As one of the world's largest industries, it's up to travel and tourism to lead the way toward a carbon-smart, sustainable future that contributes to the well-being of people and the planet. This means giving back to local communities, particularly now, since so many places around the world that depend on visitors are struggling as a consequence of COVID-19.
Even before the virus took its devastating toll on the industry, visitors have been looking for ways to create deeper and more meaningful connections with the places they care about - a trend known as voluntourism. Voluntourism, when done right, is a win-win situation for everyone: for guests who are seeking authentic and meaningful experiences, for hotels that want to support the communities in which they operate, and for the recipients of the donations and support.
How are hospitality managers, from rainforest lodge owners to managers of up market resorts and hotels, finding innovative ways to respond to guests' desire to support local communities? If you're looking for inspiration, here are just a few examples of innovative approaches to voluntouring.
During the COVID-19 crisis, hotels around the world have opened their doors and hearts to assist those affected by the pandemic. Ceasars Resorts, with hotels across the US, has been donating to food charities as well as providing hospitals and first responders with medical supplies. New York's famous five-star Four Seasons, closed to the general public, offered free accommodation to medical personnel who traveled long distances to help out in NY. Maraya Perinat's Cotton House in Barcelona, which once charged the equivalent of $450 a night for a room, has taken in patients afflicted with the virus.
Pre-COVID, hotels and guests were already seeking ways to give back to communities. Through its We Care program, Crystal Cruises has been providing passengers with opportunities to book voluntourism excursions on every cruise. Guests have chosen to feed the elderly at Mercy Kitchen in Belize, pack apples and rice for distribution by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which feeds more than 225,000 people daily, and plant trees in New Zealand and Iceland.
Touring with heart
Through its own initiative, TreadRight, Trafalgar Tour Operators invest in local communities and protect the environment. In India, they arrange for guests to extend their guided journey by volunteering for three days on a rural community development project that includes building a classroom for local school children, for example. In Ecuador, guests have the option of participating in a sustainable development project in the Amazon rainforest.
Feed the hungry
Omni hotels and resorts throughout the US have established a Say Goodnight to Hunger program in collaboration with the charity Feeding America, which donates one meal to a person in need for every booking made. That adds up to nearly nine million meals a year.
Pack for Purpose
This nonprofit organization has partnered up with groups such as Sandals Resorts and is offering guests the opportunity to pack rucksacks with no more than £5 of school supplies from a list of needed items. Since 2010, Pack for a Purpose travelers have taken over 165,728 kgs (364,601 pounds) of supplies, meeting essential needs in over 60 countries.
Steps to setting up a voluntourism program
- Identify the most urgent needs in the community: nutrition, environment, literacy, for example.
- Determine exactly what you hope to achieve through the program and set measurable goals for reaching your vision.
- Establish the logistics including the internal resources to organize, promote and operate your voluntourism program.
- Put together a plan for how you'll communicate to your guests and volunteers, not only keeping them informed, but any nonprofit partners and beneficiaries who may require regular updates.