Kind Traveler is the world’s 1st socially-conscious Give + Get hotel booking and education platform that empowers travelers to positively impact local communities and the environment in the destinations they visit. Travelers unlock special rates and perks when they give a $10 nightly donation to a locally vetted charity that positively impacts the visiting destination, or to a charity of choice on Kind Traveler. 100 percent of donations go to charity. All of Kind Traveler’s impact goals are aligned with the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development working to prevent poverty, advance environmental sustainability and reduce inequality. To date, Kind Traveler represents 120+ hotels and 70 nonprofits in 15 countries and is a recipient of Travel + Leisure’s 2020 Global Vision Award.
When and why did you begin your impact tourism program?
During a vacation to Belize witnessing families living in shacks next to polluted swamps and emaciated dogs roaming the streets, my partner, Sean Krejci, and I had an experience that changed us. We were on a bus with other travelers winding through the backroads as we headed to the Mayan ruins. The bus had never been so quiet. How could we get excited about visiting the Mayan ruins nearby and ignore the devastation around us?
WE MADE A CHOICE TO HELP.
When the bus stopped as a last chance to grab snacks or water before the hike, rib-protruding dogs approached us, begging for food with eyes of despair. As animal rescue volunteers in America, we simply decided to buy food to feed the dogs. Unintentionally, this action inspired the other travelers to do the same thing. Rather than do nothing and live with the sadness of the situation, people took action and suddenly the moment went from somber to joyful – just by doing something. The other travelers wanted to help… they just needed a catalyst.
And it turns out, we weren’t alone. 72 percent of travelers believe it’s important for their travel dollars to positively impact the destinations they visit (2015 Tourism Cares/Phocuswright study), however, of those that want to travel more sustainably, half don’t know how, and one-third find it confusing (2019 Sustainable Travel Study by Booking). Furthermore, as cited by the UNWTO, only $5 of every $100 spent by travelers in developing countries actually stays in that country.
The feeling from our small act of kindness stayed with us for a long time and we wondered how we could use our entrepreneurial skills and passion for travel to make it easy for travelers to make a positive impact to the destinations they visit– and in turn, be filled up with a sense of purpose and happiness from their travels resulting in a more meaningful and memorable vacation.
After many years of research and development, the answer was KindTraveler.com, launched in late 2016.
What is your impact tourism model? Please help us to understand your unique approach
The core of Kind Traveler’s impact tourism model is through its Give + Get hotel booking model. Stemming from this model, there are two programs in place to support both hotels and tourism boards known as the Kind Hotel Program and the Kind Destination Program.
Kind Hotel Program:
We invite Kind Hotels that have initiatives in place that advance individual wellness, sustainability and community impact. The hotel, Kind Traveler, and sometimes the tourism board as well, identify a local charity that positively impacts the local community or environment within the destination.
Oftentimes, the hotel is already collaborating with a local charity in its community that will make for an ideal partnership. After the local charity beneficiary is chosen, the charity lets us know exactly the type of impact a $10 nightly donation will make. In some cases, it may clean 250lbs. of trash out of the Russian River with Russian Riverkeeper or provide 20 nutritious meals for in-need individuals with Redwood Empire Food Bank in Sonoma County.
Kind Destination Program:
Kind Traveler has designed a Kind Destination Program for tourism boards and DMOs/DOs that want to implement a destination-wide sustainable travel initiative as a way to drive community impact for destination-specific charities through Kind Traveler’s Give + Get booking model. The tourism board will designate up to three charities as beneficiaries and work with Kind Traveler to align hotels interested in driving community impact.
Once the partners are in place, Kind Traveler creates a press release around the community impact initiative, see example. With the Kind Destination Program in place, Kind Traveler activates a variety of marketing initiatives (PR, newsletter and social media campaigns, content marketing, etc.) as well as guides the participating partners to promote donation-driven hotel bookings. The campaign is also easily adoptable by the tourism board to promote as way to drive hotel bookings directly to the hotels in their destinations while also advancing positive community impact within their destination.
Please provide brief examples of some of your most impactful projects.
Kind Traveler worked closely with Sonoma County Tourism to identify seven hotels committed to community impact (including Hyatt Regency Sonoma, Farmhouse Inn, Timber Cove and more) and three charities as local beneficiaries for Kind Traveler’s Give + Get hotel booking platform. Since launching the partnership, the donations garnered on Kind Traveler helped to build impact metrics for Sonoma County Tourism:
- 7,000 lbs. of trash cleaned out of the Russian River with Russian Riverkeeper
- 600 meals provided to individuals in-need with Redwood Empire Food Bank
- 12 miles of hiking trails maintained with Sonoma Land Trust
Kind Hotel Program Impact Samples (see additional impact) :
- 2,600 in-need individuals received nourishing meals from local food banks
- 470 trees planted in national forests affected by wildfires and natural disasters
- 1,000 immunization shots provided for homeless or low-income individuals
- 600 rescued sick or injured seals or sea lions received care on the Pacific Coast
- 600 homeless dogs and cats received care from rescue organizations
- 155 individuals in underserved communities received tool sets for a compost bin
How do you select projects?
