Tourism Cares’ Meaningful Travel Map promotes underrepresented communities and showcases attractions that promote biodiversity
Tourism is a powerful tool that can be used to mitigate and solve some of our world’s greatest challenges, such as creating food sovereignty, promoting gender parity, conserving resources as assets, and preserving and celebrating cultures, traditions and languages. However, many forms of conventional tourism do not mitigate these challenges, and many cause negative impacts or alterations to the sense of place, the people or the fragile environments of destinations. Sustainable tourism, on the other hand, referencing the UNWTO’s definition, takes into full account its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts – addressing the needs of its visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities equally. And it is the travel industry’s responsibility to look for more meaningful and sustainable options in order to leave a destination better off as a result of tourism, especially by including community-based product into supply chains. This benefits not only the destinations we profit from, but also the visitor experience.
The travel and tourism industries continue to see demand growing for a more socially and environmentally conscious product. Booking.com’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report surveyed 29,000 travelers in 30 countries and found, among other things, that 72% of respondents think travel companies should offer more sustainable choices; 76% want to ensure the economic impact of the industry is spread equally in all levels of society; and 73% want to have authentic experiences that are representative of local culture when they travel. Quality, convenience and price still very much matter to consumer choice, but factors like sustainability, trust, ethical sourcing and social responsibility are increasingly important to the way consumers select their products and services.
To meet the travelers’ demands and help our partners source, vet and market new product, Tourism Cares has developed a program– our Meaningful Travel Map of North America (which can be found by visiting www.tourismcares.org/meaningful-map). The Meaningful Travel Map highlights authentic, community-led experiences, products and tours across North America. It is a business-to-business tool, meant to connect travel professionals to mission-based organizations that are, or could be, involved in the tourism value chain. The map is primarily focused on small businesses, non-profits and social enterprises that provide a societal or environmental benefit to their communities aligned to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Many of the organizations are led, owned or managed by women and/or black, indigenous and people of color. We also encourage our partners to share their mission with customers to create a ripple effect of inspiration.
The Meaningful Travel Map program started with our 2018 Meaningful Travel Summit in Jordan, working with the Jordan Tourism Board to create an innovative program that could focus the industry on local social enterprises, deepening travelers’ relationships with the people of Jordan. It continued with Colombia and, through our partnership with ProColombia, a Meaningful Travel Map was created along with our November 2021 summit. All along, though, we understood the huge potential benefits of creating a Map of North America. In mid-2021, we started adding organizations within the U.S., and are now adding them across Canada and will soon be at work on Mexico.
It helps to understand the map if I discuss some examples. One of our profiles is for Live Like a Local Tours. They are a black-owned business in the Boston area that facilitates tours of Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain, giving people the chance to experience the food, history and culture of untapped and diverse neighborhoods of the Boston metro area. Another is Café Reconcile. This incredible organization was featured during our most recent event in New Orleans in 2018. They are a restaurant and catering business that offers a paid job training program for young people from severely at-risk communities. The program teaches them job and interpersonal skills, but more broadly it encourages personal growth, entrepreneurship and thus builds a stronger community. Customers can support their mission just by going and eating delicious food! Lastly, we have Reef in Key Largo, Florida. Reef’s mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education and partnerships with the scientific community. It does this with an on-site, hands-on education program teaching about marine biodiversity and through customized multi-day programs that include scuba, snorkeling, kayaking and other aquatic adventures. As you can see, there is a great variety of organizations and activities to be found on the map.
Tourism Cares is a non-profit dedicated to the people and places of travel, supported by the industry, so the map is free for organizations to be a part of, it is free for users, and it is open to everyone, not just our members. Each of the organizations on the Meaningful Travel Map has been vetted for its impact by Tourism Cares, and each has the opportunity through the platform to market its product to a much wider audience than would otherwise be possible, since most do not have the resources to attend trade shows or aggressively market. The platform highlights the organizations’ missions, what makes them unique, and provides them the opportunity to share images, video and brochures. Map users can contact organizations directly using websites or email addresses supplied right on the organizations’ profiles.
We are looking to create as many connections as possible between these impactful organizations and the travel trade. The tourism industry’s interconnectedness and interdependence create opportunities to foster transformative change in communities. Forming strong partnerships with local community leaders is crucial in this process. Nonprofits, social enterprises, community-owned tourism organizations and B Corp organizations are social-centric by design — with the networks, procedures and solutions in place to ensure people’s needs are met and social issues are addressed. Those partnerships help tourism companies gain a cultural context and solutions-based approach to local issues, which is critical for companies to operate sustainably in destinations.
Investing in community-led tourism is good for business. By putting communities at the center of tourism development, resident sentiment improves with more local people and ecosystems benefiting. The experience for the traveler is also more authentic, creating a more differentiated product for the travel business (and often supporting diversity, equity and inclusion objectives). This creates a full circle of prosperity for all involved in the tourism value chain. The tour operator segment, specifically, has incredible power to build connections from the consumer to the local community. By building collaborative partnerships between destinations, businesses and community leaders, consumer demand can be addressed, and a new model of impact tourism introduced. International and inbound operators can leverage the Meaningful Travel Map of North America to help achieve these objectives within their own organizations.