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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 5 Issue 4 Highlights



The Travelanthropist & VolunTourism

We have seen an increasing level of discussion on the topic of traveler's philanthropy over the last several years. Academics, travel trade association executives, nonprofit directors, and tour operators & suppliers have openly discussed the merits of travelers' involvement in contributing to the well-being of destinations. VolunTourism clearly fits within this context, but it is the 'how' that is still a bit nebulous. Recently, I turned to Linda Chew, Managing Editor of Travelanthropist.com, to discuss the intersection between Traveler's Philanthropy and VolunTourism. Here are her answers to our 3Qs for this issue.

1) What was the inspiration behind the creation of Travelanthropist.com?

"Sure. I think there’s really two big areas that really inspire me. First of all, as I’ve mentioned, I love travel and I think so do a lot of people. Take a look at tourism. Tourism is a huge market - it’s the number one industry in the world - with about 700 million people spending about $2 - $3 trillion annually on travel. Now imagine if just a percentage of travelers decide to travel for good, how much difference that would make in the world. And I always believe that travel can be so much more than just recreation, as I mentioned before this whole education, learning and connecting with another culture.

And I had wanted to really do something to build awareness and enthusiasm for doing more with our travel. There are so many people traveling, I think we can do more with our travel – how can travel make a difference? And at the heart of that I think, about traveling making a difference, is this idea of transformational travel – something very near and dear to my heart. It’s a type of travel that, I believe, transforms both the traveler and the place – the destination – the people, place and community traveled. I see travel, essentially, as a relationship between the traveler and the destination, which includes its people and so forth. You take the analogy a little further, when you are in a relationship transformation occurs. People usually think about transformation just for the traveler, but I think it’s really a two-way street. The people and the place are just as much transformed by the traveler, good or bad, depending on what that relationship was like.

And so, along that line, anytime when we think we give, when we are inclined toward increasing the well-being of another – another place, another person, in other words, philanthropy – we ourselves somehow get changed in the process as well as the recipient of our philanthropy. So the idea I wanted to explore, a bit more, was the idea of philanthropy in our travels. And I think that it’s a very fascinating area and it’s a very expansive area, it’s an area that could - - philanthropy really touches different aspects of our lives. And travel, even within travel itself, it can touch so many areas from responsible travel to volunteer tourism and so forth, and we’ll probably talk about that a little bit later.

The second inspiration, I think, really comes from a more practical side. A few years back I was planning a family voluntourism trip and I did a lot of work and a lot of research in trying to put this trip together. And what I realized was that there was really no good website for the traveler that’s not affiliated with an association, or a travel company, or even some kind of organization, just something for the traveler focused for the traveler on volunteer tourism or even just travel philanthropy. I recognized that this is an underserved market. And so those two ideas – the idea of what travel can be and the fact that there is a lack of something out there for the traveler – I think really got me to thinking that this is something, a worthwhile endeavor to embark on.

2) What is your vision for Travelanthropist.com?

"I think at the heart of it our website is really for travelers. It’s for those who are new to, those who are interested in, or those who are already adopters of travel that makes a difference – transformational type of travel. We see ourselves, very distinct, as a boutique travel site with a focus in travel philanthropy, but we offer a wide range of topics and conversations and resources that relates to this idea of traveler’s philanthropy. I think currently the industry is still rather fragmented and we hope to become a trusted online destination. That’s my dream - a one place where travelers can get the latest news, inspiring and thought-provoking articles, destination spotlights, kid’s guides in travel and philanthropy – a real good - - we want to do a real good job of blending the idea of travel, offering travel tips, something very practical, as well as on the philanthropy end. How can we do philanthropy? What’s going on in the area of philanthropy? Those are very important, I think, in bringing it together; and we want to be that one site that can cater to that, that can do that for people. I think travelers are looking for things like that and it’s nice to be able to go to one place than dozens of websites that know very little about and that touches on just a little bit on this area. But we want to be the expert and specialize in this area.

I always think there’s five things right now that I think are so important to touch on as far as our website goes. We want to remain independent; we don’t represent the industry; we’re not a spokesman for the industry. We have a heart for what the industry is doing; we want to present different viewpoints of what’s being done. We see ourselves more as a connector of information, of opportunities and resources.

Second thing, and I think it’s very important that we do, is to inspire travelers who are contemplating this type of travel. There’s a lot of people out there that may, at one time or another, thought about it but thought it was too cumbersome to do. We want to inspire people to do this, that it’s do-able, you don’t have to do it at the grand level, you can do it at different levels. And I’ve come across people who’ve also done it and say, ‘hey, yeah, let’s get the information out there, let’s get the people inspired to want to do that, because there’s so much potential. I’ve done it once and I want to do it again and again and again.’ So I’ve come across all types of travelers, with all desire levels.

And the third, I think, is the idea of really informing the traveler. I think information is very important, it’s very powerful to have good, reliable information to be smart in our travels. We take a very integrated approach to inform travelers. I think people are not one-dimensional, so we try to pull information from multiple disciplines and sources. They may be topics from other fields, something that may not be remotely related, but still be relevant and beneficial to the philanthropic traveler. We alert readers to developments in philanthropy, culture, and travel so that they will have a richer perspective on their travel. I think today’s travelers are really educated and smart and sophisticated and they can handle information and use the information to enrich their travel experiences.

