During this season of giving, as we pause to reflect on our blessings, it leads many of us to search for more ways to simply do something good. Whether it’s giving to a local charity, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or buying holiday gifts for those less fortunate, there are so many ways to give back.
But what about being a force of good in the very industry that employs you? Have you considered giving back through tourism?
Travel Market Report recently spoke to a number of travel advisors who are fulfilling that inner calling to do more – and not just during the holiday season. While each has donated their time and talent in different and unique ways, their underlying mission for themselves and their message to their clients is one in the same: Be willing to open your heart and your mind so you, too, might have an impact.
Knowing where to begin can make all the difference for travel advisors who are interested in exploring this path. Here are some of the mainstays that have helped these agents leave their mark on the world.
Emphasize meaningful travel
People-to-people experiences are just one way that travel benefits both the travelers and the local communities they are visiting. By partnering with local businesses to provide authentic experiences — like farm-to-table culinary events, visiting a social enterprise shop, or partaking in immersive cultural programs — it allows your clients to, as one agent put it, “connect through giving.”
“We, as agents, and our clients need to be committed to ensuring the communities touched by tourism benefit from the opportunities it provides,” explained Robert Hubbard, a 36-year travel veteran and business development manager for Preferred Travel of Naples, Florida.
Hubbard is also a firm proponent of promoting destinations and suppliers that are truly making a difference in the travel space. “Social impact travel is about being a part of something larger than yourself, it’s about being immersed in a new culture, fostering genuine connections and seeing the world through a new lens, which can be life-changing. It is important for the people who we serve and help in the destinations [we visit] and it gives them dignity and self-respect.”
Exposure is key
It is often said that dipping your toes in the water is the first step towards clarity. This is the approach that Don Capparella, CEO of Quality Travel Solutions, has taken with his clients in exposing them to the unfamiliar but rewarding “volunteer-tourism” that his agency promotes.
Capparella currently leads a team of 13 travel consultants and makes it a point to impart to them the importance of sharing with their clients the ways in which they can give back as part of their travel plans. It must be working, as 50 percent of his clients have taken up the idea of doing something “off the beaten path” that can have an impact on the local community they are visiting.
“Our Millennial clients are more inclined to take actual volunteering vacations. For our non-Millennial clients, we take a different approach. We do it in ways that are gentle, by suggesting a visit to a social enterprise or community, or perhaps a few hours working on a tree/reforestation project.
“The joy for me is hearing about how that experience of volunteering or learning has been impactful and an even better experience than ‘traditional excursions.’ In response to their few hours of volunteering, I’ve had many clients come back to me wanting more immersive volunteer experiences. The key is creating exposure for our travelers. Giving back feels good. Giving back improves our world. Giving back makes a difference. Even small things can have a lasting effect.”
Become an agent of change
Okay, so you’ve decided that it’s time to join your peers. Now what? Where do you begin?
There are numerous ways to get started, but perhaps the first one should be to take the Tourism Cares Good Travels Advisor (GTA) online certification program. This program will help you learn more about meaningful travel, and once certified, you will be provided with a wide variety of tools to help you navigate and learn about responsible, meaningful travel, and how to promote this type of travel to clients and prospects.
Another way is to choose a location or destination you might be familiar with and look to see what impact trips might be going on there. “Take a fam there or ask a supplier for advice and suggestions. Then, you will be more prepared to offer your client the same experience,” said Hubbard. “The locations and itineraries vary and the level of cultural engagement is tailored to suit your comfort level. Some people just like to know that the money they spend on their vacation goes back to the local restaurants, businesses and lodging venues of the community they visit. Others prefer to indulge themselves in learning and helping the local economy by touring markets and plantations and volunteering time. Others want to completely immerse themselves in the culture and stay with local families.”
Roslyn Parker, CEO (Chief Experiences Officer) of Travel to Do Good, said she started by taking an impact volunteer trip herself. “I assessed the trip and the experience in its totality, from the perspective of the traveler and travel planner.”
For Parker, giving is not a one-time event, as each one of her company’s trips have a “give back” component. “Throughout this year, my clients have given their time, talent, money and in-kind donations to a variety of non-profit partners around the world,” she said. “We work with social enterprises that encourage sustainable tourism, and have also placed skill-based volunteers in the health industry through our medical missions programs.”
Promote education and empowerment
When Javier Valdez decided to start his own travel company, he did what most agents do. He looked for a host agency that was aligned with his needs and wants and submitted dozens of applications to well-known, established groups. To his disappointment, he received only rejections in return, citing his lack of experience and client base.
But that didn’t stop Valdez, who decided he would remove the many barriers that prevent people from entering the travel industry by creating his very own host agency – one that is focused entirely on sustainable, impactful travel. Called Myght, Inc., Valdez’s platform supports forward-thinking social entrepreneurs by combining traditional tools that agencies use with training and access to experts and mentors.
“Travelers are able to change their behaviors when they gain awareness and are provided simple guidelines for how to make their trips sustainable,” Valdez said. “However, the internet provides thousands of resources and perspectives that make it nearly impossible to filter through and integrate into their trips. We connect the pieces for the consumer, so they only need to visit one site to create a sustainable trip. Our experts guide them through the whole process and curate experiences that create the impact the traveler desires.”
Valdez admits that making his dream a reality wasn’t easy. In fact, he said trusted business mentors and lawyers told him his ideas would never succeed in the profit-driven tourism industry. Despite their predictions, Valdez persisted and has since been invited to speak at national and international conferences for sustainable tourism.
Clearly these agents know a little bit more about the true measure of success. Wouldn’t now be the perfect time for you to lend your time and talents, too?
FROM THE SPONSOR:
We are believers in the power of pebbles, small steps, and doable acts that can ignite positive change. It’s a belief that guides Tourism Cares to bring our collective industry together to harness the transformative power of travel. While each of us alone can make a small difference, businesses bound together in purpose and action can literally change the world.
Tourism Cares believes that every meaningful journey is a collection of small steps. We invite you to take that first step with us. Visit us at www.tourismcares.org to learn more, join us as a member, and be part of the collective that is advancing the travel industry’s social impact to help people and places thrive.
To learn more about how you, too, can become certified as a Good Travels Advisor, visit: http://www.tourismcares.org/goodtravelsadvisor/ and help us create a community of agents promoting more meaningful ways to travel.