Giving Back As We Travel!
As travellers, we know experiencing new cultures, tasting new food and exploring the unfamiliar challenges enriches our lives. The places we visit whether close to home or half way around the globe are no longer a spot on the map we want to go, but a place filled with memories. Sharing these special memories with other travellers and with those at home are precious and are adventures we will recall long after the trip is over.
Did you know that in 2016 over 1.2 billion people crossed borders according to the World Travel Organization and that number is expected to grow to over 1.8 billion by 2030. That’s a lot of people travelling and a lot of new experiences! These travellers present a huge opportunity for local communities to benefit economically and an opportunity for us to leave behind a positive impact by giving back locally.
There are many ways to give back as you travel and Wells Gray Tours as a provider of travel for over 45 years is well aware of the impact that our clients and our company have on the places we visit and the people we meet there. If you are travelling with Wells Gray Tours or on your own here are some ways that you can positively impact the places you go:
Stay Local: When possible, stay in a locally owned the Tour 25 program. These tours limit the size of our groups to 25 or less so that we can easily include smaller, unique and locally run hotels and restaurants. These types of properties often do not have the rooms or room configuration available for large groups. One of my favourite memories of Bhutan was the home stay we did for one night. The meal was delicious, all ingredients were home grown and cooked on an open fire by our lovely hostess. We were there to witness the men, father, husband and brother returning home from the fields and engage in conversation with them. The accommodation was very clean and comfortable with running water and electricity but no TV, alarm clock or coffee maker. A great experience for those that can live without all the frills of a big hotel for one night. The memory of sharing a home with these wonderful Bhutanese people will remain a highlight in my life forever.
Eat Locally: Ask your hotel to recommend a restaurant that is locally owned. This provides you with an opportunity to engage with the community and invest in a local family enterprise. On our Haida Gwaii tour for example we visit the Keenawaii Kitchen for a meal of local flavour cooked by Haida member, hostess and owner Roberta Olsen. Welcoming our travellers into her home where she serves a fabulous feast of traditional foods, provides Wells Gray Tours travellers with an authentic experience while supporting a local entrepreneur is a winning combination.
Shop Locally for Souvenirs: In many countries, you will find the artists working right in the shops and you can buy directly from the creator. Artisan cop-ops are another way to get up close and personal with the creators of a piece you may wish to purchase. A picture of an item with the artist is a special addition to your collection of travel memorabilia.
Social Initiatives: Wherever you go, look for organizations that have engaged in a business model to advance the educational and social well-being of the local community. Ngwenya Glass in Swaziland is one of those places that for the last 26 years, locals have been collecting discarded glass and have turned it into something beautiful. This not only provides jobs for the locals but also cleans and protects the environment.
Leaving Something Behind: Over the years, Wells Gray Tours has tried to provide up close and personal experiences for its clients and will often donate monies to schools or local organizations working hard to benefit the community.
In 2015 our Director of Sales and Marketing, Kerrie Niemeier while travelling in Tanzania, discovered the amazing joy of giving a small gift. While visiting a school, she gave an extra pen she had in her bag to a student. The young girl burst into tears and gave Kerrie the hug of a lifetime. This young school girl had never owned her own pen. After returning home, Kerrie realized that we could continue to impact places we visit long after we leave, launching a program called “Pledge a Pencil, Sharpen a Future”. In November of 2016 a truck load of items collected from Wells Gray Tours clients and the local community were shipped to the school Kerrie visited. The enthusiasm that this campaign generated has produced additional items for distribution and we will be offering those to guests travelling with us to South Africa, Costa Rica, Belize and other destinations for those who are interested. It is amazing how little space a pad of paper, a few pencils or pens take up in your suitcase. The reward is a smile from a young child, or thankful mother or teacher that will never fade.
Building International Understanding: Travellers all over the world have the opportunity to build bonds or friends and understanding wherever they go. There is no room in your suitcase required to take with you a positive attitude and a willingness to meet new people and experience new cultures and foods
Most of all, remember a smile is universal, easily given and builds a bridge of understanding with a complete stranger.
Written by: Joan Niemeier