Main Image: Flickr/SouthAfricaTourism.
Want to see the world and change the world?
Like many of us, I’ve sometimes struggled on my travels to find ways to make a real difference.
My question has been how to really be able to do something good when we travel? Especially when our time is often short, and when we travel to places where we are surrounded by the all too obvious signs of poverty and lack of the things that many of us who are able to travel for leisure take for granted.
Surely, this should be what positive impact travel should be all about?
Much has been written about the pitfalls of many opportunities that seem like they may be helping—from ‘Voluntourism’ to handing out books, pens and money to begging children—exposing the downside and negative consequences of engaging in these activities as a traveller. That what we think is helping may be in fact quite the opposite. But what about a more solutions focused approach on what we can do?
The good news is that this is changing.
Since July 2016, I’ve been an Ambassador for Visit.Org, a responsible travel startup that connects travellers with tourism projects around the world that give back to their communities.
Since becoming an Ambassador, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of their projects – from hearing stories about different parts of London from tour guides who have experienced homelessness, to discovering a beautiful river ecosystem, complete with fireflies in Bohol, Philippines, to experiencing the real slum dog existence in Mumbai, India.
Visit.Org was founded in 2015 with the mission to help society by facilitating “mutually beneficial, in person encounters between people and communities”.
How does it work? Their website allows travellers to search worldwide for community projects (or “orgs”) in destinations that they are travelling to to support. For example: planning a trip to South Africa? Visit.Org has 14 tours and activities on offer, ranging from listening to the untold stories of South Africans in Port Elizabeth, to jamming with aspiring musicians, or surfing into South African rural life with the Surfer Kids in Friemersheim.
Just book a tour or activity for your holiday and rest in the knowledge that you will be supporting organisations that care about their impact and are giving back to the local community. All Visit.org partner organisations have to reinvest all profits into the local community.
Image courtesy of Visit.Org
In creating a global platform, they’ve taken out the hard work of doing background checks on the claims of organisations. So it’s now easy to find great projects to support during your holidays or travels.
How do I know I’m really helping?
Before being accepted on the website, each “org” is vetted according to a strict list of criteria, based on recommendations from Tourism Concern.
Here are some of the main criteria that activities or ‘orgs’ need to meet:
- be run with the consent and involvement of local communities & reinvest proceeds back into the community
- be short in duration and keep visitor groups small to minimise impact
- respect cultural traditions and social structures, and brief tourists about these ahead of time so they can respect them
- prevent interaction with local populations, including children
- be environmentally sustainable
- include meaningful and respectful interaction with members of the community
It is this type of initiative which makes it easier than ever to travel and have a positive impact on the destination you are spending time in.
I’ve found time and again that it can be difficult and time consuming to get to know what the opportunities to make a positive difference are on the road, especially when travelling on my own.
More often than not it has been through word-of-mouth recommendations that I’ve happened to hear about projects. Even then, there’s what companies say they do and what they actually do, and in today’s world there’s a lot of “greenwashing” out there amongst all of the genuinely good work that goes on.
The great thing in this example is that the experts do the work of the background checks, leaving you with an easy way to find and book experiences that will leave a positive mark, and to enjoy the experience.
How can I get involved?
Simple – next time you’re planning a trip take a look at Visit.org and book one of their projects in the place you’re travelling to!
If you know any projects that meet the above criteria and are involved in tourism in your area, or a place you have visited recently, you can also refer them to Visit.Org as they add more projects to the platform.
So there you have it. An easy way to discover some great worthwhile causes for on your travels and support communities all over the world!
Soul Travel Blog is proud to be an ambassador for Visit.org. On my travels i’ll be visiting some of Visit.org’s partners and reporting back with reviews of my experiences, which i’ll share here.
What do you think of this initiative? Have you used Visit.org already? I’d love to hear your questions and comments in the comments section below!
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A Londoner by birth Ellie has lived in the UK, Netherlands, India and now Canada. Prior to blogging, she worked for 12 years in hospitality and online travel. Ellie started this blog during a sabbatical trip in 2015 around South Asia, to help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. When not travelling, she is happiest with wine, pasta and a good (travel) book. Ellie is also Founder of Soul Travel Consulting which helps travel brands communicate their sustainability initiatives.