Giving Back: Not a Hard Sell

ruthanne terreroSelling green travel can be a challenge. How do you communicate the allure of a resort that is doing a number of wonderfully responsible things behind the scenes that don’t immediately impact the guests’ experience? Our research shows that the majority of consumers are not yet insisting that their hotels be green, but anecdotally, we hear that once they witness the environmental efforts a property is making, they become loyal customers. They have to see it to appreciate it.

Sustainable travel, on the other hand, is a bit of an easier sell because it directly impacts the travel experience. We’ve seen a healthy rise in the number of travel suppliers that allow clients to give back to destinations they are visiting, leaving them in stronger shape than when they arrived. Micato Safaris is one of the most notable, with its AmericaShare foundation, which assists those citizens of Nairobi who had been impacted by the brutal HIV/AIDS pandemic. Clients are able to visit its facilities while in Nairobi and sponsor children upon their return.

Green practices are also a large part of Micato’s corporate culture; externally, guests can experience eco-friendly activities through the Micato Tree-Planting Program. GoGo Worldwide VacationsGoGo Green program denotes Green Globe certified hotels on its websites and brochures. Another nice touch? Its new document presentation is made from recycled materials and it uses electronic travel vouchers.

Collette Tours does marvelous things with its employee-driven Collette Foundation, whose goal is to improve the quality of life of children in countries that Collette visits.

I know that the travel agent community is quite keen on experiencing sustainable tourism programs firsthand, so I sought some examples of what they’ve enjoyed.

Jim Strong of Strong Travel Services says that in his mind, Ritz-Carlton’s “Give Back Getaways” program is “first in class when discussing green-initiative-awareness programs and giving back to the community. From cleaning Alcatraz island to repainting a New Orleans cemetery to improving a bird sanctuary in the Tucson desert, Ritz-Carlton is a leader. They have also improved the Ambassadors of the Environment for children. These programs are authentic to each destination.” (Note: We agree. Ritz-Carlton was awarded the Luxury Travel Advisor Top Innovator in 2009.)

Claudia Gordon, a senior travel consultant with Betty Maclean Travel, visited Garden Lodge at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, about 100 miles from Cape Town, South Africa. While its location overlooking Walker Bay is “undeniably gorgeous,” Gordon went because Grootbos has a foundation whose mission statement “strives to achieve the conservation of biodiversity of the Grootbos Nature Reserve and development of sustainable nature-based livelihoods through ecotourism, research, management and education projects.”

But how does that translate into real life? Gordon found that most of the food served at Grootbos is locally grown and sourced, “thereby creating income opportunities for the community as well as reducing the carbon impact of overland vehicle deliveries to the resort.” Staff is also local and trained at a dedicated center. As a result, “many have been able to grow significantly in responsibility at the resort,” says Gordon.

The takeaway?  Gordon says that the quality of life in the community has vastly improved because of the foundation. “We returned from our trip moved; we experienced firsthand how one idea, one foundation and one classroom can remold a population and provide a career for current and future generations.”

My sense is that she’s had no problem at all selling this remarkable experience to her clients since then.

How have you experienced sustainable tourism? E-mail me who’s doing a great job at [email protected].