RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS: Travel Philanthropy
Dennis Pinto, Managing Director, Micato Safaris, discusses travel philanthropy programs and lessons.
Dennis Pinto represents the second generation of Pintos at Micato Safaris. In 1982, Dennis established the New York office of the safari outfitter his parents founded in East Africa in 1966. A graduate of Stanford University, he was in banking for several years before the irresistible lure of the family’s hospitality business brought him back to his original calling. At Micato, he expanded the company, launching tour operations in India and South Africa, and co-founded Micato’s nonprofit arm, AmericaShare, dedicated to the support of orphaned and vulnerable children in East Africa.
Funded 100% by Micato Safaris, AmericaShare channels the donations of its safari guests, corporate partners and industry friends directly to one of its projects in Mukuru, a notorious slum outside of Nairobi. AmericaShare’s mission is to provide education and hope to the women and children of Mukuru, as well as resources to facilitate sustainable change within the community. In its tour operations, Micato offers a wide range of safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, as well as in India.
Don George: Over the years travel philanthropy has been a vital part of your organization. What are the important take-home lessons?
Dennis Pinto: At Micato Safaris, we see philanthropic travel as a way that compassionate travellers can come to a greater understanding of the challenges and needs facing underserved African communities, get involved and help in a meaningful way. It’s an educational process for both the travellers and the local people that results in greater understanding, respect and friendships. Micato’s particular mission is the education of Africa’s vulnerable and orphaned children, but the overarching experience for Micato travellers is much larger than that: it’s a true and sensitive experience encompassing myriad spheres of African life, from women’s empowerment issues to AIDS education, slums and children’s educational issues. In keeping with our mission, we especially hope to inspire travellers to sponsor a single or double orphaned child to attend boarding school for a multi-year commitment — which they have done in generous multitudes.
What insights do you have for tour operators who would like to start a travel philanthropy program?
Focus on quality — not quantity. Do not try to be all things to all people, rather, choose a cause that is important in the communities in which you operate – and dig deep. Develop relationships, employ local staff, and strive to create a long-lasting sustainable program that will enrich the local people as well as your travellers.
Help your travellers understand that there are many ways to give back – from purchasing local handicrafts, to planting a tree, to sponsoring a child’s education, to donating soccer balls…. You as the tour operator need to provide all the various options to your travellers and see what resonates most with them.
Knowing that there are a wide array of options, what advice do you have for travelers who aspire to give back to in-country organizations?
Read the fine print—many companies say that they are sustainable or that they contribute to local charities, but are simply writing a check to an umbrella organization that keeps much of the money for itself.
Think about what you want to get out of your experience, consider making a long-term commitment to the region where you are traveling. There are myriad options—just be sure to vet each properly and to work with well-established NGOs.
What resources – and role models — would you direct tour operators and travelers toward to get further information on travel philanthropy?
All of my fellow Adventure Collection members are wonderful role models—there is not one whose charitable endeavours I do not respect. I also think that Fairmont Hotels and Resorts is doing a great job.