Responsible Tourism: A Gift That Keeps On Giving


Dan Sullivan in Knysna

Collette Vacations' Dan Sullivan in Knysna, South Africa, at a Collette Foundation-supported school


Dan Sullivan, president and CEO of Collette Vacations, writes about how travel reveals challenges the poor face, and how the industry can help

Travel is a privilege that I have been fortunate to enjoy throughout my life; a trip to Antarctica in 2008 marked my seventh continent visited. And while I have seen the most beautiful places in the world, traveling has also revealed the challenges many poor people—especially children—face every day.

The inspiration behind the launch of The Collette Foundation, an employee-run global effort focused on improving the lives of children in the worldwide communities that Collette’s travelers visit, was a school in a village above the Sacred Valley in Peru called Pampallacta. I visited the school in 2006 and was shocked by how undernourished the kids were. These children had only potatoes to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s when I knew that we must help our global neighbors.

Since that day, The Collette Foundation has reached out to 20 communities around the world—from South Africa and Ireland to right here in the U.S. And we have been able to make a difference, one community, one project at a time. From the donation of hippo rollers in South Africa that alleviates much of the challenges associated with the collection of water, to providing winter coats and pants for students in Tibet where sub-zero temperatures are common in the winter, the Foundation is thriving thanks to the hard work of Collette’s employees, of which about 10 percent of our worldwide workforce have volunteered to participate.

What I like most about the operation of the foundation is that it gives not only our employees the opportunity to be involved but also our global vendor partners and, most notably, our passengers on tour. While we struggled a bit over whether traditional escorted group touring could co-exist with responsible tourism, the debate was short-lived. For every tour that visits a Collette Foundation project site, the response has been incredibly positive. We are able to add another dimension to the travel experience. In fact, many of our guests tell me they plan to continue contributing to the project!

One such story is that of Marilyn Armstrong, a Collette Vacations’ passenger who traveled to Peru in 2008 and visited the Hogar de Mercedes de Jesus Molina orphanage in Anta. Upon her return home, Marilyn reached out to her local quilting group and told them the story of her visit. Her group is now in the process of hand-making 25 quilts, one for each of the girls at the Hogar. Although Collette’s travelers are invited to make voluntary contributions, there is no pressure to do so.

As for the children of Pampallacta, I’m happy to report that The Collette Foundation, working with an organization called Peruvian Hearts, has begun a nutrition program that provides each child with a healthy breakfast and lunch as well as a multivitamin every day. To get to school, many of these children walk up to five miles a day, but now they no longer do so on an empty stomach. And that is only the beginning! The Collette Foundation will support the construction of a new dining hall and ventilated kitchen.

That’s the beauty of  The Collette Foundation—it keeps on giving and, in doing so, I hope it will inspire others in the travel industry to do what they can to help make a difference.