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Travel that supports sustainable, long-term economic growth is a growing travel trend, especially to destinations in the developing world. In 2017, the United Nations declared that sustainable tourism could advance economic, social, environmental and cultural development. This prompted travel brands to reposition themselves as organisations working to contribute to create a better world, rather than exploit it. Their focus is now about Purpose, with a capital 'P'.
Travel companies with intent
Purpose is the latest business buzzword and it appears to be driving genuine change in the tourism industry
Outdoor clothing group Patagonia, favoured by adventure travellers, is the purpose-driven poster child, famously taking Donald Trump's corporate tax cut and dedicating the money to fight climate change. Patagonia has also taken out ads asking people not to buy its clothes but instead repair or recycle them. The result? Estimated annual revenues of $US700 million.
Intrepid, the world's largest adventure travel group, has also embraced the change-making potential of purpose, appointing its first Chief Purpose Officer, Leigh Barnes, last year.
"Intrepid's purpose is to make better places to live and visit. That makes our product great, so you have that link between purpose and profit," he says.
The proof point that purpose works came when Intrepid announced overall revenue growth of 17 per cent to $397million this year, which Barnes says is a direct result of embracing purpose in an authentic, meaningful way.
"Staff are engaged and we sell great trips that make a profit to help drive all the projects we sponsor," he says, explaining the Intrepid Foundation works with NGOs to develop programs such as helping to train locals in hospitality and tourism.
"Our growth in the last three years has been driven by people - our staff are passionate about what we do so they perform well and that drives the business."
Travellers with a different goal
Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan Photo: Getty Images
When Mike Davies travelled to Bhutan, it wasn't food or adventure he was seeking.
The Purposeful director wanted to check out how Bhutan prioritised spirituality over economics to create its Gross National Happiness measure and become the first carbon negative country in the world.
"It inspired my thinking and practices, particularly how to work at helping businesses realign to prioritise doing social good first," says the podcaster behind Humans of Purpose, adding; "Where we choose to work and spend our income are some of the biggest decisions we make in life."
Davies says global research shows purposeful business models generally outperform the market and create improved social outcomes more than typical companies.
"They have more loyal customers, staff, brand strength and reputation. They are also uniquely positioned to benefit from the strong generational preference of Gen-Z and millennials towards spending and working with companies that prioritise a strong purpose and social impact," he says.
Travelling potentially raises big questions about your own purpose - are you behaving ethically and supporting the right businesses in your host country? Or are you stomping all over the earth by failing to offset your carbon emissions and leaving behind a trail of meaningless consumption?
Davies suggests travellers keen to support economic and environmental development should:
Pay to offset your emissions
We all know air travel emits serious carbon, but Davies says steer clear of airline offset programs that you buy with your plane ticket, and do your own offsetting by donating to an evidence-based charity like Cool Earth.
Research the right social enterprises at your destination
"Most countries have cafes, restaurants or tourist opportunities to contribute meaningfully and directly to local social causes," he says. Spend your money at these venues and outlets rather than the mainstream places recommended by the hotel or guide book.
Hire a local guide
Plan to make friends with the locals and put your tourist dollar to work supporting the community. Locals can help you find a good guide to show you the sights and you can help them by paying them a decent wage and then taking them and their family out for a meal to thank them.
Authentic purpose isn't always easy
"The problem is that purpose seems too philosophical and unfathomable and people think they need to go and sit on a mountain in Tibet to find it," says The Purpose Project author Carolyn Tate.
"Purpose is intrinsic - it's about prosperity rather than profit so all stakeholders can win."
Tate says only businesses prepared to walk the walk and change their practices should embrace purpose.
Barnes concurs that running a purpose-led business isn't always smooth sailing. Sure, Intrepid has been carbon neutral since 2010 and committed to the Modern Slavery Bill but as Australia's largest B Corp - an ethical business certification - they often find 'surprises' that need to be fixed.
Their B Corp certifiers uncovered that Intrepid's group homestays in Egypt had contracts held by men, even though women ran the homestays and dealt with the visitors.
"Our business tries to do the right thing, using travel as a force for good. So whether it's banning elephant rides or making positive changes for contractors and suppliers, that's what we do," Barnes says.
"Purpose is not something you find. It's something you work at to build," concludes Tate.
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