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The Holbrook Insider


Time, talent, and treasure: Redefining impact at the World Tourism Day Forum

Nov 14, 2019 |


| by Christa Markley

In late September, Holbrook president Andrea Holbrook journeyed to Washington D.C. to participate in the annual World Tourism Day Forum, hosted by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and the Organization of American States (OAS). The purpose of the forum is to develop and discuss best practices to maximize the positive impact of tourism and support destination communities around the world.

Andrea’s participation in the event was doubly meaningful: in addition to her role as a CREST board member, Holbrook Travel also co-sponsored the forum. “Not only does it allow us to make an important contribution to CREST as a member of the Board, it allows us to be part of the larger discussion on important issues for global tourism,” Andrea reflected.

Each year, the forum’s focus is defined by a theme. Last year, the participants tackled the challenges surrounding overtourism. This year, they examined impact tourism: its definition, implementation, and best practices.

What is impact tourism?

CREST lays it out neatly: “Impact tourism is making strategic contributions of time, talent, and treasure to social and environmental projects in destinations. This includes tourism businesses, travelers, and organizations in partnership with host communities.”

Once called “traveler’s philanthropy,” impact tourism goes beyond simple conceptions of charity and instead seeks to enact meaningful travel practices that support local communities with an awareness of cultures, contexts, and power dynamics inherent in the relationship between travelers and local communities. “It’s almost as if tourism is truly ‘in service’ to a social and environmental goal,” Andrea explains. “Even if that giving is for a limited time and space within the larger travel experience.”

CREST identifies a few benchmarks for successful impact tourism:

  • Helping tourism businesses become actively involved as good citizens in their travel destinations.

  • Assisting local projects that constitute a serious commitment by providing the building blocks for sustainable, long-term development and environmental conservation.

  • Enriching the travel experience through meaningful, culturally sensitive, and productive interactions with people in host communities.



Impact tourism in Holbrook’s history

Holbrook Travel has played a part in many impact tourism stories over the years, working consistently with travelers that are passionate about meaningful philanthropy in their destinations. “From the Road Scholar group that donated solar panels to a school in Uganda, to the birders that have given gently used optics to local communities in Cuba, to the teachers and students that have labored to eradicate the invasive blackberries from the highlands of Santa Cruz on their Galapagos program,” Andrea recounts. “These kinds of initiatives are almost synonymous with the Holbrook spirit.”

There’s also the pioneering effort Giovanna Holbrook, founder of Holbrook Travel and Selva Verde Lodge, and her best friend Bertha Carter: together they established the Sarapiquí Conservation Learning Center in 1993, which was featured in the first handbook written on impact tourism in 2011. The Center uses income from rural tourism activities such a home stays and cooking classes to operate a library and computer center, provide English as a Second Language classes, and offer many educational programs designed to empower local community members and promote sustainable livelihoods.



Reflections on service

For Andrea, the most thought-provoking aspect of this year’s forum was the talk by Claire Bennett, co-author of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad. “I was particularly struck by the changing ideas behind the very concept of service,” Andrea shares. “Claire pointed out that many service opportunities for travelers are a lot more about satisfying the needs of the traveler to feel they are contributing rather than to actually support local needs.”

Addressing this issue, Claire’s talk stressed the importance of acknowledging the power dynamic at play within traditional service activities, and how important it is to make an effort to even the playing field.  In some cases, travelers may need to spend time learning about and understanding their destination before they can make a meaningful contribution in the field. The rising focus on impact tourism fosters greater awareness of these considerations, in order to do the "right good" in a destination.

Want to learn more?

Check out CREST’s website on the 2019 World Tourism Day Forum – recordings will be available shortly.

Read through the 2019 World Tourism Day Forum program