After several emails and phone calls, the Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs at Air Transat got back to me on Feb. 8 with details about social and environmental programs. Below is the letter, and the bottom line is there's a way for travellers to help financially, but not with their hands. Still, I urge you to ask other travel companies about their social impact programs. If enough people speak up, companies will listen.
Thank you very much for writing and taking an interest in what we do. To answer your question, Transat does not offer any volunteer programs for its customers at destination, and does not currently have plans to implement anything along those lines. But we encourage people to travel responsibly and to contribute to our "Small Change, Big Hearts" inflight program when they travel with us. They can also donate to our partner SOS Children’s Villages.
We do have a volunteer program for our employees, who are encouraged to take one day off every year and give back to the community. As a mainstream tourism provider, we adopted a structured, global approach to corporate responsibility in 2007. The goal is to improve our working methods in each of our areas of activity. To achieve this, we have implemented several initiatives and programs.
We have an environmental management system, we train our employees and raise their awareness of sustainability issues, we work with our partners to encourage them to adopt exemplary practices, and we urge our customers to travel responsibly, among other means by showing openness and respect to host communities, and by helping to protect resources.
On the environmental stewardship front, our air carrier leads by example, having implemented fuel-management and emissions-reduction programs. Since 2011, Air Transat has consistently ranked number one in North America for energy efficiency, and in the Top 20 worldwide, by the Atmosfair Airline Index. In addition, we encourage our hotelier partners to obtain sustainability certification; to date, about 25% of our hotels in Sun destinations are certified, and more are following suit.
Looking at our social programs, our main actions in destination countries are taken in partnership with SOS Children’s Villages, an international humanitarian organization that works to provide care and assistance to tens of thousands of orphaned and abandoned children, as well as needy families. Transat cares deeply about this cause; along with our employees and customers, we have donated some $2.35 million to the organization since 2009.
Besides helping ensure the smooth operation of the villages (purchases of school supplies, access to medical care, mental health support services, salaries for SOS mothers and aunts, etc.), we have contributed to implementation of 55 special projects in more than 20 SOS locations, mainly in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica and Panama, but also Peru and Nicaragua.
We also have a commitment to child protection, specifically the fight against child sex tourism, in which we are engaged with our partner Beyond Borders ECPAT Canada. Since 2010, we have provided training to our employees on this issue, as well as raised customer awareness. In 2015, jointly with ECPAT, we developed guidelines for travel agencies across Canada to help their employees deal with the issue of sex tourism, including crimes involving minors.
Here is more information about our initiatives at destination:
• The vast majority of our destination representatives are hired locally.
• Following the passage of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, we operated a humanitarian flight to Haiti, carrying aid workers along with 25 tonnes of emergency supplies (this was the fifth such flight in Air Transat’s history; the first four were in response to the devastating earthquake in 2010).
• Air Transat and its employees support the Foyer Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes group home in Haiti, which helps a hundred or so disadvantaged children and teens. Several Air Transat employees travel there every year to do volunteer work. In 2015 and 2016, we supported the Orchestre de la Francophonie’s summer music camp there in collaboration with our employees (the third camp is in preparation). Air Transat transports donated items as well as supplies for the home.
• We support Mano a mano, which is a program set up to forge links between Cuban and Quebec artists. Among other things, it allows artists here to donate tools and materials to their Cuban counterparts.
• In keeping with a tradition on major familiarization trips, the 150 travel agents who went on the trip to Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba, last December took along educational supplies that were distributed to two schools in the town of Remedios.
• Many of our customers flying to Cuba give our destination reps various essential items to be passed on to local residents.
• We transport tens of tonnes of humanitarian cargo each year for various NGOs working in the field in our Sun destination countries.
• Every year, four Transat employees take part in Leave for Change, an initiative that sees them go on economic and social co-operation missions in developing countries.