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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 4 Issue 3 Highlights

 

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FEATURE ARTICLE 2

Travel For Good(sm): Corporate Social Responsibility Meets VolunTourism

If we additionally put the onus of "doing good" - - instead of solely "funding good" - - squarely on the shoulders of the corporations that currently provide some of the philanthropic stimulus for such activity to occur, are we likely to see a subsequent shift in the way companies do business as well? Travelocity has taken this step in the VolunTourism arena. At my request, Natasha Carvell and the Travelocity Team delivered this behind-the-scenes look at the company's commitment to Travel For Good(sm).

Altruism At The Top

Jeff Glueck understands as well as anyone the pressures that a demanding work schedule and hectic lifestyle put on the most altruistic intentions. As Chief Marketing Officer at Travelocity, finding time to give back and get involved with causes close to his heart has long been a challenge, but he’s always been willing to get creative. It was in that spirit that Glueck and his then-fiance, now wife Amy Ziff, decided to spend part of their honeymoon in Rwanda helping orphans in need.

Jeff and Amy knew that while their honeymoon wasn’t necessarily traditional, their modern day desire to give back coupled with the need to multi-task was not uncommon. This inspired them to develop a program within Travelocity to support voluntourism for employees and customers alike. Their mission was well received from a Team that is passionate about giving back.

The Inspiration

Before getting married Jeff and Amy dreamed of how they could create a truly unforgettable honeymoon experience.  Originally they had their sights set on a destination neither one had experienced before, but to do something that represented who they are as a couple -- something that would enrich them as well as others. They abandoned thoughts of exotic places with luxurious hotels catering to their every whim and opted instead to focus on a less traditional kind of vacation.  They decided to volunteer on their honeymoon. 

“You don’t often get several weeks away from the office in our busy lives. We really wanted to see Africa as it really is, interact with the locals, and try to give something back," Jeff offered. "It was something that spoke to both of us."

They chose Rwanda as their destination of choice and began working with a group called Orphans of Rwanda, Inc. (ORI) based in the capital city of Kigali. ORI is dedicated to helping orphans and vulnerable children in Rwanda of all ages, from toddlers to high school students -- those who have survived diseases like tuberculosis and the genocide of more than a decade ago. ORI is the first to fund university scholarships for orphans who could not otherwise afford college in Rwanda. Their self-sufficiency and strength make them the potential future leaders for their country. ORI provides holistic support, including school fees, health care and housing, to ensure students have everything they need to excel. 

With kids ranging from pre-school to high school, there were numerous ways to interact -- from playing and reading to simply talking and laughing with the children.  Jeff and Amy brought along a bag full of books, games and toys which were met with incredible enthusiasm. “All around Rwanda we were reminded of how blessed our lives are in the US, and at the same time impressed by the determination and even the eager enthusiasm of these kids for learning and making a life for themselves," Jeff explained. "The kids are so full of life and energy." 

Volunteering provided a glimpse into the Rwandan culture in ways no other experience possibly could have.  While the country’s past is grim and sobering, and Rwanda is certainly not the typical honeymoon destination, the newlyweds left feeling hopeful and confident about the future of Africa's smallest nation. 

“We found that a little money goes a long way in Africa and a little love goes even further,” Jeff mused.  “It was truly the best way to start a marriage between two people committed to making the world a better place not just for our own family but for others.”

Bringing It All Home

As they planned their own volunteer vacation, Jeff and Amy realized how lucky they were to have had the opportunity to work with ORI, as the organization typically only accepts volunteers for longer multi-month stays. They were able to participate only because Jeff had an old friend who was on the Board of the orphanage. 

Recognizing that most travelers don’t necessarily have these kinds of connections, Jeff and Amy, along with a core group of Travelocity employees, formed an internal committee to evaluate how the company could take a more proactive role in promoting voluntourism.

Through customer polls, the team discovered that many travelers are very interested in volunteering for at least part of their vacations, but don’t know where to start. The team decided what was needed most was a research tool to make it easy for ordinary citizens to find well-vetted opportunities.

Travel for Good(sm)

The result was a multifaceted initiative called Travel for Good(sm). The program is anchored by the concept of travelers being Change Ambassadors – doing whatever they can while they are traveling to better the world.

To help bring the idea of voluntourism to a broader audience, Travelocity launched this microsite to help make it easier for customers to find volunteer travel opportunities through partnerships with such providers as: Cross-Cultural Solutions, Earthwatch, Globe Aware, the American Hiking Society, and Take Pride in America.

Early on, Travelocity recognized that there may be individuals who could not afford to embark on such a trip. Therefore, the company launched a second part of the Travel for Good initiative – Change Ambassador Grants. The company awards two $5,000 grants per quarter to customers and one $5,000 grant per quarter to an employee to go on a volunteer vacation sponsored by any one of the Travel for Good partner organizations. Thanks to generous donations from partners like Marriott Hotels and MasterCard, additional grants have been added in past quarters.

Final Thoughts

Travelocity is certainly not the only on-line travel company to be focusing on their corporate social responsibility. The work of Expedia and its employees in relation to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the effort of Cheap Tickets around "volunteer vacations" also serve as examples of going beyond the cash-contribution-only model.

What will be very much worth following in the months and years ahead, therefore, will be if and how this corporate engagement will provide what I first heard from the folks at Denver University describe as "Return On Involvement." This is the type of ROI that companies will start measuring in terms of the long-term effects of their corporate social responsibility in relation to their people (employees, customers, and shareholders) and the planet. VolunTourism will certainly play a role in all of this; to what extent remains to be seen.

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