Travelers’ Philanthropy: Supporting Conservation and Local Communities

The International Travelers’ Philanthropy Conference, held in July, brought together 150 organizations from the tourism, conservation and development sectors. Travelers’ philanthropy, promotes tourism businesses and travelers donating ‘time, talent or treasure’ to support conservation and social service projects.

Travelers' philantropy Photo: William Durham

The conference, which was sponsored by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and the Monteverde Institute, opened in the Costa Rican capital San Jose and then moved to the mountaintop town of Monteverde, famed for its Cloud Forest Reserve and small-scale, nature-based tourism. Delegates, who were housed in some dozen local hotels, participated in 18 different workshops on themes such as ethical issues in giving, why travelers become donors, pros and cons of voluntourism, and moving from charity to social empowerment and sustainable development models of travelers’ philanthropy.

The quality and diversity of participants and their presentations at the Costa Rica conference is testimony to the growing breadth, impact, and professionalism of travelers’ philanthropy initiatives. Conference participants included tour companies such as Intrepid Travel, Myths & Mountains, Basecamp Masai Mara, and GAP Adventures that, collectively, have raised millions of dollars for local conservation and community projects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

“I was impressed with the range of interesting people, doing potentially world-changing things,” commented speaker Kevin Salwen, author of The Power of Half which recounts his family’s decision to downsize their life style and contribute half their income to support rural community projects in Ghana. Other speakers included Erika Harms, Executive Director of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC); Jimmy Pham, founder and CEO of KOTO, an NGO in Hanoi that trains street kids to become chefs; and Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records (which first recorded Bob Marley and other reggae legends) and CEO of Island Outposts that owns upscale boutique resorts in Jamaica. Island Outposts is working with agricultural experts from EARTH University in Costa Rica to develop a demonstration farm with organic and traditional Jamaican crops.

As a follow up to the conference, CREST has produced a set of comprehensive online post-conference proceeding: Click Here to check them out. CREST which also organized two previous conferences, has an innovative Travelers’ Philanthropy Program which includes the first ever Travelers’ Philanthropy Handbook and other publications, a documentary (“Giving Time, Talent, and Treasure”), a 5-hour ‘short course’, and a one-stop shop website which solicits donations for local projects supported by tourism companies (

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