If you’ve spent any time looking into sustainable travel and being more conscious of your impact on all aspects of the local community while traveling, it has likely ignited even more questions. In this #littleBIGthings interview, Kelley Louise, Executive Director of Travel+SocialGood, is sharing her insight on many of those questions and what to look for to be a more sustainable traveler. Travel+SocialGood strives to embed sustainability into travel rather than it being an afterthought, and that’s a mission I can stand behind.
Travel+SocialGood is a nonprofit and community aimed at solving issues like poverty or inequality through business and leisure travel. We do this through education and advocacy, and promoting sustainable tourism. Follow us at @travelplusgood.
1. What are some little things travelers can do to leave a positive impact on the places and communities they visit?
The first, most important (and easy!) step is to educate yourself on the impact of your dollar. On average, if you spend $100 while traveling, less than $10 of that goes back into the local community (due to a phenomenon called tourism leakage).
You can make small changes like booking with companies that have transparent pricing (Urban Adventures does a great job of showcasing how your tour supports locals), supporting companies with innovative community-support models (World Nomads has a great microdonation program), or supporting companies that are invested in continuous improvement (Barry Sternlicht of 1 Hotels consistently ascertains that they are constantly refining their strategy to do better).
I always say that this mindset starts when you’re at home, so start implementing these changes into your day-to-day now. For example, I make a point to use B Corp cleaning products, I invest in clothes that I know are made ethically, and I shop at stores that I know have responsible business models. There are about a million little things you can do that make a big impact, and I would challenge anyone reading this to pick one small change they can make today.
2. How can travelers find authentic eco-friendly companies in the tourism industry?
The great news is that there are so many innovative brands (both big and small) that are doing incredible things within this space. Again, the first step is to educate yourself on best-practices so you know you’re supporting businesses that are actually making a positive impact (read more about greenwashing here). Read labels or website descriptions, ask questions, and use your dollar to vote on the brands you truly believe in.
I also want to point out that while the environment is absolutely a key component of responsible tourism, it is just one part of how we can positively impact our world. I believe the future of the industry lies in sustainable tourism — which, in its simplest terms, is positively impacting the environment, community and economy. The easiest way to remember this is to consider supporting businesses with a triple bottom line model — businesses should take into account people, planet and profit.
3. Can you share a story or two of how Travel+SocialGood has made an impact that really moved you?
Everyone at TSG is a volunteer, and I am constantly floored by the dedication of our team. We have an incredibly diverse group of individuals around the world who believe in our mission, and the impact we achieve would not be possible without their support. It is not easy to invest your time, energy and resources into a passion project, no matter what, and I know that it can be especially challenging when you are a pioneer. I am deeply moved by the passion of our team. For me, one of the most humbling experiences is when someone discovers the TSG community tells me that they’ve found their home, their tribe, through TSG. Our community and our team is what gives me the strength and faith to continue on this path.
4. What are some ways people can get involved with Travel+SocialGood?
One of my favorite parts about TSG is that there is something for everyone. Whether you’re a travel professional (or hoping to break into the industry), a content creator, or you represent a brand, there is a place for you. The easiest way to stay connected is to join our community Facebook group, or to sign up for our mailing list to receive event invites and other updates. We also have some more ways to get involved with TSG on our website.
5. Thinking back on your travels, share an experience you had that changed your perspective on the world.
One of the most pivotal moments happened during a trip to Zimbabwe. I was a senior in high school at the time, and to be frank, I wasn’t on the right path for a successful (or happy) future. Among other things, I wasn’t challenged in school, and I honestly didn’t have plans for my future. My mom took me on a trip to Zimbabwe to meet the founders/team of a women’s university that she had been supporting for several years. The campus was beautiful and had so much potential. Even more astounding was the fact that this school started out as a simple idea: the two female co-founders had originally launched it by teaching classes out of their homes. One of my most vivid memories is sitting in a meeting, when one of the co-founders asked me what I thought. It was such a simple question, but I was blown away. She had built this extraordinary university and community out of nothing, and it held the potential to make an incredible impact on the country, and here I was — a high school student. I suddenly realized that my ideas and actions had potential.
When I came home, my high school teacher asked me to write a story for the school paper, which I recently re-discovered. I’ve always tied that experience (writing an article) to how I initially fell in love with journalism, but when I re-read the article, I realized that I wrote a lot about empowerment and understanding cultures (and therefore needed growth) from a local’s perspective.
Positive impact doesn’t come from going in and saying how you’re going to fix everything; it arises from empathy and understanding, and ultimately, locally-requested projects.
I feel very blessed that those lessons were ingrained in me from a young age — they are certainly a core part of what has shaped my entrepreneurial career.
6. What advice would you give someone who wants to travel sustainably but isn’t sure how to do so?
First, understand that these experiences will be the ones you hold closest to your heart. If you think about your favorite travel memory, it is probably one where you connected with (and perhaps empowered) a local in some way. With connection, comes purpose. And with purpose, comes change.
Next, start small. It can feel overwhelming to feel like you have to change all of your habits and think about ethics all day, every day — but it doesn’t have to be like that. With small changes, you’ll form habits. Recycling didn’t used to be the norm, but now it’s habit for many, and is such an easy thing to do (not to mention that it’s also so much more accessible — our society pays attention to small changes from many individuals).
7. How do you think travel can be used for good?
I believe in the potential of business and leisure travel to act as a force for good. Yes, there are people who want to go abroad and volunteer, or there are those who want to find an ecolodge in the middle of nowhere. But there is an even larger group of people who just want a vacation — which is totally okay. You should be able to go on a weekend trip and empower a community. You should be able to travel for business and change our world. If we can transform the mainstream travel industry to become more sustainable, we have the potential to achieve lasting impact in our world. And that is one of the most powerful facts I know — because at the end of the day, who wouldn’t want to change our world through a vacation?
Kelly Louise, Executive Director, Travel+SocialGood
Founder, Creative Director, and Editor, the culture collective
A travel entrepreneur passionate about storytelling and social good, Kelley Louise runs two sister organizations: the culture collective, a creative agency for brands in the travel and impact space, and a nonprofit, Travel+SocialGood, which is aimed at solving some of the world’s most pressing issues through tourism. She has built her career through carefully selected opportunities in the United States and abroad, including leadership roles in entrepreneurial endeavors, social good projects, and content creation and media strategy.
Kelley is passionate about building the travel industry of the future, one in which mindful travelers bring positive impact to the communities they visit. She believes the potential of the travel industry lies within transforming cities into capitals of sustainable travel, as well as the power of making a difference with simple, everyday actions.