Travel, especially luxury travel to exotic locales, may be the ultimate in personal indulgence. Yet an increasing number of travelers desire to do more than just soak in the scenery and relax in five-star accommodations. They want to combine travel with philanthropic endeavors by either volunteering their services abroad or getting an up-close look into the lives of the people who live in the lands they visit.
According to a recent survey commissioned by Tourism Cares, a charitable organization supported by associations and companies in the travel industry, more than half — 55 percent — of the 2,551 Americans surveyed reported they had either volunteered at or donated to a destination they had visited during a leisure trip in the past two years. Millennials, in particular, were the most philanthropic. More than two-thirds reported either volunteering or donating cash.
Even more telling was of those who said they had not participated in any philanthropic activity while traveling, a quarter said they would be interested in learning more about how to do so. Obviously, the philanthropic travel movement stands poised to grow.
See Where Help Is Needed
Several options are available to travelers who want to pursue a philanthropic trip abroad. They can either volunteer their labor and services, or they can donate dollars to charitable projects in the destinations visited.
One travel company focused on the latter is Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy. Founded in 1982, A&K now supports 32 charitable projects in 26 nations around the globe. Those projects range from the construction of a school in Myanmar, a bike shop in Zambia that provides steady work for local women, a community hospital and nursing school in Uganda, and a rhino conservation program in Botswana.
Keith Sproule, executive director of A&K Philanthropy, says guests on the tours his company manages don’t do any actual physical labor. Rather, by integrating a visit to the philanthropic project A&K supports in a particular destination, guests see first-hand the difficulty of providing medical services or education in a rural setting in a developing nation.
A&K guests glimpse beyond the velvet curtain of a lavishly appointed hotel room or the carefully orchestrated tours of only the most beautiful sites in a country. Because of that, many A&K guests are moved to donate to those charitable initiatives, with 100 percent of their dollars going directly to the projects. “It’s something of a virtuous cycle,” Sproule says. “Guests come back inspired and contribute, and we have more resources to do more.”
Become An "Experteer"
Philanthropic travelers also can volunteer their skills in a far-flung location. Founded in 2012, MovingWorlds.org specializes in teaming experts with organizations in developing countries that need their expertise.
The “experteers,” as they are called, go to the Moving Worlds website (it costs $125 to become a member for two years), and search for a project that could utilize their specific knowledge or skill sets. (One example now listed on MovingWorlds is a website development project for Senegal’s Office of Vocational Agricultural Education.) If a member decides to pursue a project, MovingWorlds oversees a series of planning sessions, introductions, and Skype meetings between the experteer and the organization to see if there is a fit.
The idea for MovingWorlds came to co-founder Mark Horoszowski after he had spent a year traveling to Nepal, Argentina and a slew of other countries in 2010. During that time, he volunteered his marketing and business strategy skills to several organizations. He blogged about his experiences, which drew the attention of others who wanted to do the same, including Derk Norde, who eventually became his partner in MovingWorlds.
Prior to his involvement in MovingWorlds, Norde had worked to drum up investment in emerging markets. So he was intrigued by Horoszowski’s experiences. More than capital, Norde believed what organizations in developing countries truly hungered for was more practical aid, such as how to build an accounting system or launch a new product.
“We connected over that idea, and set out to validate it,” Horoszowski said. “We wanted to know, are there enough organizations looking for skilled help and are there enough people looking to go overseas with their skills?”
To source projects, MovingWorlds partners with international aid organizations such as Mercy Corps. “We work with them to identify who needs support,” Horoszowski says, “and they encourage their organizations to participate on MovingWorlds.”
Since it began, MovingWorlds has sent 350 experteers out into the world to help some 150 organizations. Assignments can last from one to three weeks up to 18 months. Typically, accommodations are provided, with living and meal stipends sometimes given to the experteer.
Motivations vary as well. Some experteers are early retirees who want to use their knowledge to give back to the community. Others simply desire to volunteer while on a short vacation.
Others view “experteering” as way to polish up their professional resume. Horoszowski recalls how one designer from a large U.S. tech company parlayed an overseas project into a promotion. “We see that a lot. People using this to get ahead in their careers,” he says.
Of course, what Horoszowski terms “the fulfillment” factor is an important motivation, too. “It’s people being able to say, look, global warming is terrible, but I’m actually doing something about it. I feel like I’m part of the solution.”
Corporations Get Involved
Giving the philanthropic travel movement a major boost are major corporations, like Microsoft. Many seek to partner with MovingWorlds to sponsor overseas philanthropic projects, Horoszowski says. He recently attended a conference to discuss how corporations can partner with governments and groups like his to help solve some of the world’s challenges.
“They realize not only do individuals have the opportunity to engage in this type of ethical, sustainable travel but companies can do this as well — for citizenship reasons, innovation reasons, and also for employee engagement and retention,” he says.
These corporations either offer a philanthropic travel trip as a benefit to employees, or they sponsor their employees on a experteering-type tour, Horoszowski says. “The fact that companies are putting dollars behind it is a pretty strong testament that it’s developing skills and creating a positive impact for all parties,” he says.
One recent trend Horoszowski has noticed is that travelers are becoming more selective before they hop on a plane for their philanthropic trip. If they volunteer their services or donate money, they insist it must be for a meaningful and sustainable cause. Paying thousands of dollars to dig a well next to a defunct well dug the year before has left many travelers disillusioned, believing their efforts had no real, lasting impact, Horoszowski relates.
Rather, travelers on philanthropic trips are driven “to be a positive force in the world and to create real connections that you could never do as a tourist,” he says. “This offers people a way to do that.”
A journalist and writer for over 20 years, Maria Wood has reported on such diverse topics as the nursing profession, commercial real estate, and local politics in her home state of New Jersey. In the business realm, she has written extensively about the lodging industry, annuities, financial/retirement planning, and marketing.
She served as the editor of Real Estate New Jersey, a magazine focused on the commercial real estate industry in New Jersey, as well as the managing editor of Retirement Advisor, a publication for financial planners. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, watching baseball and jogging. She is on LinkedIn and can be followed on Twitter.