A Map for Socially Impactful Travel?

You can hear my rambling question around minute 45, about where travel fits into the broader discussion of “social impact”. What I was trying to say was this: if maximum positive impact is really the goal, how to we balance the human interaction of travel with the difference our travel money (hundreds or thousands for hotel, food, tickets, etc.) would make if instead directly invested in a local entrepreneur or service?

In that context, a more impactful travel industry means a more impactful economy. If travel businesses really help create more value for people in “host” countries (more income, more personal connections, etc.), then that should create more producers and customers.

As always, my understanding of impact is
(a) Frame: how does this affect the current narrative,
(b) Connect: what connections (human, financial, trading, etc.) are being made,
(c) Create: what products are being made/traded and how, and
(d) Build: what can be built on what’s already there.

So with that criteria for impact, I’ve got some other questions/topics for discussion:
– How do we make more connections between visitors and who is being visited? How can we make the relationship between visitors and residents one of “guest” and “host” — can we place more visitors with community hosts, AirBnB style?
– How do we build a more lasting relationship between guest and host? What about a PenPal system between them? How can we give people an *incentive* to do this?
– How do we improve the story of our travels, so that we give an honest and informed account of the culture we visit?
– How can the travel industry do more to build up local economies? Is there a “Fair Trade” equivalent for travel where the tours, hotel, food etc. all meets a certain standard of sustainability, sourcing, fair pay, etc.?
– How can we make travel more reciprocal, i.e. when one person from Texas visits Iran, Mongolia, or Thailand, does this help someone from those countries take a trip of their own?
– What is the most *negatively* impactful aspect of travel? Is it what travelers do or something they don’t do (e.g. encouraging people to structure an economy around travel and servicing outsiders, not buying enough from local businesses)?
– Does the modern travel industry add or detract from global inequality? For example, does tourism reward “bad” governments or exploit economically disadvantaged communities?
– Is it fair that we can think of hundreds of ways to explore “developing” countries but not how to bring visitors from those countries to where we live?
– Where do we go from here? How do we make more of the travel industry more impactful?

Your Flight to Toronto is now a Mule-Drawn Demon Cart

Delta and Expedia: Hi there! We’re just letting you know that we’ve made a slight change to your flight reservations and you should really call us to talk about it. Nothing serious. But definitely call us.

Me: Ok. What happened?

Delta/Expedia: Well your first flight now leaves a little later than when you first booked it. So you miss your connecting flight. Is that ok?

Me: Do you put me on another connecting flight to reach my destination that day?

D/E: Oh. No. Can you fly a different day? Do you even need to fly to this destination? We can put you on one of our partner airlines and get you there around the same time.


D/E: Ok it’s not really an “airline”. It’s more of a absurdly tall cloaked man steering a rickety wooden wagon pulled by a team of invisible mules. But it definitely goes to your destination!


D/E: Your destination is Smalininkai, Lithuania. Right?

Me: Toronto.

D/E: Oh. Have you thought about Smalininkai? Lovely mule-drawn wagons. Delicious roast lamb. Historical castles. Ancient families live in those castles. Powerful families.

Me: I booked a flight to Toronto.

D/E: This wagon will bring you to Toronto. Distance is nothing. Time is nothing. You are nothing.

Me: What is happening here?

D/E: Smalininkai has powerful families with powerful tools. Their shadows reach everywhere. There are…forces…you cannot imagine. Meteors? Nuclear weapons? Feh! They are like ants playing in the dirt compared to our Liege of the Mountains.

Me: Toronto.

D/E: You will love the Liege of the Mountains. You will love Him. You will love to serve Him. You will serve Him in Smalininkai. You will serve His children. You will…

Me: What?

D/E: Never mind. We just found an alternative travel option for you. We can get you out of Austin and into Toronto on the same day as your original booking — just a few hours earlier.

Me: I’ll take it.

D/E: Ok! Making the booking now.

Me: Great.

D/E: Have you reserved any transportation for yourself during your stay in Toronto? We can get you a good deal with this mule-drawn wagon.