Giving Back Programs Inspire and Sustain
Travel companies are creating innovative programs to help preserve and nurture the environments, communities and cultures they cherish and explore.
In the past decade, the notion of “giving back” has gained tremendous momentum within the travel industry. From airlines and hotels to government tourism organizations and tour outfitters, organizations have recognized that the product on which their enterprises are founded – travel -- is precious and precarious, and is itself dependent on the continued sustenance of the world’s varied riches and attractions. Travel-related organizations have thus realized that they need to add one more fundamental responsibility to their portfolio: preserving and cultivating the world’s diverse environments, communities and cultures.
The Giving Back movement has grown from this realization and has been nurtured by individuals whose idealism and appreciation originally inspired them to join the travel industry. The member companies of the Adventure Collection have been at the forefront of this movement, individually and collectively, and have spearheaded a significant number of innovative programs in the fields of environmental, financial and cultural sustainability.
I asked each member to describe one program about which they feel especially proud. Their diverse answers illustrate the imagination, passion and commitment that distinguish these efforts.
Every year, the staff at Backroads takes a group ride. In 2007, this ride was through Thailand. At the end of the ride, our staff painted a school in a rural village. Below is an account of that day:
Thaton School Project, November 10, End of Staff Ride:
Five-gallon buckets of white paint. A plethora of brushes and rollers. Eighty Backroads staff members. And not a ladder in sight. This is the scene today at the Thaton School just west of the Maekok River, where we've gathered after five days of riding to give back to the community that has hosted us so graciously.
Thaton's Shan school is one of the poorest in the region and hosts a high percentage of schoolchildren from the Akha hill tribes scattered throughout the Mae Ai District. It's obvious that our painting project is a big event in the area, since on a Saturday, 60 eager students have shown up to watch.
Our goal today is to repaint the worn exterior of the school buildings -- top three-quarters, white, and bottom trim, a slate blue. No painting project is complete without a few colorful hiccups and the slate-blue shade was not what we ordered. While we wait for the correct paint to arrive, we eye the height of the walls and begin to wonder how we'll get the white coating onto their upper reaches without ladders. Our brains process. . . A sturdy desk? Check. A slightly wobbly table? Check. A handful of roller extenders? Check. A couple of lanky 6-foot-plus Backroads leaders? Check. Problem? What problem?
By the end of the day, the school buildings glisten with a sheen of fresh paint -- top three-quarters, white, and bottom trim, the correct shade of slate blue. In the cooling afternoon air, the kids -- who did their best to help paint -- are now playing volleyball and table tennis with Backroads folks. It's a fitting final moment before the group splits in buses and songthaews headed for Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Some of our more exciting projects have occurred when travelers got enthusiastic about helping an area they were visiting. One good example is the basketball court project in Dzanga.
In February 2005 a group of Bushtracks travelers were welcomed with joy by the village of Bayanga in Central African Republic. The hospitality of the villagers was heartwarming and the travelers soon asked how they could give back to the villagers. The answer was "a real basketball court."
The travelers said, "We will take that on." Bushtracks, working with Generosity in Action, handled the travelers' donations and coordinated with David Greer of the World Wildlife Fund to ensure that the basketball court would become a reality. Gabriel Yikili, the coach of the Bayanga team, was a key component for the success of the project, organizing the construction and involving all of the people of Bayanga.
In February 2006 another Bushtracks group visited Bayanga, and at this time the village elders dedicated the court and organized a game against Nola, a village located three hours away. David Tett, President of Bushtracks Expeditions, and the mayor of Bayanga cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony.
David Greer works with the people of Bayanga and the Central African Republic to save the Dzanga-Sangha rain forest and has been instrumental in seeing that the community appreciates the value of tourism to their lives. After the dedicationof the court, Greer wrote: “Thanks to the kindness of Generosity in Action and Bushtracks, in donating the necessary funds to build a basketball court in the village, the people of Bayanga and the Dzanga-Sangha region are beginning to see that there truly are benefits to preserving the amazing biodiversity that surrounds them. While traditionally, over-exploitation of the forest was the sole means by which to create a local commerce, now people are much more thoughtful about using their forest resources in a sustainable way and are developing a long-term vision based on the economical benefits of tourism."To see pictures of the dedication ceremony and the day's activities, including the first basketball game, click here. The enthusiasm of the day proves the value of travelers' giving back.
CANADIAN MOUNTAIN HOLIDAYS
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) have joined forces through an innovative sponsorship agreement in support of conservation. As leaders in their fields of adventure tourism and land conservation respectively, CMH and NCC have agreed to work together to promote awareness and understanding of conservation initiatives as well as collaborate on field projects and research.
