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The Business of Tourism...Giving back

David Jessop, Contributor

Some years ago, I was being shown around a hotel property in a small island in the Eastern Caribbean. Afterwards, I was taken to a construction site in a village not far from the hotel where many of its workers lived. There the hotel was putting in drainage and waste water facilities recognising that they were not just employers but should play a role in their local community.

At the construction site I was introduced to an American, hard at work in a trench. To my surprise he told me he was one of the hotel guests, had been visiting the property for more than a decade and wanted to give something back to the people of the country he so much enjoyed visiting.

Later that evening over a drink, I discovered that he was in fact a very wealthy man who was in a quiet way partly financing the project.

giving something back

Such philanthropy or altruism is not for everyone, but industry surveys show that there is a small but increasing segment of the international market that is interested in spending all or a part of their vacation giving something back to their host country.

According to a new poll from the online travel specialist Opodo.com there has been 67 per cent rise in British visitors taking 'meaningful' travel programmes between 2005 and 2006. The survey showed that nearly three quarters were female; one in 10 were aged over 40 while one in three were aged between 25 and 40.

So much so that there has been a growth in travel companies specialising in organising visits of this kind.

One example is the U.K.-based company i-to-i. This hybrid organisation offers life changing experiences through opportunities for volunteering, internships and participation in projects that might relate to community development, conservation, teaching or construction.

The company's projects span the globe. In the Caribbean for instance they have schemes in the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Dominica where they variously involve work with special needs children, care for the elderly and community conservation and renovation.

i-to i suggest that their growth relates to a new and growing demand for ethical tourism. They believe that there is a discrete but important market among those who are seeing a part of their leisure time or retirement as an opportunity to immerse themselves in the countries they visit and to give something back.

further trend

Interestingly, this is not just an area for travel from young people and retirees. A further trend in this area is among large companies whereby organisations such as the HSBC, the international bank, use work on community projects abroad as practical team building and financial exercises.

All of which warrants much more thought by politicians and tourist boards whose focus, for the most part, remains on arrival numbers and beach holidays. Joining up directly or more subtly visitor awareness of the real Jamaica and its needs would bring real benefit for all.

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