Eco-travel journeys that give back to communities
Malia Everette traveled a lot as a student.While working her way toward a master’s degree in international relations, she visited multiple countries, such as Guatemala during its civil war, in which the US helped overthrow a dictator, and she saw the effects of US foreign policy for better and worse. From there, she grew interested in human rights and wondered how to mesh her two passions. How could tourism be used to make a difference in the world?
After graduation, she worked for Global Exchange m , a human rights organization, for 16 years, helping to develop Reality Tours, the group’s educational tours program. In 2013, she decided to start her own unique eco-travel company, AltruVistas.
“AltruVistas is inspired by altruism, for being in service to others,” says Everette.
She started the company as a way of making tourism, which she says many see as a “fluff industry,” into an experience that encourages travelers to get into advocacy and learn more about issues that affect the countries they visit.
Everette says one of the problems with conventional tourism is the concept of leakage.
“What we call leakage is that the majority of the money that individual traveler is paying does not stay in the national or local economy. It’s flying back, or leaking back, to the owner of a [hotel or tourism] corporation. The profits are all going back to London, or New York, or Amsterdam,” says Everette.
By staying in foreign-owned resorts and never truly taking in local culture, tourists are not actually helping the local economy. AltruVistas staff in the US and on the ground in the countries themselves makes a point to ensure their tours benefit the local economies of the places the company does business in. The staff also encourage travelers to purchase from local sellers and do whatever they can individually to give back to the country they are visiting.
AltruVistas only offers tours, called “Journeys,” rather than individual travel planning. However, a group of any size can either go on an existing Journey or have the company customize one for them. It arranges trips for groups as large as 100 and offers “VIP” tours for groups ranging from two to eight people—meaning, if your family of four wants to plan a trip with AltruVistas, you can. Depending on the occasion and number of people attending, your trip may be open to anyone, or just to your group alone.
When coming up with the Journey concept, Everette decided she wanted to create trips that helped people truly connect with the places they visit. Therefore, AltruVistas travelers get a chance meet everyday people who provide insight into the country they’re visiting, and they receive educational opportunities during the trips.
Along with enjoying the culture and scenery, travelers are given options to attend lectures and visit institutions centered on a topic predetermined for the trip, such as human rights, gender and LGBTQ community engagement, local arts and culture, environment protection, or even a simple yoga retreat.
Every Journey is a collaborative effort made by AltruVistas staff in the US and local staff abroad, as well as representatives from different organizations.
For every Journey, AltruVistas brings along an organization to support. “We always have 1 or 2 or 4 partner organizations that we’re going with,” says Everette. Organizations AltruVistas has worked with in the past include ECPAT, a network of organizations in 88 countries working to end child sex trafficking, and Witness for Peace, which supports peace, sustainable economies, and justice in Latin America, as well as other groups.
When travelers pay for a trip, they automatically donate money to the organizations with which they are traveling, thereby becoming members of these organizations, which provides them with an opportunity to continue advocacy after the trip.
In addition, through its AltruFunds and AltruFellows programs,AltruVistas financially invests in local organizations and eco-tourism businesses and partners with local professionals to implement community development programs.
“Strategic grant-making is another way we can make a difference on the ground in destination communities that are uniquely positioned to enhance the ethical travel experience and to support their own communities and initiatives,” says Everette.