most of these will not be coming back. It is a fight for survival for many companies.

To attract talent and employees you need to be competitive and do things in a good way. Workers deserve a decent salary, respect and a good work/life balance. A transparent company will be able to prove that they do things properly, that they care about equality and offer good working conditions. Make transparency your competitive advantage. 

Today there are numerous guiding principles that aim to increase transparency.

These include many of the eco-certifications, the EU Taxonomy UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), UN sustainability goals, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises among others.

More and more countries are implementing rules and legislation for increased transparency. Transparency is moving from a soft to a hard measure. You will not only have to do things right, but you need to report frequently. When your company is already transparent, the reporting becomes easier. 

In Norway the government recently launched the Transparency Act. It’s aim is to promote enterprises’ respect for fundamental human rights and decent working conditions, and ensuring that consumers, organizations, trade unions, journalists and the general public have access to information. The Transparency Act is a Norwegian initiative, but we see similar initiatives in other European countries, as well as at EU level.

Many certification organizations are fueled with good intentions, but it’s important that potential partners and travelers look beyond these certifications, and scores to understand which measures and metrics are being used to make these claims.   

As example many certifications will only require hotels to submit self-reported data. This allows for big hotels with hundreds of rooms, pools and restaurant to score higher than small 10 room guesthouses entirely run on renewables. The most sustainable companies are often not certified as they don’t have the resources to do it. This helps the big polluters to look better than they actually are. Unfortunately most certifications for sustainable tourism can easily be used for greenwashing.

If something sounds suspicious, it probably is. You should also keep an eye on carbon off-setting and compensation. Demand documentation.

Certifications can be a good start for companies that can afford it, but a company that is making an effort and truly standing behind the words, should be transparent and document every claim. 

Building trust is not about being perfect
Transparency is a service to share information and give honest feedback on a company’s impact on the planet and society. Claim your company and be honest. Show your good, bad and ugly sides. No one is perfect. What is your plan to become better?