I know for myself, as a traveler who is interested in philanthropy, I want to be kept up-to-date with issues, conversations that are going on, and know what the trends are, what I’m getting into, what’s happening around travel and philanthropy. I think, for us, I think that’s at the heart of what we want to do, be able to pull information together and not just be sort of pigeon-holed to just one small area, to just really open up the mind and the thinking. And I think that is so important for a person and for personal growth and as a traveler, there’s - - I think travelers tend to be people who want to discover and want to know and to be able to offer that. And we try to put in a lot of practical resources in our website and that again is ongoing and there’s so much more that can be done – there’s just a lot that we can offer and we hope to offer more in the future, but right now we have a travel directory in place, we have books that we would recommend people to get themselves into and read, and we have charities that we want to highlight – all the charities that are out there, there’s some that are doing great things related to travel and they’re sending people who are offering donations to them, they’re sending them overseas and taking a look at the work that are being done there and we offer tips and volunteer stories, you name it, and hopefully we can offer sort of a provider story in a sense that, on the ground, what’s happening, what they’re doing, and what are some of the issues that they wrestle with so as a traveler we can be sensitive to that as well. So there’s - - it’s really, I just am amazed at what we can get into and I’m still exploring and thinking what the right fits are, but there’s just tons of things I think that we can offer the traveler and offer insights to the traveler as well.

And the final thing, which is something that I’ve just thought about recently and it’s still sort of a work-in-process, but I think it would be an amazing thing to be able to offer something to the traveler after their trip – some ideas and opportunities to explore when they return home. Because now that they’ve traveled and they’ve made this connection, sometimes you can’t take another trip right away, but there are things we can do in the interim period maybe before the next trip and so forth, that we can help, we can give while we’re at home. So I’m exploring areas in that, for the after trip type of period, that travelers can do. And I want to get something going cause I think that’s really, really important to have as well.

3) Based upon your experience, what insights can you offer to the VolunTourism Community regarding Traveler's Philanthropy and how VolunTourism fits within its context?

"Let me just go back a little bit and define what traveler’s philanthropy is and how I perceive it as. Traveler’s philanthropy, the word that I used to define it earlier (in this interview), was the idea of charity, of giving, travelers’ kindness really toward the destination and the people in that destination. So that’s how I see what traveler’s philanthropy is. And you may get different definitions out there, but that’s the overarching definition that I use. And I work of my ‘working definition’ if you can call it that.

And within traveler’s philanthropy I think there’s different levels and degrees of connection with the destination and its people. At the broadest level is the awareness and respect toward the place and people. And I would say one form of philanthropy, one form of how you show philanthropy, is simply to help stimulate the local economy and that’s, a lot of that, is discussed within the realm of responsible travel – how do we respect the people at the place we travel, and how do we help the local economy, and so forth. So, that’s the broadest level that I see it as.

And the next level comes to the idea of donating to a cause in the destination, and sometimes that may involve the donor traveling to a destination to see firsthand the results of their donation, their financial contributions. And the third level is this idea of volunteering at a destination - where the local community has a need and the volunteer provides a concrete and immediate help. And that’s where, I think, the idea of volunteer tourism, voluntourism, comes in – where there is an immediate need and a very active form of help that is required of the traveler.

So, I kind of break it down into those three levels and from the interaction of these three levels you can see that the broadest level probably do not have as intimate contact with the people to the level where when you volunteer that you can have. There’s always exceptions to that, but in a general sense you don’t.

And What I like, and we talk a lot about volunteer travel on our website, what I like about the idea of volunteer tourism is the idea - it's a combination of tourism and volunteering. I think that the two parts are very essential for it to work well. You know, a lot of people volunteer and neglect the tourism part, but I think tourism really provides the backdrop to understanding the destination - the people, the culture, and the pride of the nation. I don't think you can fully appreciate the people without knowing about their country or getting to know and seeing their country.
And the volunteer part is very important as well, because it’s a very tangible part of what you can do for the people or the place. So, I really believe that if you have the two, in a good proportion, you really do get a full experience out of that travel.

I advocate travel a great deal to people and I think that to be able to travel and to be able to help, concretely, is so, so great. It’s so wonderful to be able to combine the two and do it, and there are now opportunities for that. I think the industry is starting to recognize that you can do the two, and hopefully more and more trips are structured that way for people who have a desire to sort of roll up their sleeves and do something.

I think there are a lot of opportunities out there, but there’s also a good amount of opportunists out there as well. There’s a lot of trips advertised as ‘voluntourism,’ but it really is just a volunteering service trip and nothing more. And I don’t think that’s - - I think it should be more balanced. So that’s my idea about what traveler’s philanthropy is and how voluntourism really fits into it all; and I think it fits into it nicely and it’s really at the heart of traveler’s philanthropy.

About Linda Chew - - Linda Chew is the managing editor of Travelanthropist.com. Inspired by a life-long passion for travel, and having logged in all kinds of trips -- adventure, voluntourism, luxury, backpacking -- she is a true believer in transformational travel. She hopes to bring enthusiasm for travel that makes a difference.  Linda spent over 15 years as a consumer market analyst and consultant analyzing companies and trends for investment firms and start-ups.  

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