Yesterday saw the official launch of the Geotourism Development Foundation, a global not-for-profit organisation committed to elevating travel as a force for good through community development projects.
Responding to a growing interest in independent, experiential and local travel, the Geotourism Development Foundation aims to cultivate community, cultural or environmental projects that link to tourism and derive revenue from visitors. The Geotourism Development Foundation focus on ‘win-win-win outcomes’ – sharing the beneficial results of projects with all stakeholders (local communities, travellers and the travel industry) – by championing undertakings that increase the share of benefits to locals and create new types of tours that result in better, sustainable and more unique connections between hosts and travellers.
“The Geotourism Development Foundation… is both for tourists to have great travel experiences and for tourism to bring more direct benefits to people and places in the destinations visited,” not offshore travel companies, commented John McKenzie, the entity’s president, who spoke at length about the foundation in an interview published yesterday on the Local Travel Movement. With an eye on fostering a fairer, safer and more prosperous world, “GDF therefore funds and supports local projects and initiatives that improve lives and habitats in the places travellers love to go.”
Creating Meaningful Connections
The Geotourism Development Foundation presently works primarily, but not exclusively, in the developing world, where tourism is a major source of revenue and employment. In doing so, it helps generate revenues and jobs for the poorest, while also taking a lead role in efforts to conserve culture and the environment, promote tolerance and understanding between peoples, and broaden minds.
According to McKenzie, the key to the Geotourism Development Foundation’s approach is how it “facilitates three-way partnerships between itself, commercial tour operators and local social entrepreneurs” that benefit both hosts and travellers.
Recent evidence suggests that travellers are increasingly keen to find such connections, to be part of unique, homespun initiatives, especially those that make special contributions to the local communities. “A growing number of independent travellers and those travelling in small groups want more than just a holiday; they want an experience,” said McKenzie.
For that reason, the Geotourism Development Foundation’s inaugural projects include community initiatives in southern Malawi (read more about it here); homestays in Darjeeling, India (read more about it here); education and agricultural activities in the Ecuadorian Amazon; and traditional farming in Boracay, Philippines.
Through programs like these, travellers find that they gain real insight into the places they visit and often forge personal and enduring bonds. When given a chance to help, travellers are also generous in the support they provide, both on the spot and once they have returned home. This is meaningful to their hosts, who are eager to share their knowledge and stories, showcase aspects of their lives and benefit from the revenue that tourism can bring.
Joining Helping Hands
The Geotourism Development Foundation steps into a space in which it sees several opportunities.
“Many large tour operators and travel companies show their desire to do good by setting aside part of their profits to donate to community, environmental or cultural projects. Now, working with GDF, they can link some of this giving back to their core business… a step that will enhance their brand and add to their customer travel experience, as well as provide the supported project with long term income,” urged McKenzie.
Accordingly, the Geotourism Development Foundation is reaching out to travel companies, charitable foundations and businesses for support and funds. These collaborators assist not only through grants, but also by drawing the attention of a broad community of generous travellers who can contribute directly through the Geotourism Development Foundation website or through customisable donation widgets that will be placed on all partner organisation’s websites.
The next step is ensuring that the funds raised are put to good use. Fortunately, since, as McKenzie remarked in the Local Travel Movement interview, “Accessing funding for projects is usually a big issue; securing donations and grants can be uncertain,” the Geotourism Development Foundation has “a great opportunity to help complement existing funding channels with loans and with expertise in connecting product to mainstream tourism to ensure additional and regular income from tourism.”
A process has been established that begins with identifying a local partner “doing something that generates social, cultural or environmental benefits, adds to the geographical character of the place and could potentially engage travelers,” as described in the company’s website page about How It Works.
“Trusted locals are the key,” emphasised McKenzie. “A key local partner is a proven and established local tour operator. These local tour operators both understand the tourism market in their region and the marketing and distribution channels that need to be tapped. They in turn know and work closely with local communities and other social entrepreneurs and so join the dots needed to create a win-win outcome and a product which will sell.”
This partner applies for Geotourism Development Foundation funding for a proposed project, which, once approved, becomes eligible for a loan, not a grant. “Inspired by the micro-finance approach, GDF hopes to share in the longterm income streams of its beneficiaries, whilst adding value to their initiatives,” concluded McKenzie. “If we lend to viable projects and help them to derive income, then it is natural that they should repay the loan. Over time, this businesslike approach not only ensures effective use of funds, but also influences the way that the projects are run and care for their customers.”