RETURN ON IMPACT
Humans love giving away money. We are naturally philanthropic creatures. Isn’t that cheering to hear? And perhaps just a little surprising? It’s true. In Britain, people donated £9.7 billion to charities in 2016, and if you look at HNWIs alone (those who give away over £1 million per donation), they totalled £1.83 billion last year.
And Americans? They’re crazy for giving away money. In 2016, charities received $390 billion from US donors – a historic rise for the third year in a row. But how does this tie in to their holidays? They may be generous at home, but what about the locations and the people they encounter when travelling? How can they be encouraged to do more to benefit the places – and empower the communities – they visit?
Thankfully, some of the most successful travel players in Africa have been asking these questions for decades, tying the answer into their ethos from the get-go. The Explorations Company, for example, included philanthropy in its business model from its launch 28 years ago, charging a fee per booking – currently a not-insubstantial £100 per person per booking, which is matched by the tour operator. That fee is then fed back into projects that benefit the host communities and environments in the places they operate. Founder Nicola Shepherd has visited every single project they fund, so customers know their money is going to the right places.
But The Explorations Company has gone a step further: every trip they organise also includes a visit to some sort of philanthropic project – whether focussed on conservation or community. As each itinerary is entirely tailor-made, the team first speak to the client to find out what interests them most.
“We find out what engages them,” says Shepherd. “We find out what charities they donate to at home, and then think about the project that would most excite them.”
“That’s how we choose where they go – so they see projects that resonate with them, while
enhancing and helping the region they’re visiting.” Not only does this provide a more enriching and authentic travel experience, it also brings in further donations as clients are engaged and encouraged to see the difference their presence can make.
Not a single client has ever said no to visiting a project, she says, and the model has worked so well that they have just launched Philanthropy Plus, where a minimum of five per cent of the cost of a trip is funnelled into a cause that’s particularly close to the client’s heart. The ‘Plus’ is because it’s completely up to them if they want to give more – and many do.
Another long-term player is andBeyond, which launched the Africa Foundation as a core part of its business 26 years ago, holding the view that conservation and development go hand-in-hand with profitable enterprise. CEO Joss Kent says that their clients are becoming more and more interested in how they can help the destinations they’re visiting.
As well as supporting countless projects around their camps, andBeyond backs two major cross-border conservation initiatives: the hugely successful Rhinos Without Borders in partnership with Great Plains Conservation, which has already transferred 73 rhinos from areas of heavy poaching in South Africa to areas of safety in Botswana (and aims to transfer a further 27); and the new marine conservation endeavour, Oceans Without Borders.
Interestingly, Kent says that people find it easier to engage remotely with these “bigger concept” issues – in other words, they’ll donate even if they’ve not been there, perhaps because it’s easier to understand the plight of the endangered rhino from afar than it is to appreciate the more nuanced issues of, say, education, empowerment, or access to healthcare. In fact, it’s those smaller, local projects that historically were harder to raise interest in.
“So we experimented with turning our experiences inside-out – opening up what we’re doing from a community and conservation perspective to guests.” The reaction, he says, has been far greater than expected.
“They really get it and they really engage. If they’re exposed to collaring a cheetah in Phinda, say, or going into a clinic in Tanzania, the guest feedback is so much better.” And the by-product of that engagement is that visitors contribute to the projects they visit – donations have risen threefold. So the experience is more enriching for guests, the projects benefit from more donations, and the lodge staff love that it’s benefitting the area they come from. Win-win.
Wild Philanthropy, launched as part of luxury operator Journeys By Design three years ago, is turning the idea of travel philanthropy on its head. While they have historically added a $15 charge per head to bookings, which is given to charities such as AMREF, Founder Will Jones is now pushing what he calls an “impact travel model” – a model that is less about straight donations and more about investing in particular areas. The aim is to invest in sustainable tourism that benefits both visitors and host communities – “We’re trying to create a mutually beneficial exchange,” says Jones.
“It’s usually philanthropist-investors who’ve been to destinations and want to go back,” he says of those clients who are interested in a Wild Philanthropy trip. “They realise they have the option to travel with a classic safari company probably driven by its shareholders, versus the ‘impact travel model’ that returns surplus profits back into the assets on which their journeys depend.”
Clients essentially pay a premium for a more engaging and immersive experience – to meet with conservationists on the ground, for example, and to see the difference their presence makes – with all profits (above the cost of the trip) going back into Wild Philanthropy.
While Wild Philanthropy still welcomes donations, their main interest is to encourage people to invest, with surplus profits being reinvested into on-the-ground enterprises that benefit the host community and the environment. Since the organisation has charitable status, profits are ring-fenced so they can’t go into individual pockets. Just as well, if they’re going to meet their ambitious target of bringing in $4.5 million in financing this year.
At the core of it all is the client, of course, and the way modern luxury travellers’ approach to their destination is changing. We love giving away money, and if we can be encouraged to do so while travelling – with an on-the-ground experience that enhances our trip – then so much the better.
“If your indulgence can make a difference to improving the world, it is seen as a social currency and an emotional reward”
Chris Roche – Wilderness Safaris
As Chris Roche, from Wilderness Safaris, puts it: “If your indulgence can make a difference to improving the world, it is seen as a social currency and an emotional reward. Those who have the time and resources to obtain literally anything they want are now looking beyond ‘luxury’ – they are looking for experiences, exposure, and some sense that they have contributed to making things better.”
[This article was published in Beyond: Empowered, We Are Africa’s print magazine, in May 2018.]
Francisca Kellett is one of the UK’s most experienced travel writers and editors. She’s the Travel Editor at Tatler magazine, and writes for various publications including the Financial Times, House & Garden, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. She loves nothing more than talking about sustainability, eco-travel and how travel can inspire philanthropy. @frankellett