It's an attribute
most commonly ascribed to millennials: the desire to live life with purpose and
incorporate meaningful activity in work and play.
But a study
conducted by Phocuswright and the industry nonprofit Tourism Cares two years
ago suggests that it's not generation-specific; regardless of age, a
significant segment of the population wants evidence of social impact in their
travels: 48% said that it was either "very important" or "extremely
important" that their travel spending benefit the communities they visit;
64% said that giving back contributed strongly to the satisfaction of their
trip; and 34% said that commitment to social responsibility was a factor in
choosing a travel company.
response, one would have expected that Carnival Corp.'s Fathom brand, which
incorporated volunteer work and was announced the same month the study was
fielded, would have had waitlists for its sailings. But Fathom didn't strike as
resonant a chord as expected, and the initiative was subsequently downgraded
from a dedicated ship to shore excursions.
It's not just
Carnival. Industry players large and small struggle to define and present
meaningful travel opportunities in their pursuit of millennials, of a corporate
(and personal) sense of purpose and of profit. It's proving to be surprisingly
During the last
week of February, I joined 70 industry professionals in Jordan on a program
organized by Tourism Cares and the Jordan Tourism Board that brought these
issues to the fore. The centerpiece for activity and discussion was the
Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan, created by the two organizations. It
identified a dozen activities that could add layers of purpose to a visit to
Jordan is in a unique position to make proverbial lemonade out of lemons in
this regard. Its geographic position in a tense region of the world has not
been helpful to its tourism efforts, but the meaningful map identifies
opportunities for positive contact with figures typically associated with
At the Syrian
Jasmine House, 70 refugee women teach visitors soap making and crochet
techniques (and sell their products). And similarly, at the Iraq Al Amir Women's
Cooperative, refugees teach traditional paper making, pottery and other crafts.
Both also sell
their works at on-site shops; a goal of the map is to funnel tourism dollars
directly into the hands of local communities.
Corporation CEO Brett Tollman, who was on the trip, was so moved by the
cooperative that, on the spot, he pledged a $30,000 grant from his company and
its affiliated Treadright Foundation to upgrade the crafts shop.
The grant might
have been spurred in part by Tollman's emotional reaction, but he also saw the
power of the experience as something that would impress guests: That evening,
he got on the phone with brand leaders of Uniworld, Trafalgar and Insight to
discuss incorporating visits there, as well as to look at other spots on the
meaningful map for possible inclusion in the company's 2019 programs.
Tollman told me
that the map project was unusual in part because it's rare for a tourist board
to be proactive in creating experiences rather than leaving it to travel
companies to do the job.
success of the meaningful travel map is still an unknown, but the organic
nature of the effort -- it identifies existing enterprises rather than creating
them -- may have some relevance when examining why some purpose-driven travel
experiences succeed and others fall short.
The creators of Fathom
worked closely with nonprofits and communities in the Dominican Republic in
formulating their program, and its impact was, and continues to be, genuinely
helpful, with those who participate expressing high satisfaction.
ultimately defines success in travel social enterprises? I think a crucial part
of the formula for a thriving, sustainable program may be, first, recognition
that there is no single formula for a thriving, sustainable program.
The primary focus
of Friends-International, a social enterprise in Cambodia with a $7 million
budget, is to train young people in poverty-stricken communities to work in
restaurants that become stopping points for guests on escorted tours. Its
executive director, Sebastien Marot, told me in Jordan that it took him years
of failed attempts before finding the right balance of community need and
acknowledged that, if exported to another locale, his model couldn't work
without buy-in from every member of a complex social ecosystem that includes
travelers, volunteers, local businesses, the broader travel industry,
governments, communities, donors and schools.
enterprise to visitor demand certainly enters into the equation -- a Jordanian
cooperative with a 12-person staff has less need to drive demand than a
700-plus-passenger cruise ship.
Abed al Razzaq
Arabiyat, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board, emphasized to me that
the creation and communication of content is crucial to supporting social
enterprises, and a map was the logical format.
Perhaps the most
meaningful activity that the travel industry, as a whole, can undertake is to
encourage and support tourism boards and groups like Tourism Cares to identify,
for travel advisers, tour operators, cruise lines and travelers, existing local
efforts that can add purposeful dimension to a trip. The demand exists. Piece
by piece, it's time for a meaningful travel map of the world to come together.
serves on the board of directors of Tourism Cares.