Measuring Social Impact: FairAway Travel Case Study

Measuring Impacts, Maximizing Benefits: FairAway Case Study

FairAway, a social enterprise providing authentic local travel experiences around the world, plays an active role in creating positive benefits and opportunities for local communities, with 85 - 88% of spending staying within the destination.
Dirk Radke
Dirk Radke

CEO at FairAway Travel GmbH


Expert Team at TrainingAid

Summary FairAway Travel GmbH Logo

Business Example: 
FairAway Travel GmbH


Key Lessons:

  • Be an advocate for local positive impact. Tourism depends on values created locally, and the local communities that make such value creation possible should benefit from the money spent by visitors.
  • Use your influence to encourage responsible business practices among your suppliers. Tools such as a supplier code of conduct can be used to communicate about your commitment, and to involve your suppliers in your sustainability efforts. 
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Connect with peers and discuss your ideas. Learn from others working on similar relevant efforts. Utilize existing resources to help orient your efforts and to drive discussions forward.
  • Create a mechanism for continuous improvement. You will not have a perfect system to measure all your impact areas from the start, and that’s OK. Keep actively listening to feedback from your suppliers, customers, local partners and other stakeholders, and implement steps to improve your approach over time. 
  • Don’t make vague claims about local benefits. Be transparent about what and how you are measuring, and what your data mean, rather than resorting to simplistic (or even misleading) claims about positive impact. Communicate openly, honestly and regularly about your efforts.

Commitment to Transparent Reporting on Spending

FairAway’s sustainability commitment is based on the belief that tourism can be a leverage for sustainable development, but only if the interests of all stakeholders are considered and balanced. 

Unfortunately, the reality of the global tourism industry is far from such ideals. Oftentimes, the local communities receive only a fraction of money spent and carry most of the burden on the local infrastructure while international corporations make the profits. 

That’s why FairAway strives to be transparent about where the money goes and how it’s spent - in order to raise awareness amongst travelers on the often “hidden” but critical issue of tourism’s economic leakages. 

Beyond educating travelers, such commitment to transparency helps highlight the issue for other tourism industry players. The topic of how much money is actually leaving the destinations is not something many companies like to discuss. But, so much of the value of a trip is created within a destination, and if tourism is not benefiting the people and the local environment that make such value creation possible, we can’t consider it a fair experience.

FairAway Travel Printing Castle Bled
Tourism depends on values created locally, and it's the local communities that make such value creation possible. © FairAway

Ensuring Supply Chain Sustainability

For FairAway, increasing positive social impact has always been a key part of the business priority. As such, getting a clear picture of social impact is an important step - after all “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. 

Measuring social impact, however, is not a simple task. Since understanding positive local impact requires a nuanced approach to tracking and analyzing different aspects of the business, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to measuring social impact. On top of that, being an international tour operator presents an added challenge of dealing with the highly complex nature of the tourism value chain.

So for FairAway, a starting point for working on positive social impact was implementing a Supplier Code of Conduct, which covers key tenets of responsible business practices such as fair working conditions, no child labour, and provision of parental leaves. All partners must sign the Code of Conduct and agree to implement the principles outlined within.

FairAway acknowledges its responsibility towards society to be a good corporate citizen. In order to reach its goals within Corporate Responsibility, FairAway cooperates closely with its own employees, customers, partners such as NGOs, locals at destinations and its suppliers. FairAway wants to ensure that its local agents and any other suppliers … take part in this action towards more responsible tourism. This Supplier Code of Conduct forms an integral part of FairAways‘ contract with its Suppliers.

Measuring Positive Social Impact

Taking a step further, FairAway then worked on efforts to better quantify social impact, to evaluate progress beyond revenue. This process involved speaking to industry leaders and peers (such as forum anders reisen), learning from other businesses (including FairAway’s sister company Better Places) and programs about their KPIs, and formulating goals in line with international frameworks such as the Paris Agreement, IPCC reports and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This has resulted in checklists and recommendations on what makes a better holiday, which were communicated to customers and local partners alike. The checklists were further developed and refined with more KPIs, and incorporated additional insights into what was reasonably possible to reliably measure.  

Such social impact measurement areas include the proportion of accommodation providers in each destination that are truly small-scale or sustainably managed and how many locals are directly involved in each trip. For example:

  • In Peru, FairAway works with 311 families and 75 local communities. 
  • In Cuba, FairAway has created 30+ jobs for local people. 

The aim is to gather data more consistently for all destinations, and ultimately for all trips.

FairAway Case Study - Social Impact Colca Canyon Peru
Visitors to the Colca Canyon in the Arequipa region of Peru, one of the deepest canyons in the world, get to encounter ancestral traditions of the local communities. © FairAway

Continuous Improvement

Based on the checklists and the data gathering steps, FairAway now has the first version of an impact measurement framework that visualizes negative climate impacts beside positive socio-economic benefits. As with all aspects of sustainability, measuring, understanding and improving social impact is an ongoing process. FairAway’s impact measurement framework is in its early stages and testing phase. 

An important part of improving local benefits is collaborating with partners. All FairAway trips are designed by local destination experts, with inputs from customers. Both customers and local partners receive regular communications on how each trip can be planned to reduce emissions while increasing local benefits.

FairAway Case Study Local Expert Sri Lanka
Local destination expert Angelo from Sri Lanka © FairAway

This interactive process encourages stakeholders to consider steps to improving their own practices (for example, more partners have chosen to pursue a sustainability certification), as well as providing constructive feedback on which aspects of the tour experiences can be made more sustainable. 

Gathering feedback from local partners and customers is critical, as it helps identify gaps in understanding and communicating about sustainable development efforts, and enables continuous improvement.

Combatting “Impact Washing”

On the one hand, it’s important for businesses to avoid reinventing the wheel, and rather focus their energy and resources on investing in real positive impact. That’s why learning from others and aligning with existing frameworks are necessary.

On the other hand, however, businesses must ensure credibility of their sustainability and social impact claims. Marketing practices with vague claims of climate positivity and other greenwashing practices are causing misconceptions and distrust. We need clear and consistent language when talking about GHG emissions and tourism’s climate footprint. 

Similarly, in the area of social impact, we need clear and transparent ways of measuring and reporting on local benefits - and on negative impacts (not just the positive). This is often easier said than done, and especially so for a company like FairAway, with its custom-designed tours and localized supply chains which add to the complexity of the challenge. 

Each FairAway trip is customized in partnership with local partners.
Each FairAway trip is customized in collaboration with local partners. © FairAway

To ensure the quality of data mapped out against various priority areas, and to achieve consistency in impact measurement across different destinations, FairAway has streamlined key indicators for measurement, so that tracking data from each trip is manageable. While comparison across different destinations continues to be a challenge given varying degrees of data availability, within each destination, sustainability and social impact data of trips can be compared with each other.

FairAway is Travelife certified, and since 2022, also a Certified B Corporation. Sustainability certification is one part of FairAway’s commitment to transparency and accountability, and the ongoing efforts and progress in creating positive benefits and opportunities for local communities are shared regularly through the company website and annual sustainability reports.