By Osprey Brown
People love to go to exotic places. They go to far off lands for their splendor, beauty, and to get a change of pace. A huge industry has been built on this premise, and this industry offers people a way to see new and wonderful places with pristine environments and wild life around the globe. Countries possessing the natural resources that attract tourists benefit from the tourist trade through the economic increase that follows from the introduction of foreign currency and exchange of goods. However, given that there is a deep financial interest in certain places because of their tourist trade, there are many ethical questions about how the tourist trade should and should not affect native peoples and their countries.
The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), has been trying to tackle these problems. For instance, if you visited a country and wanted to donate or volunteer, there are particular ways this should be done given the region you are visiting. It is important to donate goods that the locals have the infrastructure and ability to maintain. Or give in such a way that does not create unwanted dependencies; ultimately, we want to empower rather than cripple independence.
CREST is a nonprofit research institute that focuses on improving and maintaining sustainable tourism practices. It conducts research that is meant to inform policy to improve biodiversity and conservation, reduce poverty, and promote socially responsible tourism practices. CREST has conducted extensive research on the tourist trade in Latin America—particularly in Costa Rica. In addition to conducting policy research, CREST tries to identify and address the particular ethical questions of the tourist trade and philanthropic ventures in foreign lands. Only thoughtful informed philanthropy which carefully considers the needs of the people and region can practically and successfully aid those it is meant to help.
Since 2008, CREST, through its Traveler’s Philanthropy project, has organized a conference to discuss the state of tourism and continue to focus on how to establish ethical philanthropic principles in foreign lands. This project focuses on how we can effectively use the resources that come from the tourist industry to aid those countries and their local communities by emphasizing corporate social responsibility. It strives to form policy that will make the tourist markets and those environments in various locations sustainable over the years.
Traveler’s Philanthropy holds a yearly Conference on Travel philanthropy which provides discussion and guidance on how people who visit far off lands can responsibly contribute to the local communities. This upcoming year the conference will be held in Costa Rica in conjunction with the Monteverde Institute. The Traveler’s Philanthropy project and website provide a global community for socially responsible travel and the tourist industry. It features several travel organizations that provide giving and volunteer opportunities in the countries they serve.
In addition, Traveler’s Philanthropy runs several local projects in Peru, Tanzania, Costa Rica, and Kenya, to name a few. It provides tips for travelers to learn how to give and volunteer in an effective and socially responsible way. Traveler’s Philanthropy also has partnerships with several companies in the tourist industry and endorses certain travel agencies that are in line with its principles and mission.
In 2008, the keynote speaker was Nobel Prize winner Dr. Wangari Maathai. Besides meeting in an exotic location, the conference brings together researchers, activists, and philanthropists to discuss international social corporate responsibility. The speech from Maathai is on the website along with other videos and materials from previous conferences. If the past conferences are any bearing on the future one, then the 2011 conferences promises to be amazing.