Kind Traveler seeks to align with tourism boards, hotels, and charities that share the same core values and goals to advance the wellbeing of local and global communities, the environment, and animals. All impact goals are always centered around advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in fighting poverty, advancing environmental sustainability and biodiversity, and reducing inequality.
What is the structure to ensure ongoing accountability?
For Kind Traveler’s Kind Destination Program, impact reports are created at various points throughout the partnership. Additionally, a media coverage book is created as a way to track the PR and marketing activations that have been garnered by Kind Traveler in celebrating the impact tourism initiative.
As an example, here is the coverage book that was created for Sonoma County Tourism. To date, there are 115 pieces of coverage and accessing an online readership of 77B.
For Kind Hotels, every time a booking is made, the hotel receives an auto-generated email that notes the donation and charity selected. Every 90 days, Kind Traveler distributes 100 percent of the donations collected to the charities.
Kind Traveler seeks to align with NGOs that are top-performing and have good ratings on 3rd party NGO financial accountability and transparency platforms such as GuideStar and Charity Navigator. For example, all of Kind Traveler’s global charity partners have either a 3-star ranking on Charity Navigator or a Silver Star rating on GuideStar, ensuring an excellent ratio of fund distribution to the program expenses versus administration costs. As Kind Traveler grows and larger donations are made, we will look to have a deeper level of reporting in place to ensure NGO accountability across all partners.
How are your employees and your company involved in the projects?
The Kind Traveler team gets involved with impact projects in a variety of ways. One example of team involvement was reflected in a World Ocean’s Day initiative where we hosted team members and ambassadors to Marine Mammal Care Center and Terranea Resort to learn more about the type of impact a $10 donation can make and why such donations are so important.
We also participated in a sustainability tour and overnight stay with Terranea Resort to learn about the many unique sustainability initiatives they have in place while also participating in a kayak excursion through a kelp forest where we cleaned trash out of the ocean. Each individual utilized social media, personal blogs, and video to tell the story of the opportunity that exists for other travelers to travel kindly. Here is one of the stories that came out of the experience from the popular travel blog, Around the World with Justin. The initiative garnered 1M impressions.
What have been staff reactions?
Excellent. Kind Traveler is looking forward to hosting similar experiences in 2020 and beyond as well as activating an employee volunteer program to further support the charities and projects supported on Kind Traveler.
What is your funding model? How are funds raised to support your program?
For the Kind Destination Program, pricing depending on the size of the tourism board or DO/DMO and aligned hotels in the region. The Kind Hotel Program requires a small 1X activation fee that includes a variety of marketing activations and a $150 annual membership fee. There is also a travel agency commission associated with every booking.
Do you solicit donations? If so, from whom and how?
Donations come from travelers: through Kind Traveler’s Give + Get hotel booking model, a $10 nightly donation unlocks special hotel rates and perks with Kind Hotels. 100 percent of donations go to charity.
Are donations tax deductible?
No. Because the traveler/donor is receiving a value that is equal or greater than the donation, it does not qualify as tax deductible.
How are funds distributed?
The funds are distributed to charities every 90 days via a check from Kind Traveler. All processing fees are covered by Kind Traveler, so the charities receive 100 percent of what is collected.
To date, how much has been raised?
Do project funds go into a separate account or to a foundation to ensure transparency and separation from business revenue? If not, what is your process to ensure financial accountability of donated funds?
All donations collected on the website are dropped into a dedicated charity donation account.
Do travelers visit the project sites? Why or why not?
Each charity has its own designated profile on Kind Traveler where you can learn tips on ‘how to travel kindly’ and get involved in any short-term volunteer or stewardship travel experiences and go beyond the donation.
For example, with Sonoma Land Trust, you can join a guided nature hike or with Russian Riverkeeper, you can help clean trash out of the Russian River. This is an excellent way to connect your donation with a visceral experience in bringing your sustainable travel experience full circle.
Do you offer opportunities for voluntourism and/or material donations? Why or why not?
Voluntourism opportunities that exist will be listed on the selected charity profile page on Kind Traveler. For example, in Sonoma County, you can sign up for a two-hour volunteer experience with Redwood Empire Food Bank. Monetary donations are collected through Kind Traveler’s Give + Get booking model where a $10 nightly donation is required to unlock special hotel rates and perks. If desired, the traveler can give more than the $10 nightly requested donation and they can also give without getting.
How is the impact tourism promoted or marketed to guests?
Kind Traveler’s impact travel opportunities are highlighted on the Kind Traveler Blog, weekly newsletter (200,000 subscribers), social media (140,000 followers), PR efforts, and travel and celebrity influencer outreach. To date, we have acquired 450 news articles discussing Kind Traveler, equal to $3.5M in ad value as shown on the Kind Traveler press page.
