Often times when traveling, the first things considered are rest, relaxation or discovery of a new destination. Travelers inquire about the best accommodations, places to see, activities and where to eat. An important part of travel most often missed is the people of the area and their culture.
One of the best ways to discover a new destination is through their people. Meeting the residents of the area, asking about their lives and their family history can offer a traveler the most intimate details about the area, way of life and culture. So many times were are busy with a tour guide’s information or relaxing by the beach, rarely do we leave the comfort of the scheduled vacation to truly discover the environment.
I was reminded of this earlier this week while attending a seminar for one of my resort partners, Sandals and Beaches. During the seminars were are given updates on new resorts, renovations and future planning as well as news about the islands on which the resort are located. On this evening, another element was added, one which is usually overlooked by travel consultants and travelers alike; voluntourism. I can think of few ways better to interact with people living in the destination visited.
Voluntourism can be planned many ways prior to leaving for your vacation. Most destinations have plans available. Your travel consultant can inquire for you. This becomes a very personal way for you to help those less fortunate and bond with the country you are visiting.
In the case of Sandals and Beaches, Caribbean born CEO Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart and his family created the Sandals Foundation (a 501C registered charity). The Stewart family holds to the ethic that all employees of the company are family. Most of the ‘extended’ family is Caribbean born and the Sandals Foundation became arm to help these extended family members and their communities prosper and grow through better education, medical services and much more. When travel consultants are invited to inspect the resorts, they are asked to bring donations such as school supplies that can be distributed to the area schools children. Information is also shared about all of the volunteer programs in which guests and groups can engage in while visiting their resorts.
As a travel professional, I feel very lucky to travel the world and interact with the members of the communities I visit. Sharing my good fortune elevates that emotion and commitment to others in the world. When speaking with my travelers I, like many of my colleagues, am guilty of not recommending at least a half of a day to visit the communities, in which they are traveling, not as a tourist, but as a volunteer. What better way to get to know the true culture of a country? If they are unable to visit, then the gift of school supplies or other items on the charity list are welcome. They can be dropped at the front desk of their resort.
Groups are always encouraged to take part of this experience. Professionals from medical and educational organizations are always in need. Donations of supplies as well as hands on assistance are very welcomed. Recently the daughter of a close friend who is a pediatric/neonatal nurse traveled for one week to South America. She and her colleagues visited in 2 different clinics during their stay. For her, it was an eye-opening experience. Her love for those she helped and those she met as part of her team have created an indelible memory. She told me she is ready to do it again!
For more information about the Sandals Foundation and how you can help, please contact me. Make your travel more meaningful.