Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash
Photo on Travel Mole

Justin Francis


Responsible Travel




Responsible Travel


United Kingdom






What makes Justin Francis a Global Shaker?

Responsible Travel has been pioneering authentic and sustainable holidays since its foundation in 2001. CEO Justin Francis is also co-founder and has been with the organisation since its inception.

In essence, Responsible Travel matchmakes people to more than 400 specialist and small travel companies that run the trips for them.

They’re also a self-styled ‘activist travel company’, which is committed to making tourism a more caring industry.


Responsible Travel


In a video entitled ‘profits and principles’, Francis explains his journey into sustainable travel. “The first thing I remember being taught in business is that the main objective is profit. I began to question this idea during my time working in advertising — in particular as I was selling tobacco and sugary cereal.

“Now that I’m running my own business, Responsible Travel, I see it really it as an experiment in equally balancing profits, shareholders, staff, local communities, and the environment. It’s endlessly challenging finding this balance, and if we’re honest, we’re miles off getting it right. We’re constantly making trade-offs, but we’re sticking by it.

“For example, we make less profit than we might, because we only work with tour operators that practice responsible tourism. We turn away 8 potential fee-paying suppliers for every one that we accept.”

Francis says the organisation places honesty over making a sale, and has spent time and money campaigning for change, on issues such as captive orcas, cruise ships, and ‘canned hunting’.

“Sometimes, in fact quite often, we realise we’re getting things wrong, and over the years we’ve changed our policy and thinking on orphange tourism, elephant-back riding, carbon offsetting, zoos and other things,” Francis adds. “And we’ve removed many trips that have impacted sales as a result, but left us feeling better about what we’re selling.”

Responsible Travel broadly sells two types of holidays: small group travel, typically with 16-20 other travellers and an expert tour leader. They also do tailor-made trips for individuals, friends and family, and a local guide. It’s pitched as “bespoke travel designed with expert local knowledge.”

By contrast, they say they’ll never sell skiing holidays with fake snow, large cruise ships, mass tourism. “Treating local people and places with respect is the right thing to do, and opens up possibilities for more authentic travel.” There’s also a section for accessible tours for people with reduced mobility in places like India, Japan and Spain.


Responsible Travel 2

A photo from a Responsible Travel trip to Peru. On the Responsible Travel website


As they’re a travel company, and therefore deeply connected to flying, they propose a new global tax on aviation, based on a reformed version of the UK’s APD, that will be “ring-fenced for Research and Development (R & D) in electric aviation and to improve railways connectivity.”

After quitting his advertising job, Francis spent nine months travelling around Africa. He says he camped for “probably 200 nights, and all my travel was either walking, bikes, buses. It was the most local, immersive experience you could imagine. So much of my sensibility was formed out of that — awareness of local poverty and conservation issues, the idea of travelling with respect and the rewards that could bring as a travel experience.”

He then started working at the Body Shop, where he learned from late founder Anita Roddick that a business “should judge itself by how it treats the poor and the weak. I wanted to take this mantra to tourism.”

He went to university and earned a Masters in Tourism, Conservation and Sustainable Development at the University of Greenwich. He launched Responsible Travel alongside one of the professors on the course, Harold Goodwin.

Tags: Responsible Tourism, Sustainable Travel, tourism

Last updated: September 26, 2020