Every day, more travel companies spotlight their efforts to “give back” to the communities where they operate. Some companies even develop their own travelers’ philanthropy programs where guests can visit and donate to projects they support, such as local schools.
Perhaps a more effective way to impact change, however, is through the travel choices we
Tourism is the world’s biggest economic sector, generating over $8.8 trillion a year, over 9.9% of global GDP (statistic from Center for Responsible Travel in 2008). The wealth generated by the tourism industry exponentially exceeds the amount of money donated as part of travelers' philanthropy or corporate social responsibility programs.
As a more conscious consumer, you might consider asking some of the following questions, when making travel arrangements:
Does the travel company employ indigenous people from the community?
Do they pay them fairly and treat them well?
Do these workers have the opportunity for further career development in the organization?
Are they represented in management, and if so, what is the percentage?
How is the travel company managing any negative impact their business might have in the community (i.e. eco-footprint)?
Is there a locally based and locally owned option?
It may not be easy to get direct answers. But by being more aware of these aspects of the travel business, we can start to align our decisions with the positive impact we want to see in the places we visit. By enabling local people to earn sustainable livelihoods in excess of a minimum living wage, they will be empowered to self-direct development in their own communities.
Much of the change we want to see in the world starts from within: in this particular case, within a company’s corporate culture and within a conscious traveler’s choices.
As a consumer, we don’t always feel like our decisions make any difference: what impact can I or my family really have by choosing one hotel or resort over another? But as more and more of us vote with our dollars, we become a powerful voice.