The Business of Tourism...Giving back
David Jessop, Contributor
Some years ago, I was being shown around a hotel property in a
small island in the Eastern Caribbean. Afterwards, I was taken to
a construction site in a village not far from the hotel where many
of its workers lived. There the hotel was putting in drainage and
waste water facilities recognising that they were not just employers
but should play a role in their local community.
At the construction site I was introduced to an American, hard
at work in a trench. To my surprise he told me he was one of the
hotel guests, had been visiting the property for more than a decade
and wanted to give something back to the people of the country he
so much enjoyed visiting.
Later that evening over a drink, I discovered that he was in fact
a very wealthy man who was in a quiet way partly financing the project.
giving something back
Such philanthropy or altruism is not for everyone, but industry
surveys show that there is a small but increasing segment of the
international market that is interested in spending all or a part
of their vacation giving something back to their host country.
According to a new poll from the online travel specialist Opodo.com
there has been 67 per cent rise in British visitors taking 'meaningful'
travel programmes between 2005 and 2006. The survey showed that
nearly three quarters were female; one in 10 were aged over 40 while
one in three were aged between 25 and 40.
So much so that there has been a growth in travel companies specialising
in organising visits of this kind.
One example is the U.K.-based company i-to-i. This hybrid organisation
offers life changing experiences through opportunities for volunteering,
internships and participation in projects that might relate to community
development, conservation, teaching or construction.
The company's projects span the globe. In the Caribbean for instance
they have schemes in the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Dominica
where they variously involve work with special needs children, care
for the elderly and community conservation and renovation.
i-to i suggest that their growth relates to a new and growing demand
for ethical tourism. They believe that there is a discrete but important
market among those who are seeing a part of their leisure time or
retirement as an opportunity to immerse themselves in the countries
they visit and to give something back.
Interestingly, this is not just an area for travel from young people
and retirees. A further trend in this area is among large companies
whereby organisations such as the HSBC, the international bank,
use work on community projects abroad as practical team building
and financial exercises.
All of which warrants much more thought by politicians and tourist
boards whose focus, for the most part, remains on arrival numbers
and beach holidays. Joining up directly or more subtly visitor awareness
of the real Jamaica and its needs would bring real benefit for all.