Travel with a purpose
(Photos courtesy of The Travel Corporation)
[Editor’s note: Craig Kielburger is definitely a visionary and Brett Tollman is not too far behind in that respect. In talking to them about the partnership between the Travel Corporation and Me to We, it became crystal clear that the kind of life-changing experiences that people will have when travelling to any of Me to We’s communities is definitely a trend to watch is 2018.]
If you accept the fact that all travel has a purpose – from simply flying and flopping on a beach to heading to a business meeting or conference in another city – then you’ll also recognize that there are a number (some would say growing number) of your clients who are looking for something more than that.
Well, a little over a year ago, The Travel Corporation (TTC) threw the weight of its well-known brands – Insight, Trafalgar, Contiki, Uniworld, Lion World Travel, and a couple of others – along with the efforts of its TreadRight Foundation behind the work that Me to We is doing in Africa, India, South America, and other places around the world.
It’s a powerful partnership that’s designed to provide people who are looking to travel for a purpose with a way to do it easily and to give travel agents a seamless way to sell that kind of journey to those customers.
Even better, the money those travellers spend to take those trips to Me to We’s three communities in Ecuador, Kenya and India goes straight into the local economies of those communities. Now how good is that.
As Craig Kielburger, co-founder of WE (Me to We) explains, it’s all part of how Me to We’s sustainable development model works and how it has been working for the past 23 years in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Reinforcing the message
“We have a five pillar model,” Kielburger said. “It’s Education – building primary and secondary schools – Clean Water & Sanitation; Health Care; Food Security; and Jobs.”
“We’ll work in a community for five years phasing this in and then we’ll phase out. How we manage to phase out [is through] the sustainabilities achieved through that last pillar – that economic empowerment pillar. And that’s why this travel component is so important to us. Because the hosting itself, the act of people going overseas, creates jobs in these communities, creates the sustainability, and so for us, whether a traveller chooses to volunteer or simply stay at these eco-lodges around the world, they are sustaining these long-term development projects,” said Kielburger.
As a result, he told CTP, “This is why this partnership (with TTC) is so exciting, because we want to make sure more [people] know and especially more [people] travel agents know about this opportunity.”
Me to We’s co-founder observed: “We’re honoured that The Travel Corporation has chosen to stand side-by-side with us. They are taking no financial gain for this. This is purely for them an opportunity to present this to agents, and for us, we’re deeply grateful for that, because they have mentored us through this [process of] introducing and amplifying this offering to agents who are looking for that authentic, purpose-driven experience for their clients.”
TTC’s chief executive, Brett Tollman joined Kielburger in Toronto recently for an event designed to ramp up the program’s messaging to the travel agency community here, explaining that the visit was “really a reinforcement of the program.
“Travel agents have so many brands and destinations and products that they have to be able to remember and sell that I think the continual reinforcement of who and what Me to We is and our partnership is beneficial to generating more awareness and, therefore, ultimately business and travellers for the three (3) Me to We destinations,” he said.
However, he added that: “There is one minor refinement to our program in Year Two, as we get better and stronger, and that’s the trips can now be bought end-to-end through any one of our (TTC’s) call centres around the world.”
Welcoming the famous
As for the product, Kielburger explained that Me to We has had a pure service or volunteer offering available in nine countries for the past 20 years. However, in three of those destinations, it now has “a luxury offering that is designed where we have a full end-to-end experience.”
Those destinations include Kenya’s Masai Mara region; Rajasthan, India; and the Amazon jungle in Ecuador. There are a variety of activities available in each of those destinations that combine with the opportunity to volunteer for a service of some type in each community.
Kielburger noted that Me to We has had the honour of hosting the British Royal Family on its service trips; it has hosted Madonna and her family; Clive Owen and his family; Natalie Portman; Penny Oleksiak; Sir Richard Branson; and many others.
In fact, Tollman and his family were in Kenya this summer, and he told CTP: “I got to work in the kitchens – and I love cooking – with some of their chefs and to try some new dishes; and to use some of the ingredients that they grow on their 250-acre farm. All of these things, I’ve never done before. I’ve never thought of doing them. I couldn’t do them. And I couldn’t do them on any of the holidays that I’ve done before.”
He pointed out that the fact that so many well-known people have participated on these trips is a clear “endorsement of the quality of the vacation” that a travel agent’s clients will have.
“I think agents want to know that there is some kind of validation here; that the customers that they’re going to propose (this to) and sell this to are going to have a good time,” Tollman said.
He continued: “When I say a good time, it’s the two sides of Purpose Driven Travel – it’s a wonderful holiday, you see the wildlife; you get to have marvelous experiences; but you also leave the destination a better human being because you’ve given something back of yourself.”
For those travelling with their children – as Tollman was – not only do you get to spend time with them, but the experience will help them understand just how fortunate they are.
“My children benefited in such a meaningful way that I could never do or my wife could never do by talking to them or showing them a documentary. It was so meaningful for us because we got to meet one of these Mamas and understand what her life was like before they brought clean water to the community where she had to walk back and forth 30 times a day to take polluted water back to her home – three kilometres away.
And today, Tollman recounted, that woman will proudly tell you about how her life has changed and how her daughter’s life has changed and her daughter can go to school and it’s all because they now have clean water that’s close by.
“That is such an eye-opening, life-changing aspect of these trips,” he said.
Sense of adventure
So who are these trips suited to?
Tollman explained: “It’s not for everyone, of course. No holiday is. Some holidays are for backpackers. River cruising isn’t for everyone. Ocean cruising isn’t for everyone. But I believe this trip and this experience in these three remarkable destinations are and can be for anyone who’s looking for something different and meaningful and to make a contribution in a community that has some lasting effect.”
