Fueled by a climate of awareness, tour
operators are getting in on the giving game en masse.
This year alone,
Collette Vacations, Lindblad Expeditions, Big Five Tours &
Expeditions and the Travel Corp. have launched nonprofit
foundations aimed at giving something back to the environment or to
the communities where they operate.
"We, as the travel
community, are part of the problem because we're sending guests
[around the world]," said Ashish Sanghrajka, vice president of
sales and partner relations at Big Five Tours & Expeditions.
"And we in the tourism industry have the widest reach of any
In June, Big Five
launched the Spirit of Big Five Foundation, a nonprofit
organization and an extension of the philanthropic efforts that the
Sanghrajka family, which runs Big Five, has been involved with for
a decade. Its first major initiative was to partner with
Metropolitan Touring in Peru to help finance a recycling facility
on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos through Fundacion
Galapagos. Big Five also helps fund ongoing education programs in
Kenya, South Africa and India.
Sanghrajka, customers today are better informed about the world and
are going to start demanding greater purpose from their
"For us, it becomes
an obligation to erase our own [damage]," said Sanghrajka. "For the
agent, it becomes a necessity to remain competitive. Over the next
two years, their consumers are going to ask, 'What are you doing to
erase my [carbon] footprint?'"
home-based agents, making their business sustainable can be a
daunting task, Sanghrajka said. But being able to point customers
to operators that have philanthropic programs helps, he
growing altruism involves sizeable investment, especially
considering the notoriously tight margins their businesses survive
on. Collette Vacations, for example, launched the Collette
Foundation this January and is committed to spending $2 million
over the next five years to help children around the
Foundation, the 13-year-old endowed foundation that is part of
Tauck World Discovery, distributes 5% of its endowment assets
annually in charitable grants and direct charitable
The vast majority
of operators' foundations have nonprofit, or 501(c)(3), status and
are consequently tax exempt, but most deny they're giving to
charitable programs simply for the tax benefits.
"For 10 years we
were doing it without a tax break, without a foundation," said
Sanghrajka. "We do it because we want to do it, not because there's
some hidden [financial] benefit behind it. If I thought for a
second it was just about tax benefit, would I personally go to the
school in India?"
operators' charitable efforts scream marketing opportunity,
companies aren't capitalizing on their philanthropic endeavors in
any significant way to help boost their leisure business. Rather,
they're choosing to drop subtle hints.
"There are a number
of itineraries that include optional visits to the sites [Collette
helps fund]," said Allison Clark, foundation manager at the
She added that
guests could easily book with Collette and never know the operator
has a charitable division. But those who seek it out will find it,
she said, and increasingly customers are searching.
"It is a change in
the awareness level of the clients," Clark said. "They don't want
to see a country through the [window] of their motorcoach anymore.
For the past five years, they've wanted to get outside and
And while the
temptation to encourage guests to assist with contributions is
there, few operators are going around with a donation jar just yet.
"We did a little pilot [program] and reached out to guests [for
donations]," said Liz Walters, managing director of the Tauck
Foundation. "In the end we realized it wasn't the business we're
As an endowment,
the Tauck Foundation provides grants in three areas: destinations,
youth organizations and Sparks, an educational summer program for
underprivileged children launched two years ago.
Expeditions, however, has a solid fundraising base, and according
to President and CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad, the company raises about
$1 million annually from guests and donors for its various
conservation programs. Lindblad recently partnered with the
National Geographic Society to create the Lindblad/National
Geographic Fund and further increase its efforts to support
conservation, education and sustainable development
As for why many
people decided to care now, said Lindblad, what's important is that
"What we're doing
is creating a different relationship between travel and trying to
inspire people to actively find ways to care about the planet,"
said Lindblad. "It's not so much that people who are doing this,
whether it be us or others, are just so noble. It's a real response
to what a lot of people want out of travel."
contact reporter Michelle Baran, send e-mail to [email protected].