Tour operators and travel suppliers recognize today’s travelers seek more.

Traveler and student, Nepal, Overseas Adventure Travel voluntourism
[/media-credit] Traveler and student, Nepal, Overseas Adventure Travel

Travelers want to experience a destination, but they also desire to make deeper connections. Giving back through voluntourism projects helps travelers reach their travel aspirations.

And many tourism professionals choose to give back by volunteering in Tourism Cares projects. 

Helping out

Terry Dale, president and CEO for the New York-based United States Tour Operator Association (USTODA), said the human connections of voluntourism appeal to travelers.

Terry Dale voluntourism
[/media-credit] Terry Dale

He believes voluntourism is moving beyond the satisfaction of making a physical contribution by, for example, painting school classrooms. Nowadays, travelers also want to make sure their financial contributions and purchases support families and make a difference in a community.

“Travelers would like to contribute to a program that helps sustain what they did,” Dale said. “It’s about corporate social responsibility and the evolution of voluntourism. Travelers want to be sure their dollars and labor are going to where they have the broadest and most meaningful impact.”

Alan E. Lewis, chairman and CEO of Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.), noted global citizenship resonates with older American travelers.

Older travelers who use the Boston-based company want to help improve the lives of people worldwide.

In the last five years, O.A.T. travelers, Americans 50 and older, have donated $5 million to 1,257 projects serving communities overseas. In 2017, O.A.T. travelers donated $824,946 in support of 196 projects in 30 countries.

“We have found that many older, seasoned American travelers consider themselves global citizens and feel a responsibility to support communities they have encountered in their travels,” Lewis said. “They visit schools, villages and communities, see what the needs are firsthand and respond. They open their hearts — and their wallets.”

The top concerns of communities become the top concerns of travelers. Education, clean water and sanitation, solar lighting and self-sustaining gardens that can feed a school or an entire community are key areas of traveler involvement. The goal of each project is community self-sustainability once the project is underway. 

Each project is coordinated through O.A.T.’s charitable arm, Grand Circle Foundation, local community leaders and O.AT.’s employees who live and work in the region.

Collette’s Impact Travel line offers a destination’s must-see sights plus opportunities to volunteer and work alongside locals toward sustainable change. Travelers decorate classrooms and prepare lunch for students in Stellenbosch, South Africa. On a Costa Rica Impact tour, travelers take part in “Going Local.” This sustainable voluntourism endeavor created by local youth highlights the town of Huacas during a walking tour led by aspiring entrepreneurs. In the afternoon, travelers participate in hands-on activities at CEPIA, a local nonprofit, or help at the community center and learn about the Collette Foundation’s support of CEPIA.

Collette, headquartered in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is celebrating its centennial this year.

The Boston-based not-for-profit Road Scholar organization offers 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states, including volunteer opportunities.

Road Scholar travelers can volunteer in schools on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, pitch in on a project to maintain the USS Missouri in Hawaii or help out with a water/sanitation project in Nicaragua.

Tour for the Cure®

The Tour for the Cure® travel incentive program in Dearborn County, Indiana, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

The Dearborn County Convention, Visitor & Tourism Bureau’s program encourages participants to use travel as an opportunity to give back. The partnership between the bureau and the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer allows visitors to “have fun and give hope” on a trip to southeast Indiana.

So far, Tour for the Cure® has given more than $80,000 to the foundation.

Based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and affiliated with Vera Bradley Designs, Inc., the nonprofit foundation supports various research-related projects and Indiana University-based researchers in the fight to find a breast cancer cure.

Sally McWilliams, Dearborn County group tour specialist, said the program originally was envisioned for girlfriend getaways.

Offerings have expanded and include a selection of customizable overnight packages, day trips, luncheons, group excursions and hands-on activities. Participating hotels, restaurants and class providers donate on a per-passenger basis to Tour for the Cure®.

“We came up with Tour for the Cure® as a way for our visitors to give back,” said Debbie Smith, the bureau’s executive director. “Travel is such a fun and uplifting activity — it renews the spirt and refreshes the soul. Tour for the Cure® is just one way people can use something they love to reach out and contribute to something bigger.”

ABA gives back

Each January a host city welcomes more than 3,500 tour operators, suppliers and exhibitors to the American Bus Association’s annual meeting and marketplace. Since Marketplace 2007, ABA Gives Back has raised more than $347,000 for local charities. The Marketplace Advisory Committee selects a charity with a link to the host city. Funds are raised for that charity during marketplace.

For January’s marketplace in Charlotte, North Carolina, the charity was the Isabella Santos Foundation. In 2009, the foundation was founded in Charlotte in honor of Santos, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer at the age of two. Although Santos lost her battle, the Isabella Santos Foundation continues its mission to find a cure for diatric cancer. 

Tourism Cares: Helping tourism give back

Tourism Cares is a nonprofit public charity headquartered in Norwood, Massachusetts.

Tree-planting project, Tourism Cares, Providence, R.I. voluntourism
[/media-credit] Tree-planting project, Tourism Cares, Providence, R.I.

Through Tourism Cares, travel industry volunteers representing hundreds of travel and tourism companies have donated more than 50,000 hours at a value of $1 million to destinations all over North America.

This year’s Tourism Cares theme is Uniting for Resilient Destinations. May 10–11, volunteers were in South Florida to work with local organizations on tourism needs arising from climate change and hurricanes. They teamed up with the Coral Restoration Foundation to help farm coral and with Keys Strong to help clear debris in mangroves. Volunteers also partnered with Habitat for Humanity on local home repairs and more in the lower Keys. Tourism Cares for New Orleans is Sept. 20–21, 15 years after Hurricane Katrina.

Last year, 650 travel industry professionals volunteered at Tourism Cares projects in Oakland, California; Detroit, Michigan; Providence, Rhode Island; Washington, D.C. (IPW); and Toronto, Ontario. The organization said 1,500 plants were planted, hundreds of gallons of paint were used and more than 1,300 work gloves were worn down. On average, host sites saved more than six weeks of work, thanks to Tourism Cares.

Members of the National Tour Association and United States Tour Operators Association formed Tourism Cares in 2003. Representation also includes members of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), International Air Transport Association (IATAN) and many of the industry’s leading companies and associations.

For more information, call 781-821-5990 or visit