When discussing social enterprise tourism, one example that is often held as the gold standard is Friends restaurants. Created by Friends International, a nongovernmental organization based in Paris, the cafes provide local, at-risk youth with the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to work in the food and beverage industry. From learning to be a chef to training as waitstaff, the individuals in the program acquire real-world experience, which can lead to future employment elsewhere. Tourists flock to the cafes to support the cause, as well as to indulge in authentic cuisine and interact with locals. It’s a win for everyone involved. In fact, the Friends restaurants in Cambodia are now some of the top-rated spots on TripAdvisor, and they have spawned similar eateries in countries around the world.
The example of Friends restaurants was shared with a group of travel industry leaders at a recent conference in Jordan at Dead Sea Marriott Resort & Spa. The gathering was the result of a partnership between Tourism Cares — which brought more than 70 representatives from all over North America — and the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB). In addition to the two-day conference, the Tourism Cares With Jordan delegation traveled around the country to see some of the main sights and to learn about sustainable tourism efforts and top social enterprise projects.
The conference coincided with the JTB’s release of the first-ever “Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan.” The map lists 11 community organizations around the country of special significance to tourists, along with the Jordan Trail, a hiking route that runs the length of the country and impacts many communities along the way. The organizations are shown on the map in relation to major attractions, including Petra, Wadi Rum and Jerash, so that groups and FIT travelers can incorporate visits to these places into their itineraries.
The map represents a step forward for the concept of social enterprise tourism and, quite possibly, presents a model for the future of travel.
In examining the success of Friends restaurants, Simon Marot, executive director of Friends International and a speaker at the Dead Sea conference, points out that the restaurants are not just good social enterprise projects; they are also thriving businesses. In fact, they brought in more than $2.5 million last year, and much of that revenue was reinvested into the community.
In promoting the “Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan,” Tourism Cares and the JTB also emphasize that social enterprise tourism is not just a feel-good gesture.
“This is not charity or grants or other philanthropy; it’s promoting a social-enterprise-to-supplier connection that makes real business sense,” said Mike Rea, senior program advisor and former CEO for Tourism Cares. “You’re not asking busy travelers in a time-strapped world for a handout. We’re saying that if you do this, you’ll have an awesome experience, and it’ll be good for everybody involved.”
In addition, Rea notes that incorporating community experiences into travel itineraries also benefits tour operators and travel agents. According to research conducted in 2015 by Phocuswright and Tourism Cares, 77 percent of travelers feel it is important that their travel spending helps the local community, and 64 percent say the act of giving directly enhances their travels. And community involvement is especially important to millennials — in the same survey, 81 percent indicate that they did some sort of volunteering in a destination they visited for leisure in the previous two years. Agents who can incorporate authentic, community-based experiences into their trip planning will surely win over clients. (Note: Phocuswright is owned by Northstar Travel Group, the parent company of TravelAge West.)
“These spots offer amazing travel experiences, and very few travel agents and tour operators even know about them,” Rea said. “It’s in your best interest to educate yourself about them.”
Making a Difference
Rea points out that if just one tour operator adds a community-based business to a few of its itineraries, that could mean a huge windfall for locals — which is a situation we may soon see play out in Jordan.
Brett Tollman, CEO of The Travel Corporation (TTC), which owns some of the biggest tour companies in the industry, was part of the Tourism Cares trip to Jordan. Through TTC’s nonprofit TreadRight Foundation, Tollman announced that the company will be creating grants and donating funds to assist the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative Society, one of the community organizations he visited in Jordan. Tollman also committed to incorporating a visit to the co-op into the itineraries of some of TTC’s brands.
“Unemployment in Jordan for women is around 33 percent in urban areas and is even higher in rural areas,” Tollman commented in his blog. “As the cooperative is managed and run by members of the community, it has created a number of job opportunities for women of all ages.”
Muna Haddad, founder and executive director of Baraka, a sustainable tourism consulting firm, and a major force in the creation of the travel map, says that this kind of support can have a huge impact.
“One decision in the mind of a traveler, or a tour operator, can mean big changes in the lives of many people,” she said. “Just stopping for a cup of tea or a snack can help money get into the right hands and have major consequences for a community. That is the power of travel.”
A Model for Other Destinations
There’s little doubt that success of the travel map will mean the creation of similar programs in other countries. Rea says that the program’s template — with some minor adjustments — could easily be exported to other destinations, and that Tourism Cares would be a natural fit for assisting countries interested in tailoring the approach to fit their needs.
