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A travel company in Ireland is determined to effect real – and positive — change on behalf of Mother Earth.
Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland in 2017 received EcoTourism Ireland’s Gold certification, a first for an Irish tour operator. Earlier this year, the company won The Green Tourism & Entertainment category in Ireland’s most prestigious Green (business) Awards. Not resting on laurels, Rob and Amy Rankin, co-owners, continue to walk the talk by creating a new post, Vagabond’s Sustainability Executive. Ciara Myburgh, formerly a Vagabond guide, is charged with further deepening the company’s sustainability roots and mentoring other like-minded companies.
“We want to promote sustainability both within and outside of our organization. Environmental awareness and practices here lag behind the rest of Europe,” says Rob Rankin, Managing Director.
Myburgh is tasked with overseeing that daily operations and service promises are integrated with environmental sustainability goals. These include activities with:
- Leave No Trace Ireland (12 Vagabond staff have already qualified as trainers for this program);
- Birdwatch Ireland, which maintains bird feeders and nesting boxes at Vagabond headquarters (some of Vagabond’s accommodation suppliers have followed suit: Beech Hill House Hotel in Co. Derry and Gougane Barra Hotel in Co. Cork);
- Pure Project involving Vagabond’s pledge to keep litter-free a section of woodland near Glencree, Co. Wickow. This effort was recognized with the ‘Clean-Up the Uplands’ award at the Pure Project Awards night, October 2018.
Vagabond also focuses on issues of social and economic sustainability. Its “off the beaten track” ethos, draws visitors to rural Ireland for on average up to nine days and eight nights, with average client contributions to local economies of €1,500 per person (including accommodation, meals, attractions and shopping).
“This approach nurtures economically sustainable tourism in areas that may be located far from headline attractions or major infrastructure. It literally makes those communities more sustainable,” adds Rankin. One itinerary developed around social and economic sustainability needs is the 6 Day Driftwood Northern Island Tour. “This is one of the most diverse, intriguing and beautiful parts of Europe, yet, it is critically under-visited and underrated,” notes Rankin. “Another concentrates on Ireland’s story of invasions and integration – Viking, Norman, Cromwellian. “Nowhere tells that tale better than Ireland’s east coast on a 6 Day Driftwood Ancient Ireland Tour.”
Vagabond’s ongoing green business practices also include:
- creating workplace LED panel initiatives to replace energy-guzzling lighting
- installing tour vehicles with recycling containers
- encouraging the use of compostable coffee and water cups and “green” water bottles on adventures. (This year the company gifted 2,700 reusable aluminum water bottles to guests.)
- switching out how tour vehicles are cleaned, saving in excess of 48,000 gallons of water
- timing all electrical outlets so that no power usage occurs outside of office hours
- operating the heating system on a carefully monitored timed program. (Combined these changes led to a 27 percent decrease in electricity and gas consumption in 2017)
- fitting toilet cisterns with 2x 500ml water containers, reducing the amount required per flush. (This simple initiative has reduced water usage by an estimated 5,000 liters per year)
- reducing non-recycled waste to one bin every three months
- planting over the past few years, 330 native Irish tree species to promote biodiversity and foster more effective natural habitats for insects, birds and mammals
Myburgh speaks passionately about the challenges that face her homeland. “Sometimes I want bigger lungs just so I can inhale more of the fresh air from the Atlantic… more toes to sink into the peaty bog lands… more finger tips to trace the bark in our woodlands… better hearing to listen to what the birds are saying. I’ve reflected on what it will take to preserve the landscapes that I love. Now is the time. Not tomorrow. I am so grateful to be part of a team with so much integrity and so utterly excited to be driving change.”
Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland offers two styles of culturally immersive travel. Vagabond Adventure Tours are for active travellers who want to mix up hiking and biking and other adventures with history, culture and dining. Driftwood Journeys of Discovery follow similar itineraries but at an intimate and in-depth looking and lingering pace, sans the physical exertion.
On all of its tours, Vagabond staff curate locally owned accommodations, pubs and restaurants that help serve their goal of authenticity. In the end the mission is to have guests “love Ireland as much as we do.” Transport is in a custom 4×4 Land Rover or Mercedes ‘Vagatron’ that allows access beyond where regular tour buses can go.
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