This agreement represents the first time NCC has established a major sponsorship with a tourism operator. As part of the agreement CMH has committed $75,000 over a three-year period to support NCC’s Canadian Rockies Program and activities in the region. Dave Hillary, Program Manager for NCC’s Rocky Mountain Program says: “CMH will play a key role in helping to conserve the best of Canadian Rocky landscapes and their support will build on NCC’s current successes in the region.” NCC is a national, non-profit, non-advocacy organization that works to protect Canada’s most ecologically significant and threatened habitat. NCC works with individual landowners, community stakeholders, other conservation organizations and partners to secure lands through purchase, donations and conservation covenants. Since 1962, NCC and its supporters have protected close to two million acres of ecologically significant land nationwide. NCC has already secured over 50,000 hectares in the Canadian Rockies, protecting critical habitat for species at risk, including grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and American badgers.
We are very proud of a major commitment we have just announced: GeoEx has committed to conserving the integrity of the places we visit by allocating one percent of our net annual tour sales (as opposed to profits) to organizations we’ve carefully vetted in order to reduce the natural and cultural footprint of our office, our marketing, and our trips, including the carbon footprint of all trips. The initiatives we are currently supporting including a wide array of conservation, cultural resource protection, education, and health care programs, including the Pema Choling Institute (Bhutan); Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (Kenya); Dental Project Peru; Charles Darwin Research Station (Galapagos); Tarayana Foundation (Bhutan); Gangteng Monastery Restoration Fund (Bhutan); and the Mpopongi Primary School (Kenya).
In 1997, Lindblad Expeditions initiated the Galápagos Conservation Fund (GCF) as an opportunity for guests to contribute directly to local conservation projects that will preserve the islands for generations to come. As of March 2008, the GCF has raised more than $4 million, given directly to a wide variety of initiatives including projects implemented by the Galápagos National Park and/or Charles Darwin Research Center.
Projects include the complete ecological restoration of Santiago Island (including the eradication of invasive species), protection of the Galapagos land iguana, monitoring of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and a number of other programs to aid in scientific testing and research throughout the islands.
Our video “Inspiring Stewardship” details some of the initiatives of the GCF. It can be viewed here.
For the past 20 years, Micato Safaris’ non-profit foundation, AmericaShare, has worked to help orphaned and vulnerable children affected by poverty and HIV/AIDS in Kenya. Entirely funded by Micato, AmericaShare channels donations made by its safari travelers, corporate donors, industry friends and staff to help the poor and vulnerable of the Mukuru slum community. Micato Safaris and AmericaShare work together on a number of programs as part of their mandate to address the needs of vulnerable populations in the face of HIV/AIDS.
The Lend a Helping Hand on Safari Program introduces travelers to the conditions of the slum by arranging visits to the local orphanage and/or schools. Many of these travelers often become AmericaShare sponsors and donors, building collaboration and support for the program.
AmericaShare’s School Sponsorship Program fully supports over 200 orphaned and vulnerable children by placing them into reputable boarding schools in and around Nairobi, Kenya. The intention is for these children to complete high school and have the opportunity to attend vocational school or university in order to support themselves and their family’s future.
Here’s how we describe these efforts in our brochure:
Every Micato traveler is given the opportunity to change the course of a life. We invite guests to spend an extra day in Nairobi and visit one of our AmericaShare projects in the slums, learn of the challenges, meet the orphaned and vulnerable children and be inspirited to help. And they have. Thanks to their generosity, hundreds of children are off the streets and into good boarding schools with a warm and safe home to return to during holidays.
While safaris may be our profession, these children are our passion. Micato and its non-profit arm, AmericaShare, support over one thousand children in schools and orphanages around Nairobi. There are millions of children in Africa abandoned or orphaned as a result of the AIDS pandemic and this is your chance to make a difference. What would you do during a visit? Bounce babies on your knee. Share jokes with youngsters. Talk about your profession to teenagers. Sing and dance. Plant a tree. Serve a meal. Or simply be a bridge of information and exchange between cultures. Micato travelers come to Africa for the wildlife but leave in love with the people. Lives have been changed—and not just the children’s.
