When the Mission Involves More than a Hand Grenade
Tourism for the social good is explored with a new organization.
Some would argue that travel does not equate to social good. In New Orleans, there are numerous examples of our culture bearers, such as Mardi Gras Indians, having photos or video taken by tourists who don’t understand the history or impact of a practice, and then turn those images into art themselves without credit to the originator. Or worse, commercial entities using the images to sell a product without compensating the subject of the photo.
So what if there was a movement to change that? What if there was an organization working to shift that paradigm of tourism taking without giving back? The potential is there. After all, in the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
In 2013, in partnership with the United Nations, Travel+SocialGood (TSG) was conceived and founded. Considering themselves to be a “community of changemakers,” TSG seeks to transform the travel industry into a force for good via sustainable practices affecting culture, the environment and the economy.
According to TSG, the travel and tourism industry accounts for $6.4 trillion in annual GDP and employs 1 in 11 throughout the world. They ask, “what if those billion trips taken each year were designed to be sustainable and socially responsible?”
As translated in New Orleans, this could be a catalyst for change — whether for good or for bad remains to be seen.
TSG recently announced that New Orleans has been added to their network of Hubs, or local chapters of “thought leaders, entrepreneurs and travel professionals who are passionate about transforming their cities into capitals of sustainable travel.” The launch will be official on April 21, when New Orleans will join 22 other Hubs throughout the world.
Leigh Wright, lead coordinator for the NOLA Hub, said, “People will always travel, but now we need to rethink the impact we have on the destination. Legitimate experiences that respect and represent local cultures are beneficial for both travelers and locals. It’s basically a win-win for all those involved, and that is at the core of TSG.”
Kelley Louise, executive director of TSG’s National Board, said, “At Travel+SocialGood, our goal is to transform the travel industry into a force for good. We believe that sustainable travel is the future of the industry, and that all travel should have a positive economic, environmental and cultural impact for traveler, place and resident.”
In the city that care forgot, will we really be able to attract visitors who seek to contribute positively to our community? Or will we continue to host people who think the sidewalk is a public bathroom?
We absolutely depend on tourism as a driving economic engine in Nola. More than 80,000 people are employed in the tourism and hospitality industry here, not to mention the ripple effect on vendors, musicians, artists and local business owners who depend on tourism as a revenue source.
If an organization like TSG can help communicate the importance of sustainability to potential visitors, then it will be a welcome addition to the landscape. The proof, however, is in the bread pudding.