Can Social Media Truly Increase Travel Sales?

Some great new stats out from Reuters and Bloomberg! Granted this is more for hotels and canned package vacations but it will start there and grow to niche markets. Read the full article here, highlights below:

  • Facebook linked 15.2 million visitors to hotel websites in 2010, a 35 percent jump from the prior year, according to a 2011 study by travel researcher PhoCusWright. Of that number, about 568,000 resulted in a booking—a conversion rate, in industry parlance, of almost 4 percent. That’s higher than the conversion rate from travel review sites.
  • Almost 118 million Americans alone will research travel purchases online this year, up from 114.5 million in 2011; online bookings will jump from just over $100 billion to almost $120 – to the tune of 98 million bookings.
  • First-time visitors to five-month-old Trippy are invited to sign in using their Facebook credentials and then are prompted to select a destination. The site combs data streams of relatives and friends to compile a list of recommended hotels and restaurants.

One Company Sets Standard for Volunteering in Haiti

Thought I’d share parts of a paper written by by Andrea Atkinson, Urgent Service Director at Elevate Destinations. Their trip to Haiti won a Nat Geo Tour of a Lifetime Award in 2011 so below is a little about how they did it.

Is it time for everyone to open Haiti up as a destination? Probably not. But are there ways to do it effectively? Yes, see below as an example.

Effective Volunteer Travel Creating Relationships for Meaningful Service in Haiti & The Gulf

Volunteering and service abroad have become very popular for individuals and groups. Developing a volunteer program that both benefits a community as well as positively impacts volunteers is not as easy as just sending a group of people into a “community in need”. In order for one to two week stints of work to be effective and create meaningful change, it is important for travel providers to know how to create experiences that actually give back as well as provide a platform for travelers to serve in solidarity.

Effective Volunteer Program Components

Address sustainability: Understand the environmental, economic, and social benefit for communities. Sustainable development is a norm of the development world. When we bring volunteers into the service world – we need to prepare them for this direct contact. It is important to ensure that the work being done provides a well-rounded and aligned support of sustainable development goals.

Assess long-term impact and ensure that the programs supported have plans for positive impact in the long-run. There are so many programs that have been started and then abandoned by well-meaning volunteers and organizations. Find an organization with a long-standing commitment to the country and cause and find out what their long-range plan is.

Work with well-established organizations: Work with well-established non-profit organizations that have track records of success, transparency and long-term commitment to the community.

Help raise funds: Provide fundraising support to non-profit partners. Each of our travelers is tasked with raising $500. Some have raised over $4000. This has multiplied their effect in the program. Our initiative has raised over $30,000 for causes in Haiti and has engaged hundreds of small donors that now have invested in Haiti.

Employ and engage locals: Employ local labor, making certain that local jobs are not displaced. Volunteering to get something done that could be done by a local employed to do a job is not effective. Neither is bringing in an expert to get a job done and then not providing transfer of knowledge (ie not teaching a or many locals some of the skills to provide this service in the future as well as not learning from locals).

Work in solidarity not superiority: Working side-by-side with locals, learning from them and supporting them while maintaining respect for their culture and knowledge. Developing cross-cultural relationships is one of the most effective things that can come of a volunteer program. It is important to create introductions and work with locals to develop real relationships and create solidarity.

Haiti Case Study:
A year and a half after the January 12 Haiti Earthquake, Haitians are still picking up the pieces, making a new life out of less than the little most people once had. The emergency stage is over, and the long-term rebuilding has begun. Ensuring Haitians have the resources for education is one of the critical elements of long-term recovery. Community engagement in Haiti offers the opportunity to participate in rebuilding a nation, one school and orphanage at a time.

Programs we have developed in Haiti support the rebuilding of orphanages and schools as well as support youth empowerment and the environment.

Elevate the Gulf Case Study:
On April 20th, 2010 over 185 million gallons of crude oil began a three-month gush into the waters off the Gulf Coast of the United States. So began a national tragedy that not only affected marine and coastal flora and fauna, but an entire fishing economy, culture and ecosystem. The sheen on the water has dissipated, as has the media attention, but the long-term repercussions have only begun.

