Talking Change

Stéphane Courgeon, journalist: "Hello! And welcome to the heart of Paris where we are meeting a socially and ecologically committed company. For the last two years Voyageurs du Monde has been the first player on the tourist market to offer carbon-neutral travel. Providing travel for 200,000 people every year, the company has been reflecting on its environmental, ecological and social impact ever since its creation 25 years ago. And from the beginning of the venture, its leaders have let themselves be guided by a philosophy of continuous change. Jean-François Rial the CEO of Voyageurs du Monde is here to tell us about the key landmarks and the implications of their CSR programme.

"Hello Jean-François Rial!"

Jean-François Rial: "Hello"

SC: "Thank you for agreeing to meet us. I'd like to ask you first of all about Voyageurs du Monde's identity."

JFR: "Voyageurs du Monde is a company that sells travel - and with it a weight of responsibility - not holidays, but travel. We operate across two niche markets, and we concentrate exclusively on these two specialities. The first is individual and tailor-made travel, with the brand names Voyageurs du Monde, Comptoir des Voyages and a few others, and the second is selling adventure trekking, for example walking, with a leading name Terres d'Aventure - but also with Nomade Aventure and other brands. And we market every country on the planet, with no exceptions."

SC: "No exceptions!"

JFR: "No. None. We have 1,400 employees and we have a turnover of around 480 million euros."

CSR: "A strong belief?"

SC: "Were you already this firmly committed, and was this what you wanted when you first started the company?"

JFR: "Yes, it was. From day one we all really believed - I and my associates - that you can't build a company with a high-level of service without the total commitment of all employees - and I mean total!

It seemed to us perfectly clear that the company's profits should be shared with our employees. So, for the past 20 years we've had a system in place whereby we give them a third of our profits. Last year this actually provided somewhere in the region of ten million euros that we shared out with them."

SC: "Was this the first distinguishing feature?"

JFR: "For us it was, yes, as from the start we've been social entrepreneurs. Then we gradually became ecological entrepreneurs too, with a real commitment to green issues. But this wasn't in fact the key to our identity as a group. Our identity rests rather on social issues. The green issues followed on from that. We were on a learning curve that forged our beliefs - and to which we are totally committed."

SC: "Right. And all of this is part of your everyday business?"

JFR: "Yes, absolutely. We all know that we have a problem with global warming, and flying releases a lot of CO2. So what can be done? We have to act - we have to. That's why we've implemented a strategy allowing us to be carbon-neutral."

SC: "How has your carbon-neutral strategy been defined?"

JFR: "Well, what we do first is to advise on the most carbon-friendly transport options. So, if we have a client come to us intending to go walking in France, we'll suggest rail, not air, travel; and we'll recommend direct, rather than indirect, flights, to lower carbon emissions as much as possible. We'll also be recommending financing this transition - and, of course, recommending savings. But as we can't do it within the 30 years that the IPCC is asking us to, so as to able to limit global warming to two degrees by being carbon-neutral in 2050, our only remaining solution is to absorb the residual carbon. To do this, we're planting trees. We're planting trees in India and mangroves in Indonesia."

SC: "In what numbers?"

JFR: "One and a half million trees a year, that's one and a half million euros a year to offset our carbon emissions."

SC: "Hold on! Four thousand trees a day?"

JFR: "Yes, that's right. Four thousand trees a day. And yes, you have to know what you want to achieve."

CSR: "A business asset?"

SC: "Has your idea of accountability now become a distinguishing feature for the client?"

JFR: "What interests the client first and foremost is quality of service. And quality of service has been extremely high because our staff are totally committed. Very, very, very motivated! And there isn't just one reason why they're so motivated, but three: the first is they love what they do; travel in and of itself, and the work we do around it. The second is they care about performance and results. And the third is that they are proud of our societal and ecological policies. Sure there are clients who are aware of our social and ecological involvement, of course there are. But I don't think that would be of any interest if our product was no good. And do bear in mind that we've been taking action on CO2 emissions for a full ten years. We've made a lot of headway, but my clients have only been talking about it for the last six months."

SC: "What's the most important consideration when it comes to choosing a leading stakeholder? Is it ultimately about having a partner who shares your vision for the future, or is it about much more than that?"

JFR: "It's about very much more than that. Much, much more. I will say that there are two key criteria that are pre-requisites for accepting a partnership: firstly, the partner should respect our freedom - we are fanatical about our individualism. Secondly, they should share our values in the long term. And our friends who have joined us are definitely people - partners - with a long-term commitment, and not at all interested in short-term investment. We very quickly sensed this. And this is something that has really impressed us; and what's more, they are really caring leaders. You know, people often say that financiers only look to the short term; they impose short-term results and so on... some are like that. But there are others who are not at all like that and who do in fact have an entrepreneurial vision."

Any advice?

SC: "Do you have a final piece of advice for an entrepreneur who might be hesitating to commit to as responsible a venture as yours at Voyageurs du Monde?"

JFR: "Don't do it. Because you can't, unless you are absolutely certain about it. If you do it for the wrong reasons - to make your stakeholders, clients, colleagues happy, but your heart isn't in it -, it won't work. So you might as well not do it."

SC: "Thank you Jean-François Rial."

JFR: "You're welcome!".

SC: "Thank you."