Odysseys Unlimited

Founded in 1989, Odysseys Unlimited creates custom tours for non-profit organizations and academic institution alumni groups, such as Duke Alumni Travels. Odysseys Unlimited is headquartered in Newton, Massachusetts, and specializes in small-group escorted tours at destinations around the globe. The president of Odysseys Unlimited is a Duke Alumnus, Bruce Epstein '73. Odysseys Unlimited is a six-time honoree for Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Tour Operators Award.

Sustainability in the Home Office

Odysseys demonstrates notable sustainability efforts within its home office, including paper reduction, local sourcing, and waste prevention with goals for office composting and biodegradable take-out options.

Executive Support is key to implementing change, and Odysseys clearly values sustainability and acts mindfully to ensure it leaves a positive impact on the destinations it visits. Notably, Odysseys has a significant number of philanthropic programs, facilitated by its Charitable Giving Committee. Each individual philanthropic program contributes to many other areas in sustainability, such as biodiversity, cultural heritage, community development etc.

Odysseys and its suppliers place a heavy emphasis on education. In survey responses, Odysseys provided information on a range of educational materials it offers to travelers.

“In our pre-departure materials, we work to educate our guests regarding anything that could have a negative impact on wildlife, communities, and the environment (like purchasing animal skins, inappropriate picture taking, etc.), as well as specific concerns due to natural disaster (like water scarcity).”

Sustainability is holistic and encompasses all three pillars - Environmental, Socio-Cultural, and Economic. Here are highlights of Odysseys’s efforts in these three areas in sustainability in travel:

Environmental Sustainability

Odysseys places great emphasis on visiting protected and natural areas’ as a very common experience on trips as well as its efforts to practice mindfulness at destinations, with the objective to minimize its impacts at those destinations.

“We are always mindful of biodiversity. Our goal as a small-group travel company is to leave as the smallest footprint behind, with respect for the natural world.”

Odysseys is conscious of the impacts that overcrowding has on destinations, limiting its group sizes to 24 people. Odysseys relies on suppliers to provide information on both group size limits and the state of the natural areas where its travelers visit.

“Our operators and suppliers will always advise what the safe group sizes and frequency are for visiting particular areas. They are extremely sensitive to the stress that our group might bring to a particular wildlife area or natural habitat.”

Odysseys relies on its suppliers to research and engage with local conservation bodies. To ensure these practices, Odysseys is highly selective of their supplier organizations.

“We look to our operators and suppliers to include these experiences while maintaining high standards for preservation and conservation of the natural habitats that we explore.”

Examples of the high-quality suppliers Odysseys chooses to work with to build initiatives around Biodiversity and Natural Area protection are:

  • The Thai Elephant Care Center
  • the Giraffe Center in Nairobi
  • and the Rainbow Springs Nature Reserve

Odysseys curated these wildlife-focused trips such that they contribute to the long-term preservation of species and habitats. Odysseys also ensured that trips would be highly educational, informing its guests on the importance of conservation and providing immersive experiences with suppliers that uphold wildlife care best practices.

Odysseys also has the environmental sustainability goal of reducing water bottle usage on trips.

“...We are in conversations with operators, tour directors, etc., all over the globe on how we can reduce water bottle consumption or usage constantly… currently for our North American and our European programs, we are working on ways to manage water bottle usage.”

Socio-Cultural Sustainability

Odysseys has strong existing practices related to Cultural Heritage and Local Relationship Management.

Odysseys emphasizes cultural heritage on trips, citing that 100% of its trips focus on cultural heritage. And Odysseys works to positively impact local communities through supply donations and long-term projects.

“We would never want to foster an environment that would take advantage of them and or highlight their poverty, so we recognize that when we visit these areas, they must be experiences that are beneficial to the community; we do this by bringing goods and supplies that they would need when we visit, and that we participate in long term projects to improve life in the village.”

In order to implement relevant and beneficial initiatives around cultural heritage, its important to ensure that there is first an emphasis on building relationships with local communities. Odysseys’ supplier Destination Asia uses a certification to guide the development of initiatives is one pivotal way that Odysseys can position itself to implement effective Socio-Cultural Sustainability strategies and this alignment has resulted in overall improved sustainability practices as they were recently presented with the Audley Responsible Tourism Award49.

“Destination Asia has partnered with the ‘Travelife for Tour Operators and Travel Agents’ certification scheme in order to provide structure for its journey down the road to greater sustainability.”

Economic Sustainability

Odysseys has initiatives in all of the Economic Sustainability area. By integrating local craft artists, restaurants, hotels, and markets into their programs, Odysseys contributes to the Economic Sustainability of the destinations they visit and the majority of its suppliers are locally-owned businesses.

“The majority of our suppliers are locally-owned businesses because as a small business, we tend to support other local and small businesses. Working with locally-owned businesses is, in general, important to small group travel.

For example, wherever possible, we stay at smaller boutique-style hotels, which are usually family run or have a local owner.”

Odysseys has several community development initiatives, including a long-term project with local partner, Destination Asia. This project, which was developed to build structures between local residents’ homes and the nearby river to improve economic well-being, demonstrates Odysseys’ intent to leave a positive impact on the local communities they visit. Similar programs are planned for the future.