Programs we have developed in the Gulf are in partnership with The Ocean Foundation, to support an area of our country that has suffered economically, culturally and ecologically. Volunteers have worked on replacement or restoration of the oyster reef, seagrass bed and coastal marsh habitats has long-term benefits in helping to improve on-going problems in Mobile Bay.

Is There a Need for a New Voluntourism Association?

I know, I know, don’t roll your eyes… This conversation has been had by many of you, many a time at many a conference. However, there is a real push now by a couple key players to start a new ‘Global Voice’ association that would unite folks like the ATTA, Year Out Group, BBC, APTA, WYSTC under one umbrella and address voluntourism issues on a global scale. All of the current organizations focus mainly on their specific niche or their geographical market – is there a need for an association that has a broader reach?

An association that wouldn’t just be a place you pay dues to every year but something that focuses on two aspects: 1. how to help you grow your business, 2. how to grow the industry as a whole.

There would be webinars on the latest marketing techniques/legal issues/country problems, opportunities to post job openings, regional conferences for in person get togethers, a leading media spokesperson to promote the industry, forums where people from all over the world can discuss issues, etc.

People have been talking about this forever and they’ve been rallying around me to start it as I’m ‘neutral’ and not associated with a big volunteer company. My question is… would this be useful or just yet another place to send dues in every month?

Feedback please!!!



UN’s State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011

Seen this??

State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011 – Universal Values for Global Well-being

Complete report
Foreword, Preface, Acknowledgement and contents
Chapter 1 – Volunteerism is universal
Chapter 2 – Taking the measure of volunteering
Chapter 3 – Volunteerism in the twenty-first century
Chapter 4 – Sustainable livelihoods
Chapter 5 – Volunteering as a force for social inclusion
Chapter 6 – Volunteerism, cohesion and conflict management
Chapter 7 – Volunteerism and disasters
Chapter 8 – Volunteering and well-being
Conclusion: The way forward
Errata print version

Report overview

Press Releases
Message from the Executive Coordinator
Volunteerism should become an Integral Part of the New Development Consensus
Reliable data and the addressing of misconceptions are vital for moving volunteerism forward
New Forms of Volunteerism Contribute Significantly to Human Development
Volunteerism Plays an Important Role in Overcoming Barriers
Volunteer Action is an Essential Asset in the Face of War and Disaster
Well-being should be an Essential Part of a New Development Architecture
Volunteer Action Essential for the Way Forward

Biography UNV Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri
About the UNV programme and the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report
Countries and territories

Report presentation
Report Presentation

New Volunteer Company Shares Their ‘IFs’

Got this email from Margarita at – a new volunteer company focusing on archaeology. Loved her candor about all of the IFs involved in this whole process.

A mistake I made and what I learned?  Hmmmm… I’d like to think that I haven’t made any mistakes, but that would certainly be incorrect.  I think I am constantly learning along the way, starting a public archaeology program from scratch.  I have a lot of “ifs” and “buts” – luckily there haven’t been any major disasters… yet!

IF I had more time, I would get a University fully on-board, but there is a LOT of red tape involved in this and we certainly didn’t have time to go through it in order to get the marketing started.  For next year (if we continue), we will be creating a society so that we will be more credible as a non-profit.  We are considering becoming a registered charity as well.

IF I had more money, I would offer our volunteers a much better experience.  Not to say that they didn’t have fun, but I always like to ask myself, “What would my mom think?”  Well, she would like to stay in at least a 4-star resort, and she would not like to have sandwiches for lunch.  So, we are currently trying to find someone local who will prepare our meals for us.

IF I had more courage, I would ask a TON of companies for money via corporate sponsorship.  BUT I don’t like asking people for money; it’s something that I certainly struggle with.  And with all this talk about philanthropy in the newspapers lately, you’d think I would build more courage.  BUT, I have written and deleted a number of emails to this effect.  Obviously, this is something I should JUST DO.

IF we had funding, we would be sheltering our archaeology site and protecting it from the torrential rains and winds that St. Vincent is subject to, we would get tool sponsors (so we aren’t making excavation tools out of bamboo on site), and we would get more archaeologists on staff (so we can get more work done).

