Gilad Goren, 30-year-old son of International Specialty Travel (IST) founder Michael Goren, was in a small group discussion with Gail Sheehy, the 77-year-old author of "Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life" (EP Dutton, 1976) last week. The book had been a phenomenal bestseller a decade before he was born, but he found her message relevant.
"Gail started interviewing us at one point," he said. "She asked, 'What drives you; what's your purpose?' She was going for the whole millennial thing."
That resonated with him. Most marketers, Goren said, look at the surface characteristics of millennials but miss what drives them.
"The important thing -- it's been shown in study after study -- is that 60% of us are looking for experience rather than product," he said. "And purpose over things. Our jobs have to align to our values."
These defining generational attributes, he believes, are almost completely lost on the travel industry.
He's aware of voluntourism efforts offered by tour operators, and he read about the launch of Fathom, Carnival Corp.'s social-impact cruise line. Taking care not to criticize these and other social initiatives, he nonetheless sees them as "incremental" and believes the travel industry is far behind most others in creating values-driven products and experiences.
While working at IST in product development and marketing, he collaborated with companies involved in "impact trips" linked to nonprofits. That connected him to other social entrepreneurs working outside travel, and he saw a robust movement of companies that were revolutionizing industries, from eyeware (Warby Parker) to footwear (Toms Shoes).
"I got jealous of what other industries were doing," he said. "I couldn't identify our Elon Musk."
What he saw in travel was "an industry pockmarked with greenwashing," "small-ball efforts" or volunteer components to trips that were sometimes more detrimental to developing communities than helpful.
His personal passage toward becoming a conscious agent of change came with exposure to the "plus social good" movement, which was sparked with funding from the Gates Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and Mashable (among others) to encourage social entrepreneurship in various industries. He became a founder of Travel + Social Good (TSG).
"Travel is old," he said. "Not in chronology, but in mindset. It's often about short-term thinking, hitting numbers. There's very little innovation. There is such a stark divide between where travel is and where it could be."
A remarkable difference I've observed between millennial activists and the activists of the 1960s is a willingness on the part of millennials to collaborate with those whose behaviors they want to change. Although Goren does not see visionaries in current travel leadership, he nonetheless believes that legacy brands have an "immense" role to play in moving the industry toward a more socially aware agenda. He helped organize a TSG summit in New York last year, with Sabre, Ritz-Carlton and JetBlue joining as both sponsors and coordinators in brainstorming sessions among 250 attendees.
He said about 1,500 attendees have shown up at various TSG events, and the group has generated hundreds of thousands of online and social media impressions.
In addition to the New York hub, he expects one to go live in Tel Aviv in September and in Austin in October (timed to launch at SXSW Eco).
Goren's vision includes the creation of an entrepreneur accelerator to provide mentors and seed funding for the companies he believes will revolutionize travel, as well as for the development of a certification program for companies that meet appropriate sustainability and social impact criteria.
Hubs will facilitate academies to train "purpose-fueled, impact-driven" travel professionals and partner with locally based travel entities to turn their cities into "capitals of sustainable travel."
An "Academy Day" is scheduled for Oct. 23 in New York (details at travelplussocialgood.org).
Goren asked me to join his board of advisers, and I accepted. When he first outlined his goals to me, I thought they were extraordinarily ambitious. I asked if he were committed to doing this full-time. He said no, he isn't paid for this and he has to eat.
But, he said, his passion is full-time.
I like his energy, and believe that although his passion is fueled by idealism, it appears tethered to the real world.
Most importantly, I think the timing is right. During the ceremony announcing the launch of Fathom, my first thought was that not only will the ship sail full -- faith-based groups alone could fill it -- but that dozens of other industry segments could come out with their own iterations.
I imagined all-inclusives, which tend to be situated in developing countries, offering two- or three-day, off-site impact excursions. Likewise resorts. Even city hotels.
Or airline-branded packages. Eco-lodges.
Such trips are currently among the offerings of many tour operators and are organized by travel agencies, and I can see large divisions being created within companies where currently there are only one-off or incremental efforts.
TSG can play an important role in helping ensure that these efforts are truly meaningful. And Goren might also discover that TSG has a multiplier effect by bringing to the surface people who are already engaging in social efforts of which he's unaware and who are willing to share best practices.
I was glad, by the way, to hear him acknowledge in our conversation that this was not simply a millennial movement. One pattern I've observed among industry friends who have retired is that some throw themselves into social impact efforts. When I spoke earlier this year to a retired airline executive who was spending his time doing pro-bono mentoring to exactly the types of enterprises TSG hopes to encourage, he said, "It's a shame one can't do this while still active in the industry."
That, I believe, is what is changing. Industries, too, undergo passages.
Correction: Gilad Goren's last name was misspelled in a previous version of this column.