The results of the Tourism Cares survey titled "Good Travels: The Philanthropic Profile of the American Traveler," released late last week in conjunction with World Tourism Day, are nothing short of stunning:
• More than half of traveling Americans have given money, time or goods in support of the communities they visited over the past two years. Among those who did, about 64% volunteered labor or skills, 86% gave money and 78% gave in kind while on a leisure trip.
• Seventy-two percent found their travel giving to be important, or very or extremely important.
• Millennials are particularly tuned into social impact travel: 81% volunteered during their travels over the past two years, while 78% donated cash and 83% provided in-kind giving. On average, they volunteer more than double the hours and donate nearly three times the money and 4.5 times the supplies that travelers 55 and older do. About 80% said they were "extremely satisfied" with their gift-related giving, 54% take an active interest in the causes they gave to and 50% intend to plan more trips around giving.
• Families who travel with children volunteered 12-plus hours more than the average traveler, and 46% later monitor the causes they donated to, with 34% following up with added donations. Nearly 75% said the act of giving created a very positive trip experience, while more than a third intend to increase their children's engagement in giving activities, with 35% planning to engage their kids in discussions about the needs of the communities they visit.
• The affluent care about the social impact of their travels. Fifty-five percent feel it's very or extremely important for their spending and giving to help local communities, with four in 10 factoring the provider's corporate social responsibility into purchasing decisions. They give the most during travel, and a third give again after returning home.
• Among people of all age groups who contributed in some way during travel, 64% expressed very high trip satisfaction directly linked to their charitable activities.
• About a quarter of those who haven't participated in giving while traveling are interested in learning more about opportunities to do so, a number that jumps to a third among millennials.
Suppliers and agents alike ignore these findings at their own risk. The study, conducted by Phocuswright and sponsored by Amadeus, American Express, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Delta Air Lines, Hosteling International USA and the U.S. Tour Operators Association, points to social impact as one of the most powerful motivating forces that could sway a traveler to choose one supplier over another.
It would appear that, for many travelers, the opportunity to give back has moved from "nice to have" to "need to have."
(Double disclosure time: first, Phocuswright, like Travel Weekly, is owned by Northstar Travel Media, and second, I serve on the board of directors of Tourism Cares.)
Tourism Cares itself provides opportunities for members of the travel industry to volunteer and donate to give back to the destinations to which the industry sends travelers. For more about this and other Tourism Cares activities, visit TourismCares.org.
The generous generation
Most striking is the commitment to social impact travel on the part of millennials.
That millennials volunteer more hours isn't in itself surprising -- they're at a time in life when career and family obligations are lightest -- but the extent to which they show their commitment to helping by donating money is very impressive, given that, presumably, most are not yet at the height of their earning potential.
If a brand were interested in establishing loyalty early in the game with this enormous generation, stepping up social responsibility efforts and letting travelers know what they're doing are critical.
The study does not address the degree to which travelers conduct due diligence on the efforts made by travel companies to help the communities in which they operate, but I'd caution any company that overstates its social responsibility efforts or fails to deliver on the promises of experience that "greenwashing" is a bad idea. Millennials (among others) well understand the power of social media to spread the word about perceived shortcomings against expectations.
The following pages focus on just a few of the many social impact efforts currently underway within the industry. We're well aware that there are many, many more such efforts. If your company has an initiative designed around social impact that benefits the communities to which you bring travelers, please feel free to describe it in the comments below this article.
-- Arnie Weissmann