Comment: ‘We must support the communities we travel to’

Exodus Travels’ managing director Sam Seward explains the rationale for launching the operator’s Community Kickstart Project during the Covid-19 pandemic

We’re all aware of the devastating blow the last six months has had on our sector, with the pandemic decimating the global tourism industry. Plenty has been reported over the months of lockdown about failing travel companies, refund credit notes, Atol renewals, travel insurance and other issues.

But what about communities in the destinations that we’re no longer visiting?

The lack of tourists to some parts of the world has not just impacted the accommodation providers, drivers, tour guides, porters and families of those directly involved in the tourism supply chain – it has also affected farmers that supply the cafes and restaurants, construction workers contracted to improve road networks and children fed by schools closed by the pandemic.

There are communities around the world that simply do not have any income until tourists return.

It has undoubtedly been the most challenging period of most travel industry careers, but I encourage everyone to look beyond that and remember the colossal effect Covid-19 has had on those that rely on tourism at a grassroots level. We, the UK travel industry, have a collective responsibility to help support the places and people on our shared planet to ensure the industry recovers in a responsible and sustainable way so we can continue to offer our customers meaningful and memorable experiences.

That is why we have launched the Community Kickstart Project to provide funding to those communities that need it the most, and need it now. The fund – part of the Exodus Travels Foundation – has been set up to facilitate our network on the ground to set up initiatives to help our destinations’ communities recover and rebuild following the impact of Covid-19.

We have been working with our tour leaders and local partners on the ground to identify the communities and projects that will benefit the most. Through the knowledge, expertise and passion of our fantastic Exodus network, it means we can get the money to them to offer immediate relief and kickstart some incredible local projects.

In normal times, we rely on our leaders, operators and partners on the ground to give our customers incredible experiences when travelling with them. We’re now leaning on them to seek out and manage these vital initiatives in their own communities, ready for the return of tourists.

The grants, which can be accessed quickly, are invested in community-based projects or initiatives that will create positive economic, social or environmental impact locally. Whether through food parcels, environment improvement or extra training programmes, the projects aim to enhance people’s livelihoods and help them through the pandemic, recover and rebuild.

For example, we’re supporting a project in Peru to provide emergency food parcels to the households of Inca trail porters.  They work year-round to ensure the safety of travellers fulfilling a life-long dream of reaching Machu Pichu, but without those visitors, they have very limited opportunities for income.

The fund is also helping environmental projects so that, when we do start travelling to these places again, we do so in an even more responsible and sustainable way.

In Malaysia, for example, one of our tour leaders has played an integral part in creating an urban community garden to educate households on how to grow more food, reduce landfill and increase composting. Our Community Kickstart grant will enable a rainwater harvesting unit to be installed to minimise water usage.

For more than 45 years, Exodus Travels has been offering adventures across the world, promising a culturally-rich experience in every trip to really get under the skin of a destination. Travel is enriching and that is made so by the people and communities we meet along the way. That is why we can’t stop supporting them now, when they need us the most.

We have already committed £10,000 to the fund and we’re aiming to double this by the end of 2020.

We understand people may not want to travel right now, but people can still donate to support their favourite or bucket-list destinations in order to be able to travel there later.

Through this fantastic industry that I’m so very proud to be a part of, we can make the world a better place and use the power of travel to improve life in hard-to-reach places.

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