The focus on sustainable travel has intensified during recent years. According to industry research, 76% of travellers express a desire to travel more sustainably - sharing our commitment to protecting and preserving the planet.
One Travel Counsellor who is championing sustainable travel and empowering her customers to use travel as a “force for good” is Helen Bateman.
Helen only joined us in February 2023, but she’s already making her mark in her local community. Not only has she received a nomination in her local business awards, she’s also been hand-picked as one of TTG Media’s Sustainable Travel Ambassadors – showing her commitment to promoting providers who operate ethically and sustainably.
We recently spoke to Helen to get an insight into her journey as a Travel Counsellor so far, and to learn more about her passion for sustainable travel.
Lovely to meet you, Helen. What were you doing before you became a Travel Counsellor?
I’d worked for an adventure travel company as a tour leader and operations manager for ten years before the pandemic forced the business to close. After that, I decided to do an online master's in business and took a role in the voluntary sector doing fundraising and community work. But, despite enjoying it, I really missed the world of travel.
What was it initially that attracted you to Travel Counsellors?
I loved the idea of the freedom and independence of running my own business. I spent ages researching different franchise companies and talking to people in the travel industry, and honestly, Travel Counsellors really stood out as a professional, caring, and experienced organisation. It was obvious that Travel Counsellors felt a strong sense of community and were supported by the organisation. The systems and tech also stood out as it allowed franchisees to put together complex, tailor-made itineraries.
How have you grown your business since joining?
I’ve tried to jump in and make the most of every opportunity, whether that’s social media, networking, or events and training. I was invited to run pop-up travel events at the gift shop in my village over the summer, giving me a chance to get out there and meet people. I joined a Business Network International group, involving some very early starts (the dog isn’t keen on the 5am walks!). I’ve already arranged several holidays for members of the group and it's really built my confidence in explaining the value I offer to clients.
Developing my social media following has been important too. I receive lots of enquiries this way. It’s also been a great way to connect with my old travel contacts around the world. I have a monthly advert in my parish newsletter and have leaflets in our local shops, as many potential clients don’t use social media. I’ve found most of my clients have been referrals from friends or existing clients.
How did it feel to be shortlisted in the Suffolk Business Awards?
I was delighted to have been shortlisted for a Suffolk Business Award in my first year. When I announced being shortlisted on my social media, it was so lovely to see messages of support from friends, clients, and colleagues who were all cheering me on. I think it’s valuable to take a step back and reflect on what you’ve achieved. Starting a new business is hard and full of uncertainty. I think it's natural to put pressure on yourself to do more and grow faster. I’m taking this as an opportunity to evaluate how things have gone so far and how I’d like to see my business develop in the future.
You’ve also got a passion for sustainable travel. Why is that important to you?
During my tour-leading years, I had some incredible experiences with local communities. Travelling slowly overland, we were welcomed into villages and introduced to different cultures, which was a huge privilege. I think the travel industry has a huge potential to contribute to all aspects of sustainable development - from supporting local economies, contributing to conservation efforts, preserving heritage, and challenging inequality. Travelling sustainably doesn’t have to mean compromising your enjoyment. In fact, I believe it gives us so much more. Experience-rich travel, which works for the local people and their environment, is the way forward. That way we all benefit.
You were recently chosen as one of TTG Media’s Sustainable Travel Ambassadors. Congratulations! Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I was invited to join TTG’s Sustainable Travel Ambassador programme after winning a place on Intrepid Travel’s FAM trip to Crete for my sustainable travel efforts. The programme involved several workshops which explored subjects like greenwashing, animal welfare, and understanding carbon impact.
As an ambassador, I champion and promote operators and suppliers who are working ethically and sustainably. I provide advice and information about animal welfare, green hotel options, and low-carbon travel. I want to help my clients make informed decisions about their holidays.
You’ve also partnered with Trees4Travel. How did that come about?
I decided to partner with Trees4Travel after listening to them at one of our TCTV sessions (the regular TV broadcasts for Travel Counsellors). I pledged to buy a tree for each client that travels with me in my first year, as a small contribution to reforestation in developing countries. What I like about Trees4Travel is that they work with verified planting partners and support local planting communities. They give you a monthly report on your trees' progress, which I think is very cool! I have 104 trees in Haiti, from three to seven months old, and they are predicted to absorb almost 18kg of carbon over the next 10 years.
Have you seen more of a demand for sustainable travel among your customers? Do you think sustainability will become more important for holidaymakers as we head into 2024?
According to research, 74% of travellers want to see travel agents offer more sustainable travel options. I think it’s our responsibility to respond to this - to promote and champion ethical, responsible, and regenerative travel options, that don’t cost the earth (literally). It’s not just about demand, it’s about us, as the travel industry, taking the lead and proactively choosing to run businesses that are good for people, wildlife, and the planet. Travellers are increasingly looking for more meaningful experiences, where they know their hard-earned cash benefits the communities and environments they visit. The demand and expectation for sustainable travel is increasing, and we have an incredible opportunity to step up and ensure that travel is a force for good in the world.
What’s the best thing about being a Travel Counsellor?
It’s the people you have around you. Even though you’re running your own business, you know support is just a call or message away. I’m also loving reconnecting with my old clients and friends in the travel industry. Being a Travel Counsellor has given me the freedom I was looking for and I’m having the chance to learn loads of new skills, such as sales and marketing.
It’s been great chatting to you, Helen. To finish, what would you say to people who are thinking of setting up a travel franchise?
I’d definitely say if you’re thinking about setting up a travel franchise, then Travel Counsellors is the one. The training and induction are brilliant; professional, engaging, and comprehensive. For me, the biggest benefit is having this amazing team behind you. There’s a team that handles contracts, a 24/7 duty office, a great IT team – the list goes on and on! I feel fully supported in offering a brilliant service to my clients.
Do you share Helen’s passion for sustainability? At Travel Counsellors, we're on a journey to equip our business owners with the tools and knowledge they need to sell holidays which positively impact the planet. If you’d like to join our caring community, get in touch with our New Franchise team today.