Yesterday was the culmination of six months of work from a global community of changemakers, and I’m beyond thrilled at how Travel+SocialGood’s 2016 Summit came to life. 150 visionaries in the travel, technology and social good nexus gathered at the UN Headquarters in New York City in an effort to spark actionable change and propel the travel industry forward toward its potential as a global force for good.
Below, find my talk from the opening remarks:
Today, nearly half of the world’s population — more than three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. One in 10 people lack access to clean water. In the United States alone, one in six people face hunger, with 49 million Americans struggling to put food on the table. Every year, 1.2 million American students drop out of high school, which means that in the time that it’s taken me to tell you these four facts, there is a student who is no longer enrolled in their education, and with all of that in mind — I have barely scratched the surface of the problems in our world.
The stakes are high. But there is hope, and that is why we are here today.
We have come together because we are connected not only by a love of travel and discovering the world around us, but also by a fundamental desire to do good in the world. We are here because we believe we can change the world.
The travel and tourism industry has the beautiful potential to act as a catalyst for cultural pride, provide unique experiences for visitors and fiscally benefit a local community. Imagine the potential that lies in solving some of the world’s most pressing issues through something that is so universally appealing as travel.
Some of you here have been following Travel+SocialGood since day one, when we launched in 2013 in partnership with the +SocialGood network and the UN Foundation as an inaugural conference. But many of you have found Travel+SocialGood much more recently.
In case you are just finding out about our global community and nonprofit, we originally launched as a Summit. Today, you join us in this tradition. We are gathering here today in an effort to combine our collective energy and brainpower to come up with concrete and actionable steps to propel the industry forward.
But when Travel+SocialGood launched, the intention was not to blossom into the web of networks that we exist as today. In a very organic, and truthfully, much needed way, we have grown exponentially.
Travel+SocialGood originally launched as a Summit to explore the nexus between travel, technology and social good, and today, it is much more. We are a global community and nonprofit, filled with an inspiring amount of individuals who are the single most passionate people that I have encountered in my life. I am proud to let you know that in addition to the Summit, we have four other initiatives that our community, driven entirely by volunteers, works tirelessly to ensure our community’s success.
You will hear from many members of the TSG community today — from the design-thinking session this afternoon to their closing remarks this evening, as well as through your personal encounters with them throughout the day, I am confident that you will be blown away by the energy and enthusiasm they bring forward.
Yesterday, many of you participated in the experiential tours we hosted with our local partners in New York City. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect introduction to the Summit — showing all of you firsthand exactly what urban sustainable tourism looks like. And perhaps the proudest moment for me is that yesterday existed as a fruition of several of our initiatives.
Our events yesterday were hosted by our New York City Hub, a group of extraordinary individuals I am blessed enough to collaborate with on a daily basis. Travel+SocialGood NYC was our first local Hub, which was launched in an effort to transform this city into a capital of sustainable travel. We are accomplishing this through monthly events, focused on education and advocacy and most importantly, community building.
When most people travel, they are visiting cities. With this in mind, we believe that the future of the industry lies within unlocking the potential that cities hold as capitals of sustainable travel. If you were on one of these tours yesterday, you had the opportunity to experience exactly what urban sustainability looks like. These businesses embody a holistic approach to business, and the experiences they offer all have a positive economic, environmental, cultural and social impact for traveler, destination and resident. I am proud that each of the tour operators that you met yesterday are also a part of our TSG Coalition, an alliance of businesses who are committed to sustainability.
If this year’s Summit is your introduction to Travel+SocialGood, there are two additional TSG initiatives that you have not yet had the opportunity to experience firsthand. The first of these is the Travel+SocialGood Academy, classes that are designed to give our community the resources and how-to skills they need in order to succeed within the industry. Our goal is to catalyze the industry’s next leaders, and, through innovation, collaboration, and education have an open and honest discussion about what sustainability exists as within the travel industry.
The final Travel+SocialGood initiative holds the potential to showcase our community’s efforts in a truly beautiful way: through storytelling. Travel gives us the opportunity to connect with others around us, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have this luxury. Through media and the digital age, we are given a wonderful opportunity to connect and empathize with our world. Our Media Network, a network of content creators worldwide who are passionate about sustainable tourism, offers the key to connecting with our community, both locally and globally.
Our Summit is our biggest event of the year, but it is just the beginning. Together, these initiatives create a network of opportunities. The Hubs can host events that promote the Coalition members, showcasing them to the Media Network as well as offering opportunities for education through the Academy. When you take just a moment to consider the potential within these ventures, it is difficult to resist getting to work straight away.
The New York City Hub launched just one year ago, and we have entered an almost unbelievable, yet truly inspiring stage of growth. Today, Travel+SocialGood has 26 Hubs worldwide, each united by a shared vision to transform their city into a capital of sustainable travel. I am beyond thrilled that amongst the audience today, there are representatives from six Hubs worldwide.
I am humbled on a daily basis by the amount of people who discover Travel+SocialGood and come to me telling me that they’ve found their home. The truth is that I have just been building my own home, hoping to connect with other likeminded individuals — and to connect others as well — who share a similar vision of building a travel industry that is a force for good.
In the Travel+SocialGood community, we look to the Global Goals as a source of inspiration for how we can positively impact the world. It is no doubt that issues like poverty, lack of education, conservation issues or challenges to world peace and justice are daunting. It is hard enough to imagine a utopian city without these problems, much less an entire world where these issues are not commonplace.
Today marks Travel+SocialGood’s third global Summit, and also our first with a single core theme and challenge: How do we mainstream sustainable travel?
To be perfectly blunt, in its current state, sustainable travel still exists as a niche within the industry. When most people hear sustainable, they instinctively link it to eco-tourism, voluntourism or frankly, some form of travel that they simply find uninteresting. Most people hear sustainable tourism, and while they think it’s a nice idea — it is simply that: a nice idea.
Before we can consider solving some of the world’s most pressing issues, it is absolutely imperative that we shift this ideology. Sustainable travel is not a niche within the industry; it is the future of the entire industry.
So — how do we mainstream sustainable travel?
I’ve asked that question to myself a thousand times, and again to each of you who are here. You represent a group of carefully chosen individuals who we believe have the insight and expertise to find a solution to this challenge. Together, we represent a diverse and unique group of individuals who possess not only the power to change the world, but also the resources to do so.
And we are not alone. There is not only a need for the work that we are doing, but there is also an equally exciting desire.
Today, as evidenced by the incredible energy in this room as well as the excitement from those tuning in digitally from all over the world, we exist as a movement.
So let’s get started.