Leading with Purpose and Making Change Happen with a Value-Driven Responsible Travel Business
Leading with Purpose: Values at the Core of Business
As the Chief Purpose Officer of EXO Travel, I look at ensuring that the purpose of the company – why we exist – is demonstrated throughout our organization across our strategies, branding and culture, as well as in our external relationships and communications. Our purpose is what drives our values, our capabilities to take risks, and helps us to define how to respond to others in both business and societal contexts.
A purpose officer’s role is to bridge the gap between leadership intention and practices at the operation level, and to ensure action takes place throughout the organization to support the company’s vision. In a nutshell, our purpose and values must be incorporated into what we sell, how we work, and how we treat people both inside and outside of EXO.
I am working with teams in all our destinations so that people working for EXO understand how their day-to-day lives tie into our purpose and values and to ensure that compensation is tied to their performance against those priorities.
Do What You Love, Love What You Do
I became involved in sustainability at the age of 14, when my friends and I created a small NGO working towards poverty alleviation in Romania. We were living in a very small town and there was a partnership between our town and another village in Eastern Romania, therefore we had decided to partner with local youths to set up projects such as cleaning the local river, funding scholarships and helping the implementation of a homestay / small accommodation established as a Community Based Tourism project.
It was thrilling to make friends and help the community while traveling through Europe. It was then that I decided that working to improve lives was what I wanted to do in life; working in local development and towards sustainability. Since then, my professional experiences have always led me to discover new fascinating fields of work such as microfinance, fair trade, social innovation, responsible tourism and more. Leading projects that protect the planet and benefit people allows me to truly live the motto ‘Do what you love, love what you do’.
In the earlier days of my professional life, I worked for small NGOs in the field of microfinance and learned about the impact of social entrepreneurship. I also worked in the public sector and led international cooperation and development projects. These two experiences have been fundamental for me in understanding successful and replicable local development frameworks.
Then, I joined EXO Travel as Sustainability Coordinator and learned how we can make change happen on-the-ground, especially through training and raising awareness at local levels. I feel that I am constantly learning and that’s one of the most exciting things that makes me want to work in this people-oriented industry, which has an important responsibility for safeguarding the environments we operate in, the very assets we rely upon to exist as a business.
Sustainability Successes and Milestones
For over 6 years now, I have worked on the implementation of sustainability certifications, EXO Travel was one of the first Destination Management Companies to be certified in Asia. As Director of Sustainability, I have directly worked on the certification of its 23 offices and especially in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and helped Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar in becoming re-certified destinations.
Working on sustainability certification has pushed me to help drive positive change in our supply chain and encourage our suppliers and partners to implement sustainable practices, with a variety of tools such as assessments, training and creation of resources.
Since 2016, I have been actively involved in the creation of policies and processes aiming against the plague of plastic waste in our region. I have encouraged EXO Travel board to declare a ban of single-use wet towels and developed with our teams a scheme to drastically reduce single-use plastic water bottles, which has since been adopted by multiple stakeholders in the region.
Together with independent auditors and external partners, I have supported EXO Travel to become carbon neutral in 2019 and to measure carbon emissions directly linked to travelers' stays in Asia. Which has set the bar for competitors in the industry and pushed like-minded companies to implement similar actions towards climate change.
Partnerships for Communities
As manager of EXO Foundation, I managed a budget of over $750,000 and funded more than 100 charitable organizations and social enterprises working in Asia. The projects were selected by an internal board I chaired, based on their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals and relevance to address development issues.
I am particularly proud to have initiated a partnership with Evergreenlabs which led to the creation of Reform centers in Vietnam. Since their inception in 2018, the three operating ReForm centers are now closer to 10 and they give value and a second life to million pieces of non recyclable plastic waste (bags, wrappers, bottles, food boxes).
More recently, we’ve been working with partners on a project “Hotel Resilient” which aims to collect data on how our suppliers perform against social and environmental criteria and we have built this tool in collaboration with other like minded tourism organization, this is a project that I believe will help to make a difference in our industry and foster more open cooperation between between key stakeholders in our destinations.
Working with Competitors
In 2018, together with Nicholas Wade of Khiri Travel, I co-founded IMPACT Vietnam, a network of DMCs committed to sustainability and working together through best practices sharing events, networking, and implementation of common projects.
We feel that many of our key sustainability challenges can be linked to the lack of data available and best practices applicable in Asia. That’s why we have started IMPACT Vietnam, which serves as an informal network of like-minded companies engaged in sustainable tourism, allowing for collaboration to drive positive change in Vietnam.
I sincerely believe that this network, along with others alike we have joined, truly enhances cooperation in our industry towards a more sustainable future for travel.
Born in France, Alexandra first stepped foot in Asia ten years ago. With a Masters degree in Development, Cooperation and International Relations and a Research Masters in Public Law, she has professional expertise with social enterprises and non profit organizations. She joined EXO Travel in 2014, a Destination Management Company creating tailor-made travel experiences in Asia, first as Vietnam's sustainability coordinator before rising up to Director of Sustainability and to her current position as EXO's Chief Purpose Officer in 2022.