The Power of Travel: Expanding Opportunities to Travel and Creating Lasting Impact on More Lives
Benefits of Travel
Travel enriches our lives. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience the joy of traveling - seeing unfamiliar sights, learning about a different culture, and experiencing shared humanity in a place far away from home - can relate to this.
When we travel, we learn about new aspects of our world, which helps us deepen our understanding of our own cultures and backgrounds, and helps us develop new perspectives. We may even gain skills to help us become better global citizens: empathy, cross-cultural communication, creativity, critical thinking.
On top of all that, traveling can also be good for our health and well being, as well as supporting our personal and professional growth. And for many of us working in travel and tourism, these - and much more - are key parts of why we do what we do. We want to share the joy of traveling with more people.
Who Gets to Benefit from Traveling?
On the other hand, however, the opportunities to appreciate, enjoy, and learn from travel experiences are not accessible to everyone. Looking at the world from the bird’s eye perspective, travel is still a privilege for those with (relative) economic means and resources. While some take for granted the idea of a vacation (or even multiple trips a year) as a normal part of their lives, based on some estimates, probably less than 10% of the world has ever had the chance to travel outside of their home countries or regions.
But it’s clear that the benefits of traveling should not be exclusive to the wealthy few, especially when we consider the educational, inspirational and transformative benefits of travel experiences. Rather than maintaining the status quo of travel being a feel-good activity for the lucky few, can we envision a world where we extend the sense of solidarity to include as many people as possible regardless of their economic means?
That was the question addressed in this piece by Jeremy Smith, contemplating how the sense of community many of us felt during the pandemic can go beyond its “honeymoon phase” and become part of our industry’s recovery story, making sure that travel benefits more of “those who need it the most”.
If we believe that holidays offer a social good that can help people who are broken and exhausted, then surely that remains true always. If so, then the approaches and attitudes embodied in the holidays for helpers initiatives should play a part in defining the tourism that comes next. … In this time of togetherness, we like to think that we are all as one, united in staying at home, dreaming of our next holiday. But we’re not. Many people are dreaming of their first.
(“How can we ensure tourism’s recovery benefits those that most need it?”, April 2020)
So what are tourism industry organizations doing to share the power of travel with more people around the world? And what more can be done to expand opportunities to travel, and create lasting impact on the lives touched by the power of travel?
Empowerment Through the Power of Travel
Here are some examples of organizations serving those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to travel to benefit from the power of travel.
Adventure for All is a US-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers inclusive, educational and interactive adventure programs designed to engage individuals with intellectual and / or developmental exceptionalities and their families. These adventure programs help expand the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of activities such as kayaking, biking, and hiking to help participating athletes learn about their own abilities to face and overcome fear, and to challenge themselves.
Based on the belief that “travel is the best form of education”, the Learning AFAR Fund by AFAR Media and the Global Leadership Adventures International Foundation sponsors immersive travel programs around the world for underserved students. In addition to giving under-resourced students an opportunity to travel and gain new experiences, the program helps inspire a generation of future leaders who are more confident about making a meaningful difference in the lives of their own communities.
For many families, holidays are a way to relax, enjoy just being themselves away from the daily obligations, and above all, spend time together. Many parents with children cherish the special opportunities they have during family vacations to create memories together. Not all families have the time or resources to afford such opportunities, and that’s something we need to change, especially when we think about the power of travel and “those who need it the most”. Family Holiday Charity in the UK is an example of an organization working to change the status quo, helping give more families a chance to “build relationships, confidence and hope for the future”.
What (More) Can Tourism Businesses Do?
Supporting, donating to, and collaborating with such charitable programs and initiatives can be a good way for tourism businesses to play an active role in expanding opportunities for more people to benefit from travel.
What else can be done by the tourism industry? Here are some ideas and examples:
- Make opportunities to travel more affordable, simpler and easier to access. Airfordable aims to break the travel barrier, making booking travel easier, faster, and more open, and offering customers the flexibility and compassion to pay in installments rather than up front.
- Make expanding opportunities a part of your business’ sustainability commitment. In 2019, Scandic’s Sustainability Hackathon awarded in the social sustainability category the idea “Holiday for All” by its employees, which aims to open its hotels to families that miss out on social experiences because of financial constraints.
- Start engaging your own team members, partners and local community members. Cayuga Collection, a leading sustainable hospitality brand in Costa Rica, Panama & Nicaragua, invites its hotel staff members to spend a day as a guest with their family and loved ones.
Opportunity to Be a Tourist in One's Own Backyard
Among the most important travel motivations for many of us is to see and experience the natural wonders of the world, and to encounter local traditions and cultural expressions. We are fascinated by the beauty of our planet and moved by the chance to see the world from different perspectives.
We may not often stop to think about the fact that those very places we are visiting and getting inspired and moved by are someone else’s home, and that the communities who are part of the local identities of the places we so love to visit may not always have the same opportunities as tourists do to experience and enjoy the cultural and natural wonders of their own places.
To show respect, and to help empower local communities in their roles as stewards of their own heritage, some tourism organizations have been creating programs to offer local people the opportunity to visit and experience tourist sites in their own countries.
- Elevate Destinations seeks to democratize travel through its "Buy a Trip, Give a Trip" program, helping local youth to understand the society they live in and access new horizons by participating in trips visiting historical sites, seeing conservation projects, and getting up close with wildlife.
- The "Children in the Wilderness" program by Wilderness Safaris engages local community members in educational and inspiring experiences, with the aim of facilitating leadership development and education of children in Africa.
- In Southeast Asia, "Share the Wonder" works with local NGOs, social enterprises and responsible travel organizations across the region to create fun and educational day trips for local underprivileged children.
These programs show that the act of traveling can make a positive and lasting impact on participating community members, and that as travel providers, tourism businesses can support the positive ripple effect that such opportunities can create for destinations.