The UnTours tour company is on a journey to inspire more travel business to focus on sustainability, and more travelers to turn to slow travel. Originally founded in 1975, the philosophy and business values of UnTours remain largely unchanged, however are now more relevant than ever as the slow travel movement grows.
In this Q&A we talk with Richard G. Edwards ( @greentravelguy ) CMO at UnTours, about UnTours' journey of being the first ever B Corp, the concept of slow travel, and behind-the-scenes of their new branding.
As the world’s first B Corp, UnTours paved the way for thousands companies to become B Corp Certified (www.bcorporation.net/en-us/certification), from multinational corporations to small businesses.
Our founder, Hal Taussig, was an incredible person and humble visionary. The B Corp founders readily talk about the inspiration he provided (www.untours.com/socialresponsibility/bcorp.asp) to get started. Hal was selfless and took a vow of poverty. For example, he gave his car to a hitchhiker and ended up riding his bike to work for the rest of his life. These anecdotes about a successful entrepreneur serve to illustrate the kind of empathy for others the world needs urgently.
Being the first B Corp has helped create awareness of our business, and comes with responsibility. Many businesses are waking to the imperative of stronger environmental and social justice stances (and action) to compete for customers, especially in travel. At UnTours we need to work harder in sharing our compelling history and support of B Corp certification to inspire more travel businesses of all sizes to see the benefits in walking the triple bottom line sustainability walk.
"Unpacking once" is the essence of an UnTour and the center of our new branding. "UnTourists", as we call them, stay in one carefully vetted villa, apartment or cottage for the whole week, while we meet you at the airport, arrange your independent mode of transportation for the week, and provide orientation and support for you to experience the destination in your own way.
Many UnTourists string multiple weeks together. Sometimes they stay in the same accommodation, but more often they’ll combine two or three places over several weeks and explore a little more. It’s a very unique product in the industry and we haven’t run across a direct competitor. Inherent to the experience is a traveler’s ability to end up at the same coffee shop every morning for several days in a row, for example. You end up having conversations and sharing time with locals that frequent the same spots. That wouldn’t be possible on a cattle car tour that stops somewhere different most nights, breezing past local people and sites.
It’s Slow Travel at its best, but that term hasn’t caught on with consumers. So our more modern, clear branding and messaging is meant to simplify what has historically been a difficult concept to communicate, especially since we’re the only ones doing it this way. By breaking it down to saying, “If you only UnPack Once in a lovely villa in a European vineyard, it’s probably an UnTour”, we’re having a little fun with the idea and hopefully getting experience across quickly.
Truly in every way — when you talk about leaving the tourism dollars in the destination with the widest possible array of locals, an UnTour is unmatched. We use locally-owned accommodations almost exclusively, and public transportation is our first option in destinations where that’s feasible.
Our UnTourists spend a week or more paying primary retail prices to local restaurants, shops and day tour companies that all receive maximum economic benefit from our travelers. UnTourists have taken the time to understand what goods and services they are buying and why. There’s really a lot to consider there in terms of benefits to the destinations, but I’ll leave some of that pondering to the folks out there and always love to hear feedback on this subject.
Between our trip model, our adherence to the B Corp principles, and our ownership model of all profits going to underserved entrepreneurs through our Foundation (untoursfoundation.org), we’re doing nearly everything we can to enhance our positive impact on our destinations and limit the negative. We’ll always be looking for ways to assist our vendors and suppliers and preserve culture and environment in the places we visit, so that is ongoing.
We also have to do as much as we can to press for lower air emissions and breakthrough technology in the airline industry. As long as we’re sending travelers across any ocean and the emissions are what they are, we’re facing a significant sustainability problem. Our answer for years has been our partnership with Native (native.eco) to offset the emissions of our travelers' flights by investing in clean energy projects. In fact, we will be taking on the cost of offsetting all UnTourists’ flights in 2023.
[We will go deep into our UnTours Foundation workings and our ownership model in a subsequent interview with the CEO of the Foundation — read about the company and Foundation connection: www.untours.com/about.html]
Stories. Interesting stories that draw you in — real-time, poignant, touching, funny, memorable, surprising stories of meeting people in local destinations, really getting to know them and having new experiences together. The travel industry and the travel media industry has become infatuated with the staged visuals. Most of the good things about travel, including the help it can provide in preserving cultural heritage and natural environments, happen away from those stunning visuals and in the midst of human interactions.
Our non-alignment with what we’re seeing from travel media and social media personalities is leading us to launch a new media initiative among like-minded content creators that we're going to call "UnFluencers".
Through our "UnFluencer" media network, we plan to develop stories that highlight outstanding and replicable ways travelers and the tourism industry are making the world better. Our mission is to create and inspire more human connections per traveler mile every year — we're still figuring out how to measure that goal!