By far the most intriguing – and sometimes surprising – part of our interviews with sustainable tourism thinkers, shakers and doers is how their personal and professional experiences have influenced their views on sustainability and business. Justin Francis, responsible travel entrepreneur and founder of the World Responsible Tourism Awards, is no exception.
In this interview, Justin reflects on his professional career, which has started in advertising tobacco and sugary cereals, to becoming one of the most influential leaders and spokespersons for responsible travel and tourism.
- Why Justin Francis switched from Advertising to sustainable tourism, and how The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick helped him set up ResponsibleTravel.com;
- Where he sees the priorities for sustainable tourism;
- Why he founded the World Responsible Tourism Awards in 2004, and how the awards have evolved since then;
- His main challenges as responsible tourism entrepreneur;
- His career and business advice to newcomers to sustainable tourism;
- Which social media he follows to stay up to date on latest responsible travel insights and news.
Justin, what was your view on sustainability when you started your professional career in advertising – was it a topic at all back then?
I made ads to sell roll up tobacco and sugary cereals for kids. I wanted to win Awards, sell more tobacco and cereal, and develop my career. I gave little thought to people becoming unwell as a result.
One day a brief came in to make some ads to show in China. Research showed Chinese people were unaware that the world’s last tigers were being poached so that their body parts could be used in traditional Chinese medicine. That really got me thinking about how advertising and marketing could be a force for social change.
Not long after, I left advertising to join a business with a really progressive attitude to its role in wider society – The Body Shop. That’s where I got my education in socially and environmentally aware business and activism.
The Body Shop were real pioneers in delivering their beliefs about a more just and fairer society throughout all of their business and supply chain. Body Shop founder Anita Roddick used to say that a business should be judged on how it treated the weak and the poor.
Many things that are best practice now (for example, publishing social and environmental audits), The Body Shop was doing 30 years ago, and I learned a great deal from that and from Anita. She described herself as an activist first, and a businesswoman second, and I liked that. I’ve tried to speak out on issues I believe in as boldly as she did.