There are probably a lot more IFs, but I can’t dwell on them because then there would be no WHENs.  I am one person and I made this happen (with a little help from some friends).  I’d like to think that people can learn from this; anyone can make a difference.  A bit cheesy, but true.

Best regards,

Margarita J. de Guzman, M.A., Principal Archaeologist
403.891.5617 |

Top Voluntourism Trips for 2012 – What Are They???

I got this Tweet from the folks at Wild Guanabana last week, and it kind of stumped me. I’m not sure which projects I would put on a list for 2012.

Anyone have any spectacular projects you want to tell me about? I know a lot about best practices, industry issues, but its been a long time since any of you shared a fabulous project you are working with.

Tell me and let’s make this list!

“@VoluntourismGal what are the hottest voluntourism projects on your list for 2012 :)”

Planeterra Puts People and Places at Center of Its New Strategic Agenda

Interesting release from Planeterra about their shift in direction.
TORONTO, ON, JULY 12, 2011 – Planeterra, an international non-profit organization based in Toronto, Canada is accelerating its capacity to support a growing number of sustainable development projects worldwide, in places where Gap Adventures and its travel industry partners operate adventure and cultural tours.

Founded in 2003 by Gap Adventures’ owner and founder, Bruce Poon Tip, Planeterra intends to break new ground by backing long-term solutions in key travel destinations worldwide. By leveraging small-scale businesses, creating ecosystem-wide solutions, and supporting essential human needs, Planeterra puts the people and places travelers visit at the center of its agenda.

“Planeterra revised its mission statement, and we’re now moving dynamically to help empower local people in travel destinations, to help develop their communities, preserve their cultures, protect their environment and create a humane and supportive system for their endeavors,” says Megan Epler Wood, the organization’s executive director.

Since 2007, Planeterra has facilitated the development of voluntours worldwide, by vetting projects where travelers share their time and skills with local people and community projects in destinations around the world. With a growing team of local Planeterra specialists the organization provides expert guidance and professional advice to the many projects incorporated into these voluntours. Planeterra allows its travel industry partners to manage and operate the voluntours.

Travelers who want to give back to the destinations and communities they visit support Planeterra’s work.  Travelers help build momentum behind a small business economy, which combined with fair trade and organic products can produce growing investment in environmentally sound and socially responsible development.

Planeterra will continue engaging travelers and the global travel community to help provide critical funds for investment in sustainable development projects that focus on specific needs in destinations around the world.

How to Contribute to Planeterra?

Planeterra is establishing a set of four funds, which will channel steady investment in social, environmental, and business solutions that are needed in the destinations worldwide.

The organization’s global team is developing a systematic approach to quickly identify recipients for its investments through its new model and collaborating closely with its travel partners to ensure recipients benefit not only from donations but also from the opportunities the travel economy can generate. Planeterra endeavors to finance the following social and environmental responsibility funds:

Emergency Preparedness & Response: Emergency response to climate related and natural disasters in travel destinations where our travel partners can donate effectively to help the area recover.

Destination Preservation: Improvement to the management of iconic destinations, which lack basic planning and infrastructure and urgently need systems for ensuring important historic monuments and human heritage are supported and conserved in the long-term.

Social & Environmental: Equitable solutions to human needs in tourism hubs – where travelers gather and stay in hotels, use local services, and prepare for their journeys. Conservation of ecosystems where travel impacts are increasing and funds are lagging for conserving the beautiful beaches, coral reefs, rain forests, wild rivers, high mountains, and deserts upon which the travel community depends.

Small Business Development: Entrepreneurial community small business development, where the travel economy brings growing opportunities to villages and local vendors who supply our travel partners.

About Planeterra
Created in 2003 by Gap Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip, Planeterra helps empower local people to develop their communities, conserve cultures, and create a humane and supportive system for their endeavors. The organization supports a steady cycle of giving and investment, via a global network of travel industry partners, in the social and environmental needs of people and places in the destinations Gap Adventures serves worldwide.