One example of an influencer trip was when we recently collaborated with Jon Huertas from NBC’s This Is Us. He visited with Ka’ana Luxury Resort in Belize, a Kind Traveler partnered hotel, and visited with Cayo Animal Welfare Society (CAWS) to talk about the type of impact you can make with this organization focused on ending animal suffering and homelessness in the Cayo District of Belize. The story resulted in coverage on U.S. Weekly which has 35M unique monthly visitors. Celebrity involvement is very important to us as it helps us share our mission with an audience we may not reach otherwise.
What type of educational opportunities and/or materials do you give to travelers?
Beyond a socially conscious booking platform, Kind Traveler is also a responsible travel education platform. All communications – from the Kind Traveler Blog, newsletter, PR and social media are designed to educate travelers on not only the importance of supporting and showing kindness to local communities, the environment, and animals, but to also provide actionable tips and impact opportunities that deliver measurable impact.
How do you ensure that your values and approach align with the community supported?
With Kind Traveler’s mission to empower travelers to positively impact the communities and environment within the destinations visited, all partnerships created – with hotels, charities, and tourism boards, are aligned with this goal. The tourism board and hotels within a specific destination often already have established partnerships in place with charities that are important to the wellbeing of the destination — from fighting food poverty, protecting important natural resources and species, to ending homelessness in urban cities. Since the charity beneficiary designation is a collective decision amongst all stakeholders involved, most of which are active community members within the destination, it helps to ensure the approach is best aligned with the community supported.
How are you ensuring that your projects meet the most relevant needs of the community?
When it comes to designating charities as beneficiaries for Kind Traveler’s impact models, in addition to collective decision-making amongst all stakeholders to determine the beneficiary, Kind Traveler also distributes a guide to ensure the impact initiative will meet the most relevant needs of the community. Kind Traveler encourages all stakeholders to look closely at the destination’s most valuable natural resources as well as the biggest challenges the destination may face as guide points.
Do you engage in ongoing dialogue with the local community? If so, how?
Kind Traveler has many communications efforts in place for ongoing dialogues with local communities of which we have impact initiatives in place. Some examples include interviewing local community members and publishing the interviews on the Kind Traveler Blog (see sample interview with Amy Berry, Executive Director of Take Care Tahoe), donating vacation giveaways to charity galas and fundraisers to further support charities on Kind Traveler, volunteering, and participating as a speaker or vendor at local events.
Has there ever been a time when adjustments to your approach or project have needed to be made as a result of community feedback? Please explain how you were able to adapt.
When Kind Traveler first launched, we were only focused on the Kind Hotel Program. However, as we realized the importance of engaging all community stakeholders after receiving more feedback, we created the Kind Destination Program to engage with local tourism boards as well. Through this pivot, we now have a chance to create a more holistic, more deeply integrated and supported community impact initiative.
Video: Community Partner Perspectives: Don McEnhill, Executive Director, Russian Riverkeeper in Sonoma County
Our biggest project (Sonoma County) is returning polluted gravel pits into productive flood plains. In doing that, we will help protect our communities from flooding, end the cycling of mercury into our bodies and our environment, and we’ll also create 360-acres of wildlife habitat.
One of the things we enjoy about working with Kind Traveler is that the Russian River is one of the biggest local draws to our visitors in Sonoma County. Certainly, if you stay at h2hotel or Harmon Guest House, and you ask them what there is to do in Healdsburg, they are going to talk about the Russian River. So, with the support of Kind Traveler and our partners at the h2hotel (they are one of our biggest supporters) it’s possible to restore the 360-acre polluted gravel mining site back into productive flood plains. Giving back to local communities is an incredible way to travel and do good at the same time. When you come to Sonoma County, and book through Kind Traveler, you can support projects like this – so in 10 years, it will equate to a healthier, more beautiful Russian River for you to enjoy.
Why do you feel your impact tourism program has been so successful?
Kind Traveler’s Kind Hotel and Kind Destination Program is the first of its kind in the travel and tourism industry. While there are other hotel booking models that support philanthropy, Kind Traveler is the only hotel booking model that drives both community and economic impact within destinations (serving the true definition of sustainable tourism).
What challenges has your company faced in developing a successful program?
In developing any successful impact tourism program, it’s important to have a system that keeps all stakeholders continually engaged. It can be easy to under-estimate the manpower required for continual stakeholder engagement. We’ve had to wear a lot of hats as we grow our programs, however, with ongoing growth, we now understand more fully the need for dedicated community managers so to further optimize continual stakeholder engagement.
Why do you feel it is important for the tourism industry to not only promote a product but to provide environmental and community support?
The love of travel cannot be separated from the state of the world. With the increasing loss of biodiversity, species extinction, pollution, threats of climate change, loss of precious natural resources, and much more, the need for travel that serves communities and the environment has never been more important. Without the beauty and wonders of a healthy planet – forests, wildlife, oceans, vibrant open and preserved nature, and prosperous local communities – the joy, adventure, and gladness that travel offers will be greatly diminished.