“After the Nepal earthquake, Tourism Cares started a social enterprise business there,” Rea said. “This work is really part of everything we are involved in, and I think it’s one of the most important things we do. How do we serve as a bridge so that enterprises can be identified and get stronger, and travelers and the travel industry can connect to the best ones?”
Creating a travel map can’t happen without strong support from the government, which is one reason why Jordan was ideal for this initiative. The JTB has long been an active partner in the growth and promotion of Jordan’s tourism industry — particularly its North American office led by Malia Asfour.
Asfour says other tourism boards haven’t yet approached her asking about the program, but if they do, she would “be more than happy to share our experience with others.”
As social enterprise tourism becomes a model for a travel industry facing significant environmental, social and public relations challenges, travel agents should not be surprised if they are asked to add yet another level of expertise — in social enterprise — to the services they provide. The “Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan” might be the first step for advisors looking for a road map to future success.
Community-Based Groups on the Meaningful Travel Map
THE JORDAN TRAIL
The more than 400 miles of the Jordan Trail highlight the natural beauty and diversity of the area’s landscape. The trail, which runs the length of the country, can be hiked in segments or in its entirety over 40 days.
Baraka Destinations is a social venture that develops clusters of community-owned tourism businesses, then partners with locals to help tourism entrepreneurs build their villages into vibrant destinations.
Summaga Cafe features a menu that incorporates local ingredients, including homemade dairy products, preserves, honey, herbs, spices and greens. The cooperative’s products are also for sale in its shop.
BAIT KHAYRAT SOUF
This tranquil kitchen and garden serves fresh meals with local goods and provides lessons, training and jobs for locals. The goal of Bait Khayrat Souf is to create a platform for local women to financially support themselves through opportunities for economic development. The group offers natural and handmade products for sale, including world-renowned jams, pickles, olive oils, vinegars and molasses, as well as a wide variety of healing herbs.
SYRIAN JASMINE HOUSE
Many women who come to Jordan from Syria are widowed or had to leave their husbands behind. They arrived as the sole breadwinners for their families, and only 7 percent of Syrian women in Jordan are employed. Syrian Jasmine House seeks to address that by providing jobs and income. It employs 70 women — the majority are from Syria, but the group also includes Iraqis and Palestinians — and has helped more than 1,000 women learn the skills necessary for handicraft making.
IRAQ AL-AMIR WOMEN’S COOPERATIVE SOCIETY
The Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative Society was founded by the Noor Al-Hussein Foundation more than two decades ago. It aims to help local women become financially independent and to raise their standard of living by increasing their income and preserving local heritage. Visitors to the cooperative can learn traditional paper-making, pottery-making and more.
ROYAL SOCIETY FOR THE CONSERVATION OF NATURE
The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) is one of Jordan’s longest-standing sustainable tourism organizations. Wild Jordan Adventures (the brand name of the RSCN) offers ecotourists a variety of destinations to explore and activities to enjoy, including camping, wildlife safaris, canyoning, hiking and cycling.
JORDAN RIVER FOUNDATION: BANI HAMIDA WOMEN’S WEAVING PROJECT
At Bani Hamida, visitors can try their hand at traditional weaving while boosting women’s rights and livelihoods at the same time. Female weavers are eager to show guests their wool products, share their stories and provide the opportunity to have a hands-on experience using the weaving machines.
AL NUMEIRA ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATION
Al Numeira Environmental Association was created to promote innovative water conservation methods and environmental education. It offers guests outdoor activities and food that showcase the Dead Sea area while adhering to principles of conservation.
The goal of this award-winning lodge at the Dana Biosphere is to use ecotourism to generate revenue for conservation, as well as to provide sustainable, nature-based sources of income for the remote, rural Bedouin communities that reside in the lower part of the reserve. Feynan Ecolodge has become a leading example of sustainable tourism, earning it international recognition, including being named as one of the 25 best ecolodges in the world by National Geographic Traveler.
Montreal Hotel offers an array of outdoor experiences that aim to highlight the history and landscapes that surround Jordan. Military veterans comprise most of the staff, and the hotel works with the local community to provide activities such as hiking, cycling and cooking classes
AMMARIN BEDOUIN CAMP
A stay at Ammarin Bedouin Camp promises living heritage and community impact in the shadow of Petra. Located in Siq Al Amti — a 10-minute walk from the area known as Little Petra — this camp has a beautiful setting in a natural amphitheater of sand and hills.
Jordan Tourism Board
Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan