It's in the nature of Americans to
assign benefits of a Greater Good to the simple pleasures of
travel. The economic engine of the U.S. travel industry is fueled
in large measure by a consumer's desire to have fun, but fun these
days is often connected to the desire for self-improvement or
If there were a
catechism of travel that maps this underlying current, it might
begin something like this:
Q: Why do
We vacation to relieve stress.
Q: Why do
we travel to faraway lands?
To better understand other cultures and people.
staying at a luxury resort, why do we use the same towels day after
To lower operational costs for the hotel.
I'm sorry. I meant: To save the planet.
The industry is
taking notice of virtuous travel. "Voluntourism" is on the rise,
hotels are greening and travelers are being told that they are not
merely tourists but ambassadors of public diplomacy.
It's all good for
travelers and good for the industry, and I want to make it clear
that juxtaposing examples of near-passive virtuous travel with what
I'm about to write is not an attempt to belittle this trend. I just
want to place it in a somewhat different context.
I was recently
invited by Royal Caribbean International to help select finalists
in a contest by which the cruise line will choose a travel agent to
be godmother of the Liberty of the Seas when it debuts in
selecting the godmother focuses on the exceptional qualities of
nominees -- courage, determination, an ability to inspire and a
spirit of community service.
More than 2,400
travel agents were nominated, and these were winnowed down to 100
before 19 other judges and I became involved.
Reading these 100
nominations was an extraordinarily humbling experience. It
immediately became clear that each nominee was more courageous,
determined, inspirational and community-minded than I. Yet I was
supposed to judge them and score their virtues on a scale from one
I ended up deciding
a "five" would fit my understanding of a saint, and from that
median point I would move up or down incrementally.
top 10 finalists in person during the pre-inaugural relaunch of the
Majesty of the Seas last weekend, I was struck by how the
experience of travel played such an important role in the lives of
these extraordinary women.
Marie Brousard of American Express Centurion Travel Services not
only to the needs of the world but to how needs are met in other
Brousard founded provides water pumps and orphan shelters to remote
villages in central Africa and Haiti, among other
Donnalea Madeley of
Thomas Cook in Thornhill, Ontario, started Hands Across Nations
after deciding to join volunteers she had booked to Belize; her
group has since built medical and dental clinics and a community
center in Bolivia and Mali.
Susan Weissberg of
Wylly's Travel in Coral Gables, Fla., was so moved by a client's
description of poverty in Siem Reap, Cambodia, that she raised
money for pumps to provide clean water to a community of boat
people living nearby.
Agency clients can
provide more than inspiration; they can provide the means to help
achieve virtuous ends.
Ann Toricivia of
Friends Travel in Levittown, N.Y., and Barbara Tyree of Tyree
Travel in Old Bethpage, N.Y., return agency profits to multiple
charities. Carole Weishaar of Carefree Travel in Scottsdale, Ariz.,
began the Desert Cancer Foundation of Arizona to help pay for
cancer screenings for uninsured women, and her client base is among
her most enthusiastic contributors.
It's a good thing
that the pleasure of travel can provide an excuse for virtue, and
it's a great thing that the industry is making it easier for
travelers to indulge in the pleasures of virtue.
In this regard,
these women leave most of us in the dust. Each is not only a
fitting godmother for the Liberty of the Seas but is the living
embodiment of how travel can amplify virtue and provide a path to a
transcendent form of self-improvement.