is responsible travel philanthropy possible?

As part of celebrating the Responsible Tourism week (18-22 May 2009), a Responsible Tourism Networking group started a discussion on Facebook to explore the pros and cons of Travel Philanthropy, titled: Is responsible travel philanthropy possible?

During the discussion it became apparent that there seemed to be some confusion as to the definition or Travel Philanthropy.

Harold and I responded, setting out what we believe to be the definition of Travel Philanthropy and the factors that allow it to be encouraged and employed responsibly.

Here is our response:

The thing that stands out the most for us is the apparent and stated confusion of what travel philanthropy is, particularly when discussed alongside responsible tourism (as defined in the Cape Town Declaration). At Travaid, we believe the following to be a suitable definition of travel philanthropy.

Travel philanthropy defines charitable and philanthropic behaviour, the donating of money, in-kind resources or time, occasioned by or facilitated by travel. Travel philanthropy includes donations by travellers and travel companies inbound and outbound where the charitable contribution is occasioned by, but secondary to, the primary purpose of travel or holidaymaking and the commercial operation of travel businesses. In reporting these contributions it is very important to distinguish between contributions from travellers and those made by inbound or outbound operators, whether donated for use in the originating place or in the destination. Ref:

Examples include:

1. Charity fundraising through, for example challenges and treks, where the travel is primarily motivated by, or justified by, the intention to raise funds for a charitable cause in the originating market or destination.
2. Volunteering abroad or away from home (Voluntourism).
3. Voluntary donations to a charitable project in a destination visited that is unrelated to the commercial activities of a holiday.

It is however, in all cases, very important to distinguish between the commercial or facilitating activity, and the funding of that (whether by commercial companies or charities and not-for-profits) and the charitable contribution (i.e. the amount of money that directly benefits the charitable cause / beneficiaries) in the destination or in the originating market. Companies, not-for-profits and charities need to take particular care to report the net contribution – the difference between what is “donated” to the beneficiaries, any costs incurred by recipients and that which is retained by the facilitating party.

So this leads us on to the title of the discussion group, Is responsible travel philanthropy possible?

It is at this stage important to distinguish between “Restricted funds” gifts, specifically designated by the donor for a purpose, and “Unrestricted funds”, non-designated gifts used by the charity at its discretion.

As someone engaging in travel philanthropy you need to consider the need for restricted vs. unrestricted funds. For example, in the case of disaster relief often it is not practical or effective to encourage restricted gifts. In such cases the donor has to have a certain degree of trust that the money will be spent effectively by the chosen charity delivering the relief. From the Travel Industry perspective responsibility in this case is then perhaps around making its own corporate donations and encouraging its customers / staff to give to a widely endorsed charity at the centre of delivering relief efforts. In this case one large pot of funds administered effectively is perhaps better than lots of small ones.

More commonly, what we are seeing in the Travel Industry in relation to the discussion of travel philanthropy is around the use of “restricted funds”, gifts to specific projects. There is a strong desire (from consumers and businesses) to see the impacts of our giving and to choose what type of projects we want to give to; our motivations are varied as well as influenced by the places we visit. In order for the travel industry to engage in responsible travel philanthropy we believe the following should be implemented:

1. Effective due diligence and delivery partner selection.

2. Absolute transparency of donations / commercial income.

3. Effectiveness, ensuring donations are handled in the most effective/economical way.

4. Adoption of a common platform to identify and donate to charitable projects.

5. Clearly defined project goals and targets (social and environmental).

6. Feedback for all donors on the completion of projects.

7. 3rd party assurance (without donation % deductions) to provide consumers the confidence to give.

Every travel industry business has an obligation to implement its own responsible tourism policy, however we do not believe every travel industry business has an obligation to engage in travel philanthropy. However, many consumers want to make charitable contributions to the destinations they visit and in this scenario the travel industry has a very powerful and important role in ensuring that they are given the advice and means to do so as effectively as possible. A common platform, shared resources and learning can only help this to happen.

Let us know what you think.

Nick & Harold.


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