“A moving and very powerful experience”: Volunteering hits home for the travel industry

“A moving and very powerful experience”: Volunteering hits home for the travel industry

This story originally ran in the February 7, 2019 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.

TORONTO — Not only are the benefits of volunteering and giving back tangible at a corporate level, they have positive impact on the front line too.

With that in mind, a growing number of companies, including many in the travel industry, are finding purpose and team spirit in charitable outreach all year long.

In an article for business magazine Fast Company, emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf says prioritizing volunteering as an organization helps in five ways.

The first four are textbook: better corporate culture; a tighter connection between company and community; new skills and perspectives for everyone involved; and increased empathy and gratitude.

The fifth reason for getting your company – whether it’s a retail travel agency, a tour operator, or what have you – onboard with volunteering might come as a surprise. Giving back can give a team an energy boost, says Deutschendorf. It’s like a relationship that’s become same old, same old. If you want to get employees re-engaged with their work and each other, giving back through a team initiative can liven things up for the better.

The Travel Corporation, parent company of Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Contiki, Uniworld and a whole bunch more, gives its employees two full paid days a year for volunteer work and everyone is actively encouraged by the higher ups to use them all. Volunteering locally is a great way to not only give back, “but to also get away from our desks from time to time and share in activities that we are passionate about,” says Jeff Element, President, The Travel Corporation Canada.

Encouraging all members of the TTC family to get out and volunteer has resulted in strengthened relationships in the workplace, he adds. Talk about team work: “What better way to connect with someone than through doing something that allows your true caring nature shine?”

By the end of 2018 TTC Canada had achieved 1,350 volunteer hours. One TTC initiative that just wrapped up took a popular hobby to a higher level – it was Busabout Canada’s ‘Too Legit to Knit’ campaign. Travel agents were invited to get involved too, and soon TTC’s trade partners throughout the GTA as well as TTC Canada staff were knitting for a good cause, with all knitwear donated to Eva’s Phoenix, a local Toronto organization that provides transitional housing for homeless youth.

TTC has also worked with more than a dozen not-for-profits in Toronto including St. Francis Table, WE Day, Habitat for Humanity, One Walk to Conquer Cancer, Sick Kids’ ‘Get Loud’ event, Holiday Helpers and more. Participation in the TTC’s volunteering program is up a whopping 519% compared to just a couple of years ago.

While some volunteering initiatives are entrenched in a company’s policy and values, others spring up in a more grassroots way.

TravelOnly agents Karen Gill, Marie Odorizzi, Sharon Loppie and Pat Probert started Travel Agents Care in 2017 after seeing the devastation from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in particular. “We kept asking ourselves, what would we do if this happened to our families,” says Gill. Travel Agents Care’s mission is simple: Travel agents working together to help those in need from around the world.

The group collects funds for donations of basic supplies and also works with Global Medic to help purchase water purification kits.

Life commitments can get in the way of good intentions and sometimes, despite best efforts, grassroots charitable initiatives can fall by the wayside. But not in this case. “Travel Agents Care is very much up and running,” says Probert. At TravelOnly’s recent Achievements & Distinction Awards gala, held last month in Toronto, “we had a table set up showing how the water purification works, so people can have clean drinking water,” said Probert. The group also incentivizes donations with – what else – travel, offering one entry into a contest to win a Celebrity Cruises sailing with each donation.

Retail travel groups known for their charitable outreach include Flight Centre, where projects run the gamut from an employee Workplace Giving charitable donation matching program, to an annual charity trip heading to destinations as diverse as Iceland (trekking for Make-A-Wish) and Thailand (for Friends of the Asian Elephant).

For 2019, says Allison Wallace, VP, Corporate Communications & CSR, The Americas, who heads up volunteering initiatives for The Americas, new campaigns will include animal outreach in April, and another one in August around women’s empowerment.

Other companies are very well-known for giving back, like G Adventures and its non-profit partner Planeterra, focused on identifying and developing community-based tourism projects and social enterprises that are linked to the market through G Adventures’ itineraries.

Meanwhile Intrepid Group is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019 with a three-month ‘Purpose Driven Agent Incentive’ in the Americas, encouraging travel agents to celebrate with Intrepid’s Purpose Beyond Profit philosophy. The grand prize is a trip to Nepal, led by Intrepid’s Co-Founder Geoff Manchester.

Big or small, retail or supplier, there is no wrong way to give back. And sometimes the opportunity is truly unique. In 2018 Yukon airline Air North got the ball rolling with travel agencies to combine a traditional fam trip with a fundraising mission to support charities up in the Yukon. Known as ‘Long Night’, the trip took the group to Whitehorse and Dawson City Jan. 4 – 6, 2019, and then on to Inuvik.

Says David Elmy, President, The Travel Group: “Our Vancouver group – which we call ‘Friends In Travel’ (F.I.T.) has been at this for 10+ years now.  We organize outdoor, quasi-fitness events to raise money for local charities. This inspired Air North to try something similar as a fam trip for agents across Canada, this ‘Long Night’ fam and fundraiser.”

So many industry partners wanted to take part in Long Night that Air North also created a silent auction for items donated by suppliers, to raise even more money.

Speaking to Travelweek in the weeks after the Air North fam/fundraiser, Elmy says the event raised much-needed funds for local charities in Whitehorse, Dawson city and even a NWT school.

“I can tell you that being part of the group of 90 or so travel agents who all contributed to local causes like this made the experience moving and very powerful,” says Elmy. “You wouldn’t believe the buzz this has generated, both before and after the fam. I think other suppliers could learn from this experiment.

“By adding a charity component to the trip, it generated an incredible level of engagement amongst the participants.

The trip was an unqualified success, in more ways than one: “We came away with more than just the educational experience. We all felt a real sense of pride in what our group of suppliers and travel consultants had accomplished.”

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