Today, out of the $2.3 trillion spent in travel and tourism annually, only about 5% stays in local hands, but one company is on a mission to change that. Visit.org, a for-profit social enterprise, launched in 2015 to give travelers an opportunity to have authentic local experiences that also directly benefit the places and people they’re visiting. We got to speak with the co-founder and CEO of Visit.org, Michal Alter, to learn more about Visit.org’s mission.
What are some of the experiences travelers might choose to take part in? One example Alter gave was a half-day authentic cooking workshop with refugee women in New York City. The experience costs $50, which would then be invested back into local women empowerment programs. Another is a coffee-making course with a coffee farmer cooperative in Guatemala with that ticket price going directly back to the farmer cooperative.
“The same people that you just interacted with and created an emotional connection with, they are going to benefit directly from you having this experience with them,” she said. “There has been really amazing feedback from travellers. A lot are saying how they came in not even realizing that they had such a preconception about the local population and left completely changed after their experience. They shared humanity, even though there is a lot of differences, there is always a lot of things are common. That is exactly what is celebrated in our experiences.”
As of today, the company has grown to offer more than 600 experiences in 70 countries with a customer base of mostly millennials along with hundreds of volunteer ambassadors from around the world. Alter credits this to the millennial prioritization of social responsibility paired with their desire to have more authentic cultural experiences when traveling. According to a recent report from Topdeck Travel, 86% of millennial travelers said experiencing a new culture is what motivates them to travel. Plus, according to Omnicom Group’s Cone Communications, 70% of them will spend more on brands supporting causes they care about.
“Millennials are always looking to see how their purchases are going to have some kind of positive impact, and this includes when they travel,” Alter said. “Today, some may want to have philanthropic components to the trip, but it’s really hard to do. There’s volunteer tourism, but that usually requires a couple of weeks or more of your time and can cost a couple thousand dollars or more to participate. That is where Visit.org’s innovation lies. We created a new product which is consumable, affordable and can easily be added to any trip that you wanted to do anyway. I think that is why it speaks so much to the millennial generation.”
However, as many travel marketers know, cutting through the noise and reaching millennial travelers can prove difficult. Alter said Visit.org relies on heavily on authenticity and community to do this.
“For us, we focus a lot on the authenticity of our community and the content they share,” she said. “We send [our ambassadors] on pilot visits, and they take photos and video, and they write their own blog posts and stories about their experiences that they share with their own audiences. That is also content that is being shared with our providers as well. We focus on making sure that that same community feeling and authenticity gets across to potential travelers.”
And the platforms they focus on to accomplish this? Instagram and Facebook.
“We produce a lot of videos that we then post there,” she said. “We use Instagram Stories a lot now, and we also let our ambassadors do takeovers of our Instagram and instagram Stories to report live from wherever they are in the world.”
These ambassadors are social influencers who not only create content about the experiences but also pilot many of the potential programs.
“These are travellers and locals who are passionate about travel and making the world a better place through travel,” Alter said. “We identify local organizations that we think would be a great fit, send an ambassador on a pilot mission and they then give us an comprehensive report of their experience. We’re able to use this to help the local organization improve the experience they offer.”
Alter credits their success with influencers on more than just getting to go on a free excursion.
“Honestly, a lot of the travel influencers today who are passionate about travel also want to affect the world positively,” she said. “Today, Visit.org is the main home for this kind of influencer. It is a community of people who have been looking for one for awhile.”
What does the future hold for Visit.org? Alter said that their next milestone is to grow from 600 to 2000 communities around the world by summer 2018 along with focusing on partnering with others in the travel industry to offer social impact experiences to even more travelers.