For More Information Contact:

Megan Epler Wood, Executive Director, Planeterra Foundation

Voluntourism Guidelines – Fill Out a Survey

A note from Ayako Ezaki | Director of Communications The International Ecotourism Society. She sent this to everyone at the Voluntourism Conference so I thought the blog readers might also like to chip in and give their two cents.

It was great to meet many of you and learn from you at the recent Voluntourism Conference in Denver. As I noted during my presentation on the Voluntourism Guidelines Project, we would like to request for your input on key questions from the industry survey. Based on discussions before and during the conference, we have identified a few questions from the industry survey we conducted in May, and would like to ask for your opinions and advice on these critical points.


Please take a few minutes to share your insights by completing this questionnaire:


*If you’ve responded to the industry survey we sent out in May, please feel free to fill out this questionnaire (or just send me an email) if you have any additional comments and feedback to share. In addition to these questions, we would welcome your advice on the project in general – for instance, how do you think the guidelines should be presented? what length, style, format, etc. do you feel would be most useful for voluntourism providers to implement?


Thank you very much in advance for your support, and again, please do feel free to contact me (email:, skype: ayako-ecotourism, phone: +1 202-341-1422) with ideas, comments, questions and suggestions.


Best regards,



P.S. If you plan to attend our Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) this September, please join us at the Voluntourism Stakeholder Meeting being held during the conference (Sept 20) to review and discuss ideas and suggestions for Voluntourism Guidelines:

Ayako Ezaki | Director of Communications

The International Ecotourism Society


p: +1 202 506 5033 x14


Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) |
The ESTC brings together innovative minds from across the industry to discuss practical ideas and solutions that inspire positive changes. Sept 19-21, 2011, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, USA

Good Points to Remember from the Voluntourism Conference

Guest post from Kelly Galaski, Planeterra Foundation

Many know “VoluntourismGal,” Alexia Nestora, through her voice online; on Twitter and through her blog where the Voluntourism sector meets. When Alexia suggested a meeting to discuss current voluntourism issues, in person, among industry practitioners, many people jumped at the chance. Not only is voluntourism growing but so are criticisms and questions regarding its effectiveness, success and even its ethicality. It was time to have a chat, so to speak.

So on June 28, 2011, 46 people including operators, NGOs, academics and media gathered together to discuss such issues.

Daniela Papi, of PEPY, also known for her voice in voluntourism, challenging the sector to look deep into the issues, started off the day, and these are some of the things she said:

Invest in People, Not Things

Build Long Term Relationships

Be Willing to Change

Research and Measure Impacts over the Long Term

These are points that stuck with me as the day went forward. They are points to remember, for everyone involved in voluntourism, but they also resonate for practitioners of community-based tourism and any tourism that aims to be a development tool.

I agree with each and hope that all voluntourism providers adopt these as mantras. What I really love is “Invest in People, Not Things.” I think it is a good lens through which all development initatives should be scanned. A new school is only as effective as how well its teachers are trained, and a healthcare facility as good as its staff’s medical knowledge. So where does that leave voluntourism providers? Well, I think that’s where “be willing to change” comes in. Look at the programs you have, and decide whether you believe in them and whether maybe they need to change.

Our intentions are always good, so why not really stay true to those intentions?

Another point made on the day that I think we really need to propagate not only in the voluntourism sector but in all tourism sectors is the concept of economic multipliers stemming from tourism spending in local communities. Kristin Lamoureux, Director of International Institute of Tourism Studies at George Washington University, brought this point to light in her discussion. She is publishing a model to help measure economic impacts of voluntourists. Sometimes emphasis is on raising money for donations or to buy things, rather than to spend that money at local businesses, and the effectiveness of this is contested.

I think Kristin’s model will show us that their impact will be greater, if the tourists really act as tourists, and spend money on services in the local community. I do think it’s the responsibility of all of us aware of this to spread the word and help educate travelers on the potential impact they can have, by promoting the value of making local expenditures while on any trip whether it be volunteering or otherwise.

There was a lot of great discussion and I think we could have easily filled up two days with more questions and answers, but I’m glad we had the chance to at least get one day in.

Thanks Alexia, looking forward to more discussions.

- Kelly Galaski, Planeterra Foundation