February 20th marks the World Day of Social Justice, a day that celebrates diversity in our world. Its main goal is to promote efforts to address social issues, including poverty, social and economic exclusion, unemployment, sustainable development, and much more. As the United Nations so eloquently writes on their site, “Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations.” It’s a recipe for a prosperous coexistence.

This day is all about respecting others and the environment, essentially making our world a nicer place to live. Not coincidentally, most tourism practices are founded upon this principle: enjoying what people, places, and, more generally, life has to offer.

It’s also pretty likely that you’re looking to keep your business around for a while, right? Create a sustainable business to be proud of and fight the good fight by considering some of the principles we’ve outlined here.

Hire locals

Tourism practices significantly benefit communities by creating job opportunities. Hiring locally is wise, both economically and socially. First, let’s take a look at some of the direct benefits your company will experience if you hire locals.

Forbes compiled a simple list of five reasons why you should hire locally, and two of these five really stood out to me: “your customers will thank you for it” and “it’s easier to build a network.” Many customers are after an authentic experience, and hiring locals that know the area and can offer recommendations or anecdotes is crucial. There is also a sense of community, even when guests are from out of town — many visitors appreciate supporting local people, since it’s a sign of them becoming “a true citizen of [their] area,” as William Craig writes in Forbes. Building a network goes hand in hand with this sense of community. Employees enjoy working with their trusted friends and families, and if you hire locally, your best employee may know the perfect candidate that you didn’t know you needed!

Treat your employees well

In an article written by Stuart C. Carr and Ishbel McWha-Hermann for The Guardian, a survey of 1,300 local and expat workers found a wage gap between the two parties, even though respective members were equally qualified for the same positions. As you can imagine, the results weren’t pretty — local employees were outraged that their expatriate co-workers earned more money and enjoyed more benefits than they did.

One of the primary consequences of this injustice were rifts within the work environment. As each of us likely knows, a tense work environment is not an enjoyable one. Moreover, McWha-Hermann warns that this inequality “may be undermining poverty-reduction initiatives before they even reach the community.” This means that with an inherently unequal structure still in place, social justice can’t even get its foot through the door.

In any case, turnover is not a positive for your company, and unfair wages is the #1 cause of company turnover. Treating employees fairly — including reasonable pay — is the first step (and a big one, at that) toward employee retention, which will allow your business not only to grow, but also to become more valuable as your employees gain more experience. This way, you may also have the chance to contribute to your community by creating more jobs. And, from a social justice perspective, “job creation, better quality jobs, and better access to jobs for the bottom 40 per cent have the potential to increase incomes and contribute to more cohesive and equitable societies and thus are important to prevent violent conflicts and to address post-conflict challenges.”

The hiring practices at your company can either promote social justice practices or be a detriment to the social justice work already done. However, these have to do with individuals that can speak up for themselves. There is one major player that doesn’t have a voice itself and therefore requires that we speak on its behalf: the environment.

Implement a sustainability policy

A sustainability policy can serve as a set of simple guidelines to help your guests not only take care of the community and place that they are visiting, but also to enjoy their time even more by interacting positively with their surroundings (people included!). A sustainability policy is really up to you — it can be modified according to your business, your preferences, or your focuses. Check out Colombia Travel Operator’s sustainability policy — these folks know what they are doing!

A good example that comes to mind is a company for hiking, walking, or even 4×4 vehicle tours. If you’re in the business, you probably know how important it is that your guests stay on marked trails. Otherwise, they risk harming the fragile ecosystem that they’ve come to enjoy. The same goes for snorkeling or scuba diving tours — landing onto a coral colony is not ideal treatment of these animals (yes, they are animals!).

As I mentioned in a previous post, tour operators are in a unique position to educate their guests on how to better take care of the beautiful environment that surrounds them. The first step can be creating a sustainability policy. After all, you are the expert on your area and your tours — you know what issues can be solved by simply informing your guests.

Let’s strive to get everyone a little bit of justice and make our industry (and world) a better place to be!


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