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Meet Chris Thompson, Travelife's Senior Auditor

Each month we feature an interview with a Travelife Approved Auditor. We have around 60 independently contracted auditors based around the world that must undergo an intensive training programme before they can audit with us. To continue carrying out audits for Travelife they must complete annual refresher training and a yearly performance review. Click here to find out more about our requirements for auditors. 

Location: United Kingdom

Languages:  English (native speaker), Spanish (advanced), Romanian (intermediate), German (beginner)

Total auditing experience:  26 years

Travelife auditing experience:  18 years

Specialisations: Sustainability, health and safety

Auditing fields: Accommodation, tour operators, meetings and events

Chris was one of the original founders of Travelife and played a pivotal role in developing the Travelife Standard, now one of the most highly respected tourism certification systems in the world.

His path to becoming a sustainability auditor began as an overseas resort representative for a major UK holiday company, a role that saw him being lucky enough to live in some of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. He returned to the UK in 1997 to take a head office job running their health and safety department. This involved leading an effort to create industry-wide health and safety standards for tour operators, along with a programme for auditing hotels so that UK tour operators could have greater confidence in the safety and well-being of their customers.

By the early 2000s there was a growing awareness in the travel industry that more was needed to be done to improve the environmental and social impacts of tourism. That saw Chris being appointed as Head of Responsible Tourism for a UK tour operator association where he was tasked with working with its members to create and implement tools to raise awareness and improve their performance against a range of environmental and social sustainability targets.

One of the outputs of this initiative was the creation of an award scheme for accommodation providers demonstrating good practice. Under much pressure from the NGO community who were demanding transparency and credibility, it became apparent that the only way to guarantee compliance against the standards that had been created was to physically visit and audit them, and thus Travelife was born!

“Knowing that I’ve played a small part in helping Travelife Certified hotels to celebrate their sustainability achievements is truly heart-warming.”

Chris Thompson

Chris is now independently contracted by us as a senior auditor. That means when he is not travelling around the world carrying out hundreds of audits each year, he is busy training our new auditor recruits and serving as our technical consultant. He says the most rewarding part of his work is being witness to the pride that many hoteliers take in sharing their sustainability journey. We asked Chris to tell us about the best innovation he has seen whilst auditing hotels. “You would think that this would be an easy question to answer, but the truth is that I’ve seen so many amazing things that it’s quite difficult to pick one out as the best.”

He goes on to list several diverse examples from all over the world, such as the housekeeping team in Tenerife who make Christmas decorations from items retrieved out of the recycling bins, and the hotel in Columbia that generates electricity from all the bicycles in the gym to power the gym lighting. A property in Llloret de Mar uses the wastewater from its swimming pools to flush all the toilets in guest rooms and a resort in Egypt recycles plastics to make coat hangers and tiles for the street.

“…try to imagine what your sustainable business will look like. How will you know that it’s more sustainable? What does a sustainable business mean to you? And what does it mean to others?”

Chris Thompson

Chris has lost count but has certainly conducted thousands of audits over the years, leaving him with a deep knowledge about what sets a company apart in terms of their success. He says that an honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses is always the best place to start but that this should be a continual process, ensuring that businesses are always aware of what they do well, what they do not do well and where they can improve. He stresses how important it is to seek out feedback during that process. “Ask your colleagues, guests and neighbours to tell you what they think you should be doing. You might be surprised at what you hear, some things you’ll like and some you’ll not, but the choice to listen and act will always be yours.”

He also says a common trait in sustainability success is taking an inclusive approach, meaning that everyone in the business knows your sustainability goals and is given the opportunity to participate, however small the part they play.

“People are the building bricks of a business, if there are weak or missing bricks then the business will fall down.”

Chris Thompson

He says the most successful businesses start small and grow their success. That means starting with quick wins that are easy and inexpensive, moving on to more challenging projects later when the company has built more confidence and perhaps had time to set aside more resources to improve environmental and social impacts. Chris reminds us that success is subjective unless you can prove it, so it’s important to be able to show where you came from and where you are now. That means keeping measurements so that you have data to back up your claims.

Some of the most important sustainability initiatives and successes happen behind the scenes so they are not obvious to others. Chris says this means that communication is a critical part of success. He finds that if a business does not tell people what they are doing, then people will assume they are not doing it! He also sees this as a missed opportunity. “How many hotel guests leave the premises at the end of their stay without experiencing sustainability? Wouldn’t it be amazing if every guest could say that had noticed something the hotel did that makes a difference? For sustainability to be infectious it needs visibility.”

Top tips from Chris for sustainable living

Opt out of the throwaway society. Stop using single-use items such as plastic bags, disposable cups and shrink wrap.

Think about your own personal food waste. Buy what you are going to eat rather than buying to fill the fridge.

Try to reduce your use of transport that creates pollution. Perhaps start by taking just one less journey per week.

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