Tuesday, September 22, 2009
World Savers Unite
It's a pretty lofty (self-congratulatory?) name for a conference, but the World Savers Congress, hosted by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine yesterday, underscored the point that the tourism industry has tremendous potential to effect positive social change. From green operations to promoting fair compensation and education for workers and their families - your next vacation, if you do your research, could have a huge impact on our planet.
Have you ever heard GCL get this preachy?
There were some great speakers at yesterday's conference - including Wyclef Jean who spoke lovingly and optimistically of his native Haiti, and Mandy Moore (I know, wtf, right?) who is now covering Sudan in mosquito nets with Five & Alive, an organization that aims to stem the deaths of children in the developing world from preventable diseases, including malaria. All of them touted the same message: the billions of dollars generated by tourism, as well as the immeasurable good will that's sparked in someone's heart when they go somewhere new and are given an opportunity to help preserve the site they've visited, are a formidable force against the trend of poverty, disease and even conflict.
I loved the example shared by the CEO of Gap Adventures, an adventure tour operator, who said that travelers who had been to Peru with his company raised over $100,000 in a matter of days back in 2007 when an earthquake hit the country. Then there was a sobering message from Accor Hotel group, which owns thousands of properties around the world, about the AIDS epidemic. The hotel is taking prostitution head on, providing condoms and information on safer sex in all of its rooms - it's aggressive, forward-thinking and much needed.
One point that was made yesterday and hit home with me was "if you don't go you don't know." I got to thinking about how lucky I had been as a child to go to places like Colombia and Venezuela to see what poverty looked like - to come away from those trips smarter, more grateful and more informed has had a profound impact on me. I remember meeting people who couldn't read and people who lived without running water - I lived among them for a while, at age ten, no less. My mom not the least bit worried about my safety, she just thought it was brilliant that I was seeing how good I had it back in the U.S. I would say those trips helped shape the way I see the world, and I'm all the better for it. I went, therefore I know.