Impact Tourism Handbook: Best Practices in Giving Time, Talent, & Treasure

Edited by Samantha Bray and Ellen Rugh of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST)

One of CREST’s longest running programs, impact tourism is defined by CREST as tourism that makes strategic contributions of time, talent, and treasure to social and environmental projects in destinations. This includes tourism businesses, travelers, and organizations in partnerships with host communities.

As an update to CREST’s seminal 2011 Traveler’s Philanthropy Handbook, our 2020 Impact Tourism Handbook takes a deeper look at the thoughtful and innovative ways that impact tourism is materializing around the world.

In releasing it in a free, digital format on our website, CREST seeks to make it widely available to all stakeholders interested in developing or supporting responsible impact tourism programs.

Growing from experiments by small ecolodges in remote regions, impact tourism today encompasses corporate-wide and destination-wide programs, voluntourism, donor travel, and more. At a time when sustained development assistance from international agencies, governments, and NGOs is increasingly hard to come by, this method of funding has potential to play a critical role in the well-being of communities.

Photo courtesy of the Green Belt Movement, Kenya

Impact tourism is not about impulse giving or collecting loose change for charities without further touch-points. Rather, it is about generating, in an organized and strategic manner, tourism company and visitor support for local community projects through true partnerships. It is also about integrating impact tourism into the core experience of responsible travel to ensure healthy communities are the basis for a healthy tourism sector. This Impact Tourism Handbook shares inspiring and practical case studies from businesses, NGOs, and destinations at the forefront of this relatively new form of community development funding.

Fully recognizing that “doing good” does not always mean “doing right,” we have sought to be transparent with challenges and lessons learned. We hope this Impact Tourism Handbook will encourage you as a destination manager, business or nonprofit representative, or traveler to consider how you may better leverage partnerships and resources to make a positive difference.

Below, you will find five topical essays and 22 case studies that offer a deep dive into how, in partnership with local communities, responsible tourism businesses, travelers, and organizations are making these strategic contributions of time, talent, and treasure to social and environmental projects in destinations. They are organized in five chapters: Independently-owned Accommodations & Tour Operators; Destination-wide Impact Tourism; Donor Travel; Corporate Sustainability & Social Impact; and Voluntourism.

This Impact Tourism Handbook is dedicated to Dr. Martha Honey, CREST Co-Founder and Director Emeritus, the conscience of the tourism industry and thought leader who taught us that better ways are possible.

We are infinitely grateful to our sponsors who have made this Handbook possible through their financial support: Elevate Destinations; Hilton; Holbrook Travel; and Overseas Adventure Travel.


Chapter 1: Independently-Owned Accommodations & Tour Operators


Case Studies: Accommodations

Case Studies: Tour Operators

Case Studies: Unique Models

Photo courtesy of CARE for the Cape & Islands, Massachusetts

Chapter 2: Destination-wide Impact Tourism


Case Studies

Chapter 3: Donor Travel


Case Studies

Photo courtesy of Local Guest, Puerto Rico

Chapter 4: Corporate Sustainability & Social Impact


Case Studies

Chapter 5: Voluntourism


Case Study

We hope that you will share your own innovative approaches to impact tourism. Please share information about your programs with us at, or share your experiences on social media using #TimeTalentTreasure. By pooling our collective knowledge, we can better understand how the tourism industry can effectively support sustainable development and environmental conservation in the destination communities we love.

This Impact Tourism Handbook was made possible by generous financial support from Elevate Destinations, Hilton, Holbrook Travel, and Overseas Adventure Travel.