He continued: “It’s [for] someone who’s got a good sense of adventure in terms of the three destinations that you’re going to [Kenya, India, Ecuador]. It’s not travelling to Western Europe. So again, from a qualification standpoint, maybe it is someone who has done that and is looking for a very different, very moving experience. Someone who wants to give back to a community. Someone who is looking for a different holiday that is a combination of something that’s fun and enjoyable and something that is beneficial to a community or they want to get their hands dirty in doing an array of options on a daily basis.”
As for Kielburger, he’s quick to admit that he’s a neophyte when it comes to the inner workings of the travel industry, but he clearly understands how important it is that agents are certain that what they’re selling to their clients is top-notch.
“Some people don’t want to sleep on the floor. They don’t want to rough it. They want to have truly comfortable vacation,” he said, and made it clear that what Me to We offers in Kenya, India and Ecuador “is world-class in every way, but it is also rooted in a community partnership that is 23 years of authentic, long-term, sustainable development.”
He continued: “That component coming together with having the comfort of a luxury experience with the authenticity and impact of a long-term sustainable connection, we’ve never found anything quite like it.”
Summing up, sort of …
The goal now, Kielburger said is to “redefine in the minds of agents what’s possible for Purpose Drive Travel. Can you have a luxury, beautiful, safe, comfortable, meaningful, deeply impactful trip in a very authentic way?”
The answer for both Kielburger and Tollman is an emphatic: “Yes, you can.”
TTC’s chief executive said: “This is the most sustainable travel I know of. They don’t just plant a tree to help offset your travel. They are making these communities sustainable – that’s the most amazing way to be sustainable. It’s not just about one’s carbon footprint – it is making a community sustainable.”
As Kielburger sees it, “This is that opportunity that I believe [agents’] clients are looking for. Not just the Millennials, but often it’s those who are retired and looking for that purpose-driven travel [opportunity]. [People who are looking for something that is world-class; that is comfortable; that is safe; that is luxury; but that is also meaningful, and by the very act of being there, gives back and presents opportunities to volunteer to your comfort level.”
And, if that’s not enough, Kielburger offers this as a take-away:
“It is purposeful in impacting culture; in the environment; in the profits; in every way. And we hope that more agents will be inspired by this. We also find it creates such a deep, emotional experience for the travellers that it creates a loyalty as a result.”
Are you happy?
So the obvious question at this point is whether everybody is happy with the way things have gone so far.
“No,” was Tollman’s response, before he told CTP that he’s not happy “because there have been far fewer bookings than I would have hoped (for) and expected. I mean we’ve launched this in New York. We’ve launched it in Los Angeles. We’ve launched it in Sydney, Australia. We’ve launched it in London. We’ve tried to introduce our travel agency partners to Me to We and that’s the primary purpose here.”
TTC’s chief executive continued: “Frankly, this is not to try and sell a few more post extensions because we don’t take enough travellers to these parts of the world, being [that] our focus is primarily Europe. Our hope is to be a megaphone to the industry so more agents know about, speak about and book Me to We trips so as to fill their camps. That is the objective here.”
And, while Tollman is clearly disappointed with sales levels, he is also prepared to “keep fighting the good fight,” pointing out that if a 13-year-old kid (referring to Kielburger) could build a school in Kenya, then “I will never take ‘No’ for an answer and I will keep fighting until we help fill their camps.”
So how does it work?
Well, it’s actually pretty simple.
Agents book their client (or clients) on one of TTC’s tour companies’ tours in the three destinations and then add the Me to We volunteer extension to that booking.
Tollman made it particularly clear that any agent who wanted “to learn more about [the program], any of our sales people, any of our team can help provide any information [they] need.”
TTC’s boss added: “ME to WE has a fantastic web- site that agents can use for research. All of these trips, the pre- and posts, are in all of our brochures on the relevant itinerary pages. They’re also on our websites. So, there are a number of ways that agents can learn more about it.”
Agents can also book directly with Me to We, with Kielburger explaining: “We’ll work straight with the travel agent to customize the offering. So typically, it is a two- to four-day extension if you’re working with the Travel Corporation – so part of a larger offering. With us, it is typically five to seven days, so it’s a full, turnkey trip by itself. We have all the staff to meet at the airport, stay at the accommodations, seamless experience right through. We do have [commissions] for travel agents. And it [the program] is designed to be truly flexible. So we will present the customized dates per the request of the travel agent and the schedule can be adjusted with more or less [community] service versus culture immersion.”
Tollman also told CTP that TTC and its brands are currently developing a webinar on its partnership with Me to We to help educate on the program and details on it should be available in the near future.
But in the meantime, here’s what each of TTC’s brands have on offer and a link to their web sites.
- CONTIKI – Ecuador & Galapagos Island Hopper and the Lava Line trips beginning in 2018; as well as its Eternal India itinerary – http://www.contiki.com/contikicares/me-to-we.html
- INSIGHT – Luxury Gold’s Imperial Rajasthan itinerary beginning August 2018 – https://www.luxurygoldvacations.com/ca/trips/imperial-rajasthan-with-me-to-we-summer-2018
- UNIWORLD – Available on all 16 departures of Golden Triangle & Sacred Ganges itinerary beginning in January 2019 – https://www.uniworld.com/ca/metowe/
- LION WORLD – in its 2019 brochure, it will feature four-day post trip extensions in the Maasai Mara – https://www.lionworldtravel.com/safari/me-to-we-kenya
- TRAFALGAR – featured on its Leisurely Rajasthan with Mumbai India, but the 4-day Me to We extension can be included on any of the operator’s 2018 itineraries – www.trafalgar.com/metowe