A travel agent can save busy families precious time and money. // © 2016 iStock
Of late, there has been meaningful confirmation of a vital travel trend: Families are increasingly drawn to mindful and purposeful travel experiences, especially those that allow for giving back to local communities.
Broadly speaking, “experiential travel” — an often-used phrase describing travel experiences that resonate on a deep, emotional level — is said to be the fastest-growing segment in the travel industry. For years, travel brands have developed products that feed a deepening hunger for personalized adventures and that stoke travelers’ imaginations and self-awareness while also remaining sensitive to local cultures.
Pair experiential travel with the impact of traveling families — who today represent one of the largest economic drivers of the travel industry — and you have a powerful match.
It Doesn’t Matter What You Call It ...
The consumer mindset is far more important than the industry jargon. Though there’s great debate about the best choice of words, don’t get bogged down in whether a family that exercises its philanthropic desires is being responsible, sustainable, eco-conscious, ethical, good, green, immersive, mindful, etc. Just embolden them!
... But Do the Right Thing
Another topic of great debate — and one of genuine significance — is where and how travelers deliver their generosity, be it through effort, money or other material resources.
When family travelers take time away from sightseeing to provide assistance to local communities, they often do so as volunteers. However, not all volunteers and projects are created equal. It behooves everyone in the industry, especially those providing recommendations, to understand today’s research and conventional wisdom.
Of particular importance is the body of evidence that confirms the detrimental impact of volunteering on animals and children. Wildlife rescue centers and orphanages may play critical community support roles, but they are not the best places for visiting families to donate their time (unless there’s proven expertise in animal or child care). Stick to other areas of interest and work through well-vetted intermediaries.
Best Foot Forward
Following are three travel-related projects worthy of review. Two of them showcase how for-profit travel companies often establish philanthropic branches to oversee charitable projects. The deep community roots and long-term commitments are critical elements of project legitimacy and longevity.
Fathom is a new style of cruise line that emphasizes “impact travel” with its itineraries in the Dominican Republic (read more about Fathom’s D.R. voyage in this issue). During their time in the country, passengers take part in efforts to improve environmental, educational and economic conditions for locals.
Cayuga Collection, an ensemble of small, sustainable, luxury accommodations in Latin America, urges all guests to contribute to Equilibrium, a public charity that engages locals in transformational educational projects in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Some schools can be visited during hotel stays in select communities.
Lastly, Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) Philanthropy works to support projects designed to benefit the communities in which its guests travel. A&K encourages travelers to see these projects in action and to continue donations of time, effort and money.