The Holiable platform
The UN estimates around 1.4 billion people travel internationally each year. Despite the world’s citizens being warned to curb their carbon footprint, this figure shows no sign of slowing down. The UN’s world tourism branch expects this number to hit 1.8 billion by 2030.
Lille-based Sophie Castelain is a keen traveler herself, and constantly came up against the issue of finding true eco-friendly accommodation. “I was never quite sure if the financial benefits were going directly to local communities, and I struggled to find companies that were truly sustainable,” she says. “My trips abroad would be at odds with my earth-friendly lifestyle at home.”
Castelain, 40, came up with the idea of launching an online travel planner that would be totally dedicated to sustainable travel. “I wanted to make it easier for conscious travelers to find destinations and experiences that are environmentally friendly, ethical, positive and socially inclusive.”
And so she launched Holiable, a platform which indexes lodgings, restaurants and activities that are engaged in sustainable tourism. The travel website details the businesses’ green credentials, gives access to travel reviews and allows users to share their experiences.
“We provide information on what companies do in favor of the environment but also the initiatives towards the local communities or the preservation of the cultural heritage and the benefits to the local economy,” Castelain explains.
Users can read reviews, share their own opinion, save their favorite places to go to, and contact the owners directly to plan their visit.
As on more traditional travel planning sites, users also get information on the companies such as how to get there, pricing, amenities, opening hours, or view pictures to help make their choice.
“Travelers have become far more conscious about the effects of climate change, pollution and unethical tourism practices,” Castelain says. “This awareness has led to travellers wanting to have a positive impact when they travel, through their whole trip.
The industry plays a key role in generating socio-economic benefits in all regions of the world, she continues, while being a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and being directly affected by climate change.
“The transformation of tourism sector towards a more positive impact on people, places and local economies will be a key driver for the industry globally.”
Booking.com’s 2019 sustainable travel report revealed 72% of tourists wanted to travel more sustainably, but most are still unsure how to do so. The same report found 70% of travelers are unaware eco labels exist.
Castelain counts FairTrip in France or Wayaj in the US as competitors, but says the types of business they index all differ.
“We position ourselves between a travel planning site and a sustainable travel guide: In addition to indexing eco-friendly places and verifying their eco-credentials, we blind-test a large number of the places on the site, and share our reviews with travelers.”
Despite one of Castelain’s main challenges being convincing potential partners that sustainable travel is no longer a niche, Holiable, which has 200 businesses listed so far, is now set to release a subscription service to professionals early next year – the platform is otherwise free. Plans to launch in Mandarin, Spanish and Italian are also in the works, and the aim is to index 5,000 businesses over the next five years.
“We want to play a role in raising awareness and educating people on the benefits of making sustainable choices while traveling,” Castelain says. “We also want to highlight the positive impact responsible tourism can have on the people and the places we visit thus making the experience even greater for travelers.”