Mike Rea
Mike Rea

As our cover story explores this week, Tourism Cares has released what it calls the first study of the philanthropic habits of U.S. travelers, with the results indicating that more than half of Americans have given money, time or goods while on a recent vacation and that millennials may be the most generous generation. News Editor Johanna Jainchill spoke to Mike Rea, CEO of Tourism Cares, about the results.

Q: Were you surprised by just how generous Americans are, especially millennials?

A: Fifty percent of travelers surveyed donated or did something over the past two years, and that's a provocative finding and signals that people are interested in this and value giving back....I think the findings around millennials were not entirely surprising, but it was surprising in the magnitude. I think millennials value travel, and they value social travel [giving and volunteering]. That is of note for the industry, and I'm sure this is some of the research that Carnival and Fathom came up with and found -- that this demographic is seeking whatever they call impact travel experiences. Fathom is a different story, but it's certainly related to this and part of the same movement. This is a trend that's here, and it's probably going to continue; we wanted to get under that.

Q: What should people in the travel industry be doing differently, given these findings?

A: This matters to people. It matters to travelers. It matters to certain demographics in some ways that are sort of surprising. For travelers, calls to action are: Get your family involved; make sure you do good volunteering instead of bad volunteering. For the industry, it's simply another good set of data points, so if you are doing nothing or might want to get involved in some way, this is hopefully fodder to spur a strategic conversation about what you might do.

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New research conducted by Phocuswright for Tourism Cares reveals that U.S. travelers are highly motivated to give back to the places they visit, while anecdotal evidence suggests that suppliers and agents are eager to indulge those instincts with their own philanthropic efforts. Read More

I come from the philanthropy world, and part of what Tourism Cares espouses is that the industry and companies should give back in ways that are aligned with their brand. Depending on what your business is, your culture is, your values are, there are all sorts of ranges of value for your business, your employees and for your current and prospective clients, the travelers. If you feel you are under-invested or noninvested in the space, this is something you should think about....We believe giving and volunteering is good, and companies should do more of it and do it well. It's the right thing to do for your business, which is what this research indicates.

Q: How should travel agents harness these findings to do better business?  

A: This is certainly valuable to travelers, it's obviously valuable to destinations, and as powerful intermediaries as travel companies are, there is a role in mediating those relationships on the social side. And it's only going to grow. If the competitive advantage of travel agents is the human touch, high touch and about relationships as opposed to keystrokes, this is absolutely a way. We'd like to work with ASTA to develop a curriculum about this....If you are a travel agent and millennials and affluent families are your travel market, then how do you do this?

Q: Do you think you would have gotten the same survey results 10 years ago?

A: I don't think so. The vision is to do this survey every two years, so when you ask me 10 years from now, we'll be able to check that out. I think philanthropy has become more popularized and more accessible; giving back on the whole is rising. And you see the seeds of that in the travel industry.

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