By Misty Milioto
When Jessica Blotter and her partner, Sean Krejci, witnessed heart-breaking poverty, polluted swamps, and emaciated homeless dogs while on a trip to Belize, they decided to inspire lasting and meaningful action by traveling with purpose.
According to Blotter, “We asked ourselves, ‘What if we could create a way for travelers to easily make a meaningful positive impact within the communities they visit and, in turn, be filled with a greater sense of joy and purpose while traveling?’” She continued, “After years of development, the answer was kindtraveler.com, launched in 2016. In 2022, after becoming a Blue Startups portfolio company [a Honolulu-based startup accelerator], we launched Kind Traveler 2.0, a new web-based platform to optimize the user experience and created an [application programming interface] that will allow us to scale more efficiently.”
As owners and co-founders of the company, Blotter (who also serves as board director for the Center for Responsible Travel) and Krejci produced the Kind Traveler 2022 Impact Tourism Report gleaned from 64 interviews with Kind Traveler hotel, charity, and destination partners in 16 countries. Through this project, Blotter and Krejci found that 97 percent of travelers believe it’s important to impact the communities they visit in a positive way. However, according to the report, 50 percent of travelers find this goal confusing, and 35 percent don’t know how to put their travel dollars to work to create lasting change.
“While decarbonizing efforts are vitally important in creating a sustainable tourism industry, equally important is mobilizing travel dollars to support local communities in addressing poverty, advancing education, and creating equality,” Blotter says.
According to Blotter, travel and tourism is an industry worth $1.3 trillion (per data from 2021), which has the potential to impact destinations if resources are directed responsibly.
“Destinations are currently faced with global challenges, such as over-tourism, climate change, poverty, pollution, and species extinction,” she says. “Many community and environmental nonprofits are central to destination health and well-being. However, beyond voluntourism, there is no easy way to mobilize travel dollars to support localized nonprofits in achieving the U.N. Global Goals, which largely center around preventing poverty and advancing environmental sustainability.” She continues, “Giving back to local nonprofits is one of the top five ways travelers wish to contribute to sustainable tourism and is also associated with higher levels of trip satisfaction, creating more memorable, purposeful, and meaningful trip experiences.”
Kind Traveler addresses these issues as the first and only hotel booking platform that empowers travelers to give back to destination-specific nonprofits connected to destination well-being and sustainability, thereby advancing regenerative and sustainable tourism principles. Today, Kind Traveler is partnered with more than 150 hotels and 150 nonprofits in 20 states and 22 countries. The company also just signed its first woman-owned, sustainable wellness hotel, Twelve Senses Retreat, in Encinitas, Calif.
Most recently, Kind Traveler partnered with Visit California to create programs for travelers to give back in various parts of the state when they visit. As Kind Traveler’s first statewide regenerative tourism program, the partnership includes 58 Californian hotels and 25 vetted local charities in 13 California destinations.
“Local charities may be suggested on behalf of the hotel, local tourism board, or the Kind Traveler community. We are currently working with Los Angeles Tourism, Monterey County & Convention Visitors Bureau, Santa Monica Travel & Tourism, Sonoma County Tourism, and Visit Greater Palm Springs, and we have recently confirmed a new partnership with Catalina Island Tourism Authority,” Blotter says.
For example, hotels in Santa Monica, Sonoma County, and Greater Palm Springs are all tied to environmentally-focused charities through their partnership with Kind Traveler. In Santa Monica alone, 10 hotels – the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, Hotel Casa Del Mar, Hilton Santa Monica Hotel & Suites, Le Merigot Santa Monica Hotel, Pierside Hotel, Santa Monica Proper Hotel, Shutters on the Beach, The Ambrose Hotel Santa Monica, The Shore Hotel Santa Monica and Viceroy Santa Monica – have all chosen to support Santa MoniCARES as their Impact Partner. The local nonprofit supports many Santa Monica-based nonprofit agencies addressing homelessness, environmental protection, arts and education, workforce development, at-risk youth, elderly assistance, and more.
Meanwhile, partner hotels in Sonoma County include The Lodge at Bodega Bay and The Stavrand, whose Impact Partner is Farm to Pantry, a nonprofit committed to rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste and getting it to people in need. And in Greater Palm Springs, travelers who stay at Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs can donate to Friends of the Desert Mountains, which works to preserve the unique wildlife and scenic beauty of the Coachella Valley and the Desert Mountains.
“Kind Traveler ensures that the participating charities are addressing at least one of the U.N. Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Charities must also be recognized as a tax-exempt public charity under section 501(c)(3), and international charities must provide proof they are registered and in good standing with the state or local regulators. Lastly, charities must be located within the same city as the host hotel, be considered humane and not fund animal testing or research, and not conflict with any of Kind Traveler’s core values or ethics.”
Through Kind Traveler’s Give + Get hotel booking platform, travelers unlock exclusive offers and perks (such as free bottles of wine, late checkouts, and room upgrades) from participating Kind Hotels with a $10 or more donation to a local charity. Transparency also is key: 100% of donations go to the selected charity, and travelers receive impact metrics with their booking so they can see exactly how their travel dollars benefit the community. On the platform, travelers also can learn about the Kind Factors (how the hotel is advancing environmental sustainability, community impact, and individual wellness at a local level) at each participating hotel.
Travelers looking to give back beyond a financial donation can also discover unique opportunities and experiences with participating charities on Kind Traveler. “Each charity profile contains a How You Can Travel Kindly feature that spotlights additional ways travelers can get involved with the charity for an educational and fun experience,” Blotter says. “For example, in Sonoma County with Farm to Pantry, travelers can help collect fruits and vegetables from a local farm that would otherwise turn into food waste and instead provide to those who may be facing food insecurity.”
Furthermore, travelers have an opportunity on Kind Traveler to learn about the sustainability, wellness, and community impact features of each property. “Local neighborhood guides are shared with each hotel profile, inspiring conscious, mindful, local travel opportunities and other ways to do good for the day or give back locally,” Blotter says.
Kind Traveler also provides educational resources for travelers and those in the travel industry to learn about best practices to advance responsible, sustainable, and regenerative tourism initiatives. For example, the Kind Traveler 2022 Impact Tourism Report, a 70-page free downloadable guide, inspires those in the travel industry by highlighting compelling examples of sustainability in action.
To date, Kind Traveler has helped 600 injured or sick marine animals receive care, provided 1,000 immunization shots to low income or homeless individuals, provided meals to 2,600 families in need, planted 470 trees in national forests, cleaned 7,500 pounds of trash from local waterways, and more. A comprehensive impact report will launch later in 2023.
In other news, Kind Traveler also launched a pilot program in October 2022 with 14 global hotels for a new community impact certification dubbed Every Stay Gives Back.
Blotter notes, “The certification creates a formalized, third-party-validated giving program for hotels to mobilize donations to local nonprofits that are destination-specific and solve community and/or environmental challenges (regardless of where the booking originated) with every guest stay.” She continues, “Kind Traveler certifies monthly donations to local nonprofits and provides hotels a QR code, a landing page, and impact reports. The results in just a few months have garnered significant positive impact in local communities.” 310.873.3294, kindtraveler.com.
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