When Andrea Dixon and Lindsay Batchelar founded Green Motion Travel in 2010, they were under no illusions about old habits dying hard. That’s especially true in the realm of mainstream travel. Nonetheless, the two decided to make sustainable tourism the prime focus of their agency.
They’ve followed through on that mission by educating, counseling and inspiring clients to change their thinking about trip plans, even if only in small ways.
Thus far, it’s a winning growth strategy for the Ottawa, Canada-based Green Motion. And, it’s one that Dixon and Batchelar were happy to share with Travel Market Report.
Filling a niche
Dixon and Batchelar met five years ago when their sons entered kindergarten together. Both shared a common interest in travel and tourism, though they came from different career paths.
Batchelar was an experienced travel consultant who had worked with various consolidators and travel agencies. Dixon held a Masters in Tourism Administration in Sustainable Tourism from George Washington University. She had also worked for a few Canadian tourism organizations and served as a sustainable tourism consultant.
Frustrated that the wealth of academic research on sustainability never trickled down to consumers, Dixon approached Batchelar with the idea for Green Motion. “A big part of Green Motion’s work is providing information about options available for travel choices,” said Batchelar.
They started the business by developing a handbook and series of webinars to train outside agents about selling sustainable travel.
The Green Motion mission
Recognizing that the majority of their business (at least initially) would not come from “hard-core sustainable” products, Dixon and Batchelar crafted a pragmatic mission – namely, to educate potential clients about key sustainability concepts and how those concepts could be applied to the travel experience.
The company spreads the “travel green” message with handouts with titles such as “What to Ask Before You Book;” “Flying with the Environment in Mind;” “Fair Trade and Tourism,” and “Sustainable Tourism While You Travel.”
Another big part of Green Motion’s mission is to correct misconceptions about sustainable travel. “We have many clients interested in visiting cities and other densely-populated areas, and that’s fine. We don’t limit options to eco-tourism,” Batchelar adds.
Green Motion is a member of TRAVELSAVERS, which has preferred supplier relationships with large mainstream suppliers.
“Many clients come to us and want to take a big mass-market tour. We let them know that some suppliers are more committed to sustainability concepts than others, and we try to help guide their decision,” said Dixon.
One of the biggest tasks Dixon and Batchelar took on in launching Green Motion was to create a comprehensive supplier database. Using criteria set forth by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, they sent questionnaires to suppliers across the tourism spectrum. Responses were ranked according to each supplier’s commitment to sustainable tourism.
“It took a long time to find out which companies are committed to sustainability. So many are trying to be environmentally friendly and want to promote their effort, which is great,” said Dixon.
Green Motion Travel’s clients come from a number of different sources. “We have traditional clients who are with us just for the good service. They also like the fact that we are in a consortium and have a wide range of product to offer,” said Batchelar.
Other clients seek out Green Motion because of its sustainability focus. Either way, the agency makes a number of suggestions to clients in the trip planning stage. Among them: forego long-haul airplane flights for motorcoaches or trains; minimize air travel as much as possible and avoid internal flights. Thus far, the strategy is winning over converts.
Travel by train
“We are seeing a growing number of our clients choose rail over flying when the option is presented by us. In Canada, our rail network is decent in the Ottawa-Toronto-Montreal corridor. It is these types of trips that are hardest on the environment when flying, so every convert to rail — which also avoids airline security hassles — is a benefit,” said Dixon.
The agency also helps clients mitigate the environmental effects of their travel. Working with organizations such as Sustainable Travel International, Green Motion can arrange offsets to help make trips carbon neutral.
Leading by example
The agency takes pride in living by the rules that it advocates to clients. Green Motion Travel is the first carbon-neutral travel agency in Ottowa. The company is home-based, with client meetings taking place in the client’s home or business, or a local coffee shop.
Dixon and Batchelar also meet monthly with their eight outside agents. “Our agents are invaluable in counseling clients about sustainable alternatives. They’re just as committed to it as we are. One of them even lives in a green-certified house,” said Batchelar.
Making a difference
Green Motion’s client base primarily comes from Ottawa, but the company hopes to expand its reach. Active in the Global Sustainable Tourism Council as well as local environmental travel groups, the agency also attracts followers through social media and a newsletter.
Since launching in 2010, Green Motion’s business has seen revenue increases each month over the previous year. Dixon and Batchelar are confident that the trend will continue, as the “travel green” message resonates with a wider audience.
“At times, the two of us wonder, ‘what did we take on here?’ But, we’re passionate that tourism needs to be done right. We know that we won’t change the world overnight. But we like to think we’re making a difference,” said Dixon.