NATURAL HABITAT ADVENTURES
The newest northern lights are energy-saving compact fluorescents, at least in tiny Churchill, Manitoba. Natural Habitat Adventures hopes to shed light on climate change while providing real community service to the town—dubbed “The Polar Bear Capital of the World”—that serves as home base for its popular polar bear trips. Natural Habitat Adventures’ Bulbs-for-Bears program will enlighten homes and businesses in the 1,000-resident community with compact fluorescent light bulbs this year with the help of corporate sponsor Gaiam. The donated CFLs are projected to save residents more than $150,000 over the life of the bulbs—as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Also hip to the dirty logistics of trash removal in the remote location, Natural Habitat Adventures is providing a bulb crusher for responsible CFL disposal.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is invested in future students and staff of outdoor leadership. That is why NOLS offers over $800,000 dollars a year in scholarship assistance. Recipients of NOLS scholarships exhibit dedication to the community, leadership, the wilderness, and the field of outdoor education. The generous offerings of our alumni have made it possible to provide the education and training of tomorrow's leaders.
Rivers Fiji, a sister company of California-based O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists), has been offering whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, and multi-activity adventures six days a week, twelve months a year, out of Pacific Harbour, Fiji, since 1998.
By supporting community development and environmental conservation, Rivers Fiji programs are not only eco-friendly, they define eco-tourism. With the help of 9 mataqali (landowning groups), 2 villages, a logging company, and the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB), the company successfully negotiated with the government of Fiji and established the Upper Navua Conservation Area in 2000. This unique public-private partnership protects the pristine Upper Navua River Canyon, a 10.5-mile conservation corridor, from future logging or gravel extraction. In return, Rivers Fiji compensates the NLTB and landowners through lease payments, user fees and employment opportunities, leading ultimately to full protection of the area.
On April 11, 2006, the Upper Navua Conservation Area became Fiji’s first, officially designated Ramsar site (protected wetland of international importance), making it part of more than 1280 wetlands around the world which now include nearly 2 million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface area.
To further protect and manage the conservation area, Rivers Fiji developed a comprehensive natural resource and tourism management plan with the help of the NLTB and mataqali. All guides receive an in-depth international training program which includes a minimum of a three-month guide school as well as training in swift-water rescue, first-aid and C.P.R., river conservation related to operating tourism programs, and conservation briefings related to the company’s rivers and ocean operations. In addition, prior to visiting villages, Rivers Fiji guides educate their guests about the area’s ecosystem, cultural traditions, heritage sites and local preservation issues, thus affording guests the rare opportunity to really understand the daily life of indigenous Fijians in the rural highlands.
Rivers Fiji has also set up several mechanisms for local participation in its day-to-day and long-term operations. For example, the opinions of local communities are regularly solicited, and incorporated in decision-making events related to operations. In fact, the mataqali are a part of the decision-making process relating to guide hiring and natural resource management fieldwork. Additionally, meetings are held regularly with village elders to discuss their ideas and concerns, as they relate to company operations, the results of which help the company make key operational decisions.
Rivers Fiji believes that empowering local communities in this manner makes its programs successful. “We have created full-time employment for the local people,” said George Wendt, founder and president of OARS and co-owner of Rivers Fiji. “In fact, with the exception of our managing director and marketing/operations manager, all of our employees are from the communities where we operate. Thus they have a real stake in the long-term sustainability of the places we visit and in Rivers Fiji as a sustainable tourism operation.” Wendt continues, “In fact, infractions by logging companies and plans for road development through the conservation area have been thwarted due to mataqali alerting Rivers Fiji management and local authorities.”
Historically Fiji's tourism development has been focused on the coastal communities - with Fiji's interior populations receiving little benefit. Rivers Fiji, however, provides economic alternatives to people whose previous development options were limited to logging and resource extraction.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Off the Beaten Path has been extremely instrumental in developing the nonprofit 501(c)(3) Rural Landscape Institute. This nonprofit corporation focuses on the economic viability of rural communities, farmers and ranchers. It has worked on a variety of initiatives aimed at helping economic development occur in a responsible manner in rural areas in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. It has embarked on a seven state regional agritourism model with a comprehensive business plan, marketing strategy and organizational development activities. It should be noted that this particular project involves several Off the Beaten Path travelers who have volunteered their marketing and branding expertise to help make this a reality.
Another project of The Rural Landscape Institute is the “Path to Eden” DVD which was requested by many rural institutions in Montana concerned about new landowners and how their accountability to local communities and local economies. This DVD is narrated by Tom Brokaw and over 2,500 copies have been distributed since April 2007.
Another program within The Rural Landscape Institute is our Open Gates Project, which is helping farmers and ranchers see wildlife more as an asset than a liability. If this can occur, it will provide great economic opportunities to many agriculturalists and at the same time enhance the sustainable habitat in working landscapes.
Off the Beaten Path’s role in these enterprises has been many-fold, involving client expertise, staff expertise and providing rent-free space for the Institute in its early stages.
For information on the Adventure Collection’s five strategic principles of responsible travel, click here.
For more information on the Adventure Collection’s member companies, click here.