Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

Seeing as I'm quietly aging out of the young traveler demographic, I am now forced to look to other, hipper travelers and travel companies to know what's in. In the tour operator space that means watching companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel that have keyed into what the millennial generation wants, and in turn are great predictors of what the future likely holds for touring.

And if you follow these two companies, you can see that what the future holds is more meaningful tours that aim to give back to local communities throughout the world.

It's a concept that has been gaining momentum for several years and that Travel Weekly looked at in depth for a cover story last year ("Share the love," Sept. 28, 2015) -- but it's one that shows no signs of abating.

After G Adventures announced last fall that it is going to integrate 50 new enterprise projects into its trips over the next five years for a total of 75 trips, or 90% of its offering, on which G Adventures aspires to provide travelers with some sort of philanthropic engagement by 2020, the company this month turned its commitment towards women.

In honor of International Women's Day earlier this month, G Adventures launched three itineraries that integrate community-development projects aimed at supporting women in Morocco, Australia and Belize, an effort that kicked off a month-long campaign that G Adventures dubbed Planet Her. Managed by the Planeterra Foundation, the nonprofit arm of G Adventures, Planet Her aims to raise nearly $20,000 between March 8 and April 10 and to shine a spotlight on women's roles in travel and tourism.

Intrepid Travel, too, is turning its efforts towards making giving back an integral part of the touring experience.

At the start of the year, Intrepid's day-tour brand, Urban Adventures, added social enterprise tours to its portfolio of city and day tours around the world. Urban Adventures has linked up with local non-governmental and nonprofit organizations to develop an In Focus series of tours, during which travelers will have the chance to see how a particular issue is being addressed in various countries (such as Nepal, Australia, India, Taiwan and Romania) and will have the opportunity to meet the people who are both running and benefiting from the initiatives being put in place to resolve those issues.

It's part of what the company calls "our purpose beyond profit," explained Leigh Barnes, the company's newly appointed regional director for North America. According to Barnes, projects like the aforementioned In Focus tours and a fundraising program in Nepal whereby Intrepid is donating all of its profits from Nepal tours to help the country rebuild in the aftermath of last year's earthquake are really resonating with travelers and are further fueling the company's growth.

Assuming these initiatives are being executed conscientiously and sustainably, it's a win-win for the future of the tour operator landscape. It's a win for the communities that stand to benefit from these tourism-led philanthropic endeavors. And for those tour operators that embrace the trend, it's a way to resonate with that next generation of group travelers.


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