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Starting a travel company, or expanding to a new location? Recognize that you are becoming a member of the community around your company. Your operation provides local businesses with an economic boost, and creates incentives for local residents to acquire skills necessary for the tourism industry. Importantly, the benefits flow both ways: Your guests will enjoy a better travel experience if the community they visit is socially and economically healthy, welcoming of visitors, and actively benefitting from your tourism enterprise. Here are a few recommendations for having a positive impact.

Know your community’s people and concerns. Who are the local residents, and how do they live? What are the most important issues in their minds? What is the local education level? How do they feel about tourism, and what might they hope to contribute to your project? The answers to these questions can be a goldmine of opportunity, and can help you avoid clear pitfalls in neighbor relations.

Try to involve the local community in your business plans and goals, early on. Hold a town hall meeting to listen to what they have to say, and let them know you want this business to be good for them too. Keep your ears open to them. The more locals feel that your project takes them into account, the more peaceful and mutually beneficial your relationship will be.

Whenever possible, hire locally. This way, tourism monies stay in the nearby area, which stimulates the economy in countless ways. Local employees also bring with them a deeper understanding of the location, which in turn will be passed on to guests in the form of a more authentic travel experience.

Employ local residents at as many key operational levels as possible. If management-level capacity currently does not exist among local populations, offer training and workshops to equip locals with those necessary skills. Building capacity is an investment, but one that will pay off in the form of a more robust tourism base in the community, and a business in which employees are deeply invested and care about their work.

Educate your travelers and clients. The best travel experiences leave travelers forever changed, by revealing a world hitherto unknown. Help your clients understand the local lifestyle, environment, challenges, cultural diversity, and current opportunities for the future. Teach them about this place they are visiting, and what makes it so special, and sometimes also so vulnerable. Leave them changed. They will spread the word, and they may be back someday!

Offer guidance on appropriate philanthropy. You can help guide your guests' efforts to give back to the places they have visited, to ensure that their generosity goes toward positive development. For help in answering common suggestions made by travelers who want to give back, please see our downloadable compilation of expert "Travel Giving Dos and Don'ts", available on our publications page.

Last but not least, give back to your host community if you can! When you have a strong relationship in place with the community and you are familiar with the community’s needs, you might think about beginning a philanthropic project. Such projects can be funded in part by your operations and in part by the generosity of your guests, and may even include a portion in granted funds from outside, in whatever combination you deem appropriate. The best way to start is by involving the community in the choice of what to do. Could the community use new schoolbooks? How about job training resources, advice and small capital for starting businesses, or better public infrastructure? They should be given the control to decide what is best, and how any funds collected will be administered. There are many ways to make a positive mark, and each community is different. If you are interested in pursuing ways to give back, resources exist that can help you outline and begin to achieve appropriate goals for strengthening the local community and making lasting improvements in livelihoods. Not sure where to start? Ask us how! New to the concept? Browse the websites of our travel partners and philanthropy Pioneers for inspiration.
At the 2008 Travelers’ Philanthropy conference in Arusha, Tanzania, the Center for Responsible Travel (then CESD) began preparing a Short Course on creating and running philanthropic programs through tourism businesses. Contact us for information on taking this course, and please visit our main website for a PDF version of the Travelers' Philanthropy Handbook, published in 2009.


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