There were over 1.3 billion international travelers in 2017, compared to 674 million in 2000. According to the United Nations, the figure is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2030. This rapid increase of international travelers reflects the pressing need for sustainable travel opportunities.
From improving cultural understanding to aiding in the conservation of wildlife, travel can benefit the world in several ways. But there are of course negative side effects as well, such as the strain that travelers put on cities and the environment, and the likelihood that tourism dollars aren’t making their way to local communities.
Consumers are keenly aware (and supportive) of sustainability, but how can globetrotters square their passion for travel with sustainability? Leading nonprofits and travel brands are already working through the lens of sustainability, catalyzing change in local communities and creating meaningful experiences for global consumers.
Here are five prime examples.
Established in 1991, experiential travel company andBeyond offers personalized high-end tours in 15 countries in Africa, five in Asia, and four in South America. The company also owns and operates 29 lodges and camps in Africa’s safari and island destinations.
In early 2018, andBeyond launched ‘Travel With Purpose’ tours, which allow philanthropy-minded millennials travelers to assist with conservation and community projects. These good-hearted itineraries give guests the option to adopt an elephant in Kenya, participate in conservation lessons at local schools in Tanzania, or participate in rhino conservation activities in South Africa.
It appears that andBeyond’s work is reaping dividends.
Our zero poaching record in 2017 is all thanks to the tireless hard work, ongoing support and seamless teamwork among our conservation teams, donors, anti-poaching unit, NGOs, field rangers, police force, conservancy owners and shareholders. Today, we give thanks. ———- 📷: @hyena_man 📍: @andbeyondphinda 🌍: South Africa ———- #thankfulthursday #travelandbeyond #conservation #leavealegacy #saverhinos #rhino #stoppoaching #endextinction #wildlife #wildlifeconservation
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As opposed to going on safari and viewing surroundings from afar, andBeyond’s ‘Travel With Purpose’ tours give guests the ideal opportunity to gain some first-hand experience in conservation and community initiatives.
Sustainable travel can be an expensive undertaking. This reality prompted the 2015 launch of GivingWay, an online social network directly connecting non-governmental agencies and volunteers from all around the world, cutting out intermediaries that link the two.
For volunteers, the process is simple. You enter your volunteering preferences, including the country you would like to visit, the causes that interest you, and whether you want to travel solo or in a group. You then browse relevant NGOs and connect with them before applying.
GivingWay works with nearly 1,900 organizations in more than 115 countries. About half are free and the other half charge basic fees to cover food and lodging. Activities range from biodiversity work in Brazil to teaching youth in rural Nepal.
The company employs user-generated content (UGC) to showcase its volunteer experiences.
“The experience was amazing. I was fortunate enough to work with great people who are kind, caring and passionate about the work they do which shows in all aspects of the organization. Truly an amazing NGO to volunteer with and I would highly recommend volunteering with them.” -GW Volunteer, Justin after volunteering at @huellasqt – – – #GivingWay #MeaningfulTravel #Huellasqt #Regram #PassionPassport #VolunteerAbroad #Mexico #VisitMexico #Mexico_Fotos #Travelgram #OurPlanetDaily #Freedom #MoodyGrams #CreateExplore #VolunteerWork #GapYear #TravelAbroad #AwesomeEarth #HuffPostGram #BeautifulDestinations #LifeOfAdventure #EarthFocus #EarthPix #ArtOfVisuals #EarthOfficial #NakedPlanet #Nonprofit #4change #SocialGood
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GivingWay Groups, the company’s group volunteering feature, fosters social interaction between volunteers from all over the world, helping to create greater impact and more memorable experiences.
For those who may be short on time (or vacation days), Kind Traveler offers a compelling solution. Launched in 2016, the hotel booking website offers discounted rooms to users who donate at least $10 nightly to a charity affiliated with the hotel.
Hotels are vetted for their sustainable practices, including environmental and community impacts. However, users can also send their donation to Kind Traveler’s global charity partners, such as Make-A-Wish and The Salvation Army. Donations are forwarded directly to the charities, and neither the hotel nor Kind Traveler takes a cut.
Essentially, it’s a win-win situation for all:
So, if you’re looking to take a vacation, now you can say you’re doing it for charity.
The business model is supported by the company’s ‘Track Your Impact’ cause-based retail program. By entering the Track Your Impact code or barcode from your product package or tag on the Track Your Impact website, consumers can see stories, photos, videos and more to learn where and how their impact was delivered.
ME to WE’s combination of social enterprise and sustainable travel has proved successful. 10 million social impacts have been delivered through product purchases, while 42,000 travelers have ventured to communities around the world to volunteer on development projects and see the effects first-hand.
Half of all profits are donated to WE Charity, while the other half is reinvested into ME to WE to grow its social mission and ensure sustainability.
As a nonprofit organization representing the tourism industry, Tourism Cares works with leading travel associations and companies to advance the industry’s social impact.
Having donated more than 50,000 volunteer hours to destinations across North America since its inception, Tourism Cares also supports destinations abroad. One such destination is Jordan.
In February 2018, Tourism Cares partnered with the Jordan Tourism Board North America to launch the Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan. This interactive resource maps out a trail of 12 stops with hands-on local experiences that help contribute to communities, such as learning the craft of traditional weaving at the Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project, which boosts women’s rights and livelihoods in the area.
From the wonder of Petra to the calm of the Dead Sea, this initiative allows travelers to see the best of the Middle Eastern state through a social impact lens. Although the Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan is in relative infancy, there are plans for more social enterprises to be added, indicating that travelers have embraced the meaningful customer experiences on offer.
It’s clear that companies and nonprofits promoting sustainable travel aim to emphasize not just big do-good trips, but to educate travelers about their smallest decisions, such as eating at a locally owned restaurant or purchasing jewelry made in a certain area.
Sustainability is already a top priority for the United Nations — the organization designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Indeed, countries across the world have begun to invest in a sustainable future. The Australian government has pledged more than AU$500 million, or $379 million in U.S. dollars, to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Meanwhile, thanks to strong policies supporting sustainable travel, France, Germany and the UK took the top three spots in the first Sustainable Tourism Index compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
Many cities are still grappling with issues related to “overtourism”, but economics, government policy and social attitudes will ultimately determine whether the future is indeed sustainable. These five companies may well provide a compelling model.
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