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Tourism Cares’ Map Encourages Responsible Travel

The nonprofit's Meaningful Travel Map is a new tool helping travelers make a difference

By Kathy Gibbons

Tourism Cares’ Meaningful Travel Map lists organizations that make a difference in their local communities. || Courtesy of Tourism Cares

Tourism Cares Inc. continues to expand its Meaningful Travel program as it works to promote travel that makes a difference in the destinations people visit. One of the key components is its Meaningful Travel Map, a business-to-business tool designed to help the travel trade and sustainably minded travelers source organizations that are making a positive social and environmental impact.

“Right now it’s mainly a tool for the trade—travel advisers and tour operators are who we’re pushing the map to,” says Tourism Cares’ Chief Experience Officer Jessica Flores. “Of course, if a consumer or traveler happened on the map, we’re more than happy to have them explore.”

The map grew out of a Meaningful Travel Summit in Jordan in 2018, but at first was only tied to that event and region. It has since expanded globally and will continue to populate with companies, services, and attractions as more destination marketing organizations and others join.

A local guide from Panama educates a group of visitors about Panama’s biodiversity on the El Tragon Trail in Achiote, Panama. || Photo by Tarina Rodriguez, courtesy of Tourism Cares

“Now it is really about changing the way we build tourism products around the world,” Flores says. “[The Meaningful Travel Map is] this amazing product for DMOs to use to tell their story.”

Meeting planners can use the map when sourcing travel experiences for attendees, many of whom are more conscious than ever about sustainability and social issues. “For a meeting planner, the map can provide a sense of place,” Flores says. “This can leave a lasting impression. … Your money is going to stay locally, you’re going to meet local people, and experience local culture while you’re meeting.”

Examples of such impactful locales on the map include Café Reconcile New Orleans in Louisiana, which doubles as a training kitchen for young adults. “There’s a million restaurants in New Orleans, but when you choose to eat at Café Reconcile versus a traditional restaurant, your money is providing real impact and value in that community,” Flores says.

Similarly, deciding to scuba dive with the Coral Restoration Foundation in Tavernier, Florida, part of the Florida Keys, helps support its reef restoration mission. “When you choose to scuba dive with them, your money is investing in those coral reef farms,” Flores notes. “The choices you make in tourism products can go farther when it’s a community-first type of organization.”

Destinations can begin using the Meaningful Travel Map in a variety of ways. Tourism Cares’ staff have a network of community partners and nonprofits around the world that they have asked to join the map. Being a membership-based organization, Tourism Cares is also working with DMOs to join and participate in populating the map with forward-thinking organizations. Entry-level memberships for DMOs that include building their partners into the map cost $1,500.

“New for us this past year, we created this DMO membership model which the map is part of,” Flores explains. “We feel that some of how tourism can be used as a force for good rests with the DMOs. It’s kind of a domino effect: If these are the partners they’re introducing to the trade, it makes the whole supply chain better.”

Tourism Cares’ 2024 North American Meaningful Travel Summit is coming up Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Eugene, Oregon.