Social Responsibility: Benchmark - First Choice Holidays

Tania Mason

As travellers start to demand a more responsible approach from tourism companies, one watchdog has described First Choice Holidays as "the best of a bad bunch"

Company policy First Choice published its sustainable tourism policy in September 2002. It is a founder member of the Travel Foundation and the Tour Operators Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development, but has yet to sign up to the 1998 Ecpat Code of Conduct to protect children from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism, which has been implemented by 45 companies worldwide.

Profits and donations First Choice Holidays made pre-tax profits of £98.3m in the year to 31 October. It makes an annual donation to the Blue Flag Campaign for clean beaches and its resorts raised £46,000 from a range of events last summer. This sum was divided between local destination community causes and the NSPCC. The staff of First Choice Airways raised more than £130,000 for the Family Holidays Association and other UK charities last year.

View of responsibletravel.com Most tourism watchdogs feel the 'big four' UK operators - First Choice, Tui UK, Thomas Cook and MyTravel - lag behind other industries in terms of their corporate responsibility. However, Justin Francis, managing director of responsibletravel.com, the ethical travel agent and advocacy group, described First Choice Holidays as "best of a bad bunch".

Francis said First Choice must now improve the variable standard of sustainable tourism across the companies in its portfolio. "Exodus, the Adventure Company and Trips Worldwide are among the best and most progressive companies in Europe," he said. "Others, particularly in the youth sector, need a lot of work."

View of Tourism Concern This group campaigns against all the large tour operators because of poor labour conditions in the resorts they use. But its director, Tricia Barnett, said First Choice had the best track record.

"It is really the only one of the big four that has done any work on responsible tourism," she said. "It has put its responsible tourism policy on its website and it has a CSR manager, although she works part-time. These are tiny steps, but important ones."

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