As the world emerges from the pandemic, travelers and, in turn, the travel industry, are increasingly interested in ways to turn travel into a force for good.
Maybe it’s the fact that the whole world has weathered a common crisis, or that climate change is nearing a tipping point after which ramifications will become irreversible; but, for whatever reason, people are looking to make more conscientious choices when planning their travels.
Environmental and social development goals suddenly seem more urgent and more personal, travelers more fully realize the impacts that each of us (and our tourism dollars) can have on the course of the future.
But, at least one organization, the U.S.-based 501c3 nonprofit Tourism Cares, was already ahead of the curve when it comes to catalyzing positive social, environmental, and economic change for the travel industry and the communities it touches.
Sustainability is a multi-faceted principle and Tourism Cares has been doing its part to guarantee the sector’s long-term survival since its inception by supporting all types of sustainability efforts and creating solutions for specific challenges.
The organization was established when the United States Tour Operators Association’s (USTOA) Travelers Conservation Foundation and the National Tour Association’s (NTA) National Tourism Foundation combined into a single foundation, the primary purpose of which was awarding tourism-related grants.
Sometimes, necessary changes come in the wake of catastrophe. In the aftermath of 9/11, the organization first recognized the travel industry’s need to shift from a competitive approach to a collaborative one. It was in that spirit that the foundation’s signature program, then called ‘Tourism Cares for America’ (now the Meaningful Travel Summit) was launched in 2003.
At that first gathering, more than 300 travel professionals from around the U.S. came together to volunteer to give back to beloved tourism destinations in need of assistance. “‘Giving back’ became the legacy for Tourism Cares,” explained Jessica Flores, Chief Experience Officer at Tourism Cares, who said, “it sparked a collaboration we had not seen before in travel and joined us together in purpose.”
“What started with revitalization volunteer efforts has grown into involvement and investment in social and environmental impact organizations that provide real and sustainable change, and many direct economic benefits for communities worldwide,” she added.
Since 2003, Tourism Cares has donated a total of over $1.2 million in grants and volunteer efforts to aid the growth and recovery of destinations all around the globe.
The list of companies and organizations that constitute the Tourism Cares community reads like a “who’s who” of the travel industry, with members coming from across all segments. The roster includes more than 160 groups and businesses whose reach extends to millions of travelers every year.
Asked how Tourism Cares has managed to attract involvement and investment by so many prominent industry names, Flores said, “I think companies are moving beyond the marketing value of sustainability and, while many of our member companies want to be in good company, I think our membership genuinely believes travel can change the world and are willing to do the work.”
“Every organization is in a different place in how they are making a positive impact on the planet and on communities,” continued Flores. “I think that is what is attractive in joining Tourism Cares, it is a place for all. We truly strive to build an inclusive community, and most importantly, we don’t do the work for our members. We provide the resources, the education, the connections so that they can build more sustainable practices into their work. That’s empowering and drives change for the long haul.”
She explained, “We primarily have two Summits annually, one in the spring and fall, with one always hosted in North America and the other globally. We typically focus on destinations that are either emerging in the sustainable tourism space, or leading and can set a strong example for our industry.”
When it comes to selecting a proposed project for funding, Flores said, “there really isn’t ‘one’ way we select our Meaningful Travel Summit projects.” She explained, “The projects and organizations we fund often suffer from a lack of resources, and often do not have a strong connection to the mainstream travel marketplace, so we help elevate their visibility. The organizations we choose to fund have a connection to travel and tourism, and, by supporting them, it strengthens the foundation of our industry.”
For more information, visit tourismcares.org.