Philanthropic Friday: Voluntourism, A Nepal Update, And More

If the travel headlines can be believed – and sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t – tourism is playing a role in speeding the recovery of several popular tourist destinations.

First came word that the tropical-island nation of Vanuatu is recovering strongly from Cyclone Pam, which pounded the island of Tanna, and is welcoming tourists back to its popular dive sites and resorts.

Next was Myanmar. The country was just emerging from a long period of isolation and gaining tremendous buzz as a hot travel destination when Cyclone Komen rocked the country, causing flood, killing more than 100 and affecting nearly 1.3 million residents.

Finally Nepal, and the message that tourists are beginning to trickle back into the country after several earthquakes over the winter and spring.

Leading the charge for Nepal within the tourism industry in the United States is Tourism Cares. The organization, which figured prominently in the initial efforts to get Nepal back on its feet immediately after the earthquake, is taking a systematic approach to the return of tourism to Nepal.

“I’m actually going to Nepal tomorrow,” said Tourism Cares’ Mike Rea. “It’s going to be a lot of why and how. We’re going to focus on short-term recovery – what we can do to make visiting Nepal a strong option, especially up to the first anniversary of the earthquake, when tourism is most vulnerable. Then we’re going to be looking at a long-term approach – how to make it bigger and better so we can ensure as tourism returns the benefits are evenly distributed.”

Tourism Cares is one of the main sponsors of the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s AdventureWeek Rebound Nepal, a trip designed to let the travel industry witness Nepal’s resurrection first-hand.

The trip will take place in late October and early November and will showcase the Great Himalaya Trails, a trail system that connects the eastern and western parts of the country.

The trip occurs even as local, regional and international experts are still trying to assess the damage to some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, including the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu Valley (including the city of Bhakatpur), Lumbini, Chitwan National Park, and Sagarmatha National Park.

All the sites were extensively damaged in the earthquakes and have yet to reopen to tourists.

“People are starting to emerge from the disaster,” said Rea. “In addition, there have been some very good industry efforts to assess trekking trails and hotels. But with Nepal, you’re taking a country that was very dysfunctional, and then you’re adding in a lot of intensity, grief, and a whole bunch of money, and putting the country into the spotlight, and it’s not like things are going to instantly get better.”

Rea singled out several tour operators for going back to Nepal, and going back the right way. “Those companies whose business relies on Nepal, the tour-operator set, has responded amazingly well. I absolutely love that Intrepid is going back, and that Abercrombie & Kent is going back. Intrepid has just been amazing, with their dedication to the area.”

The tour operators’ efforts alone will not bring back tourists in pre-earthquake numbers. In 2014 more than 1 million people visited Nepal. This year Nepal will be happy to see a couple hundred thousand come through.

However, there are ambitious plans to send more tours and tourists to Nepal and systematically and purposefully increase the number of tourists coming to the country.

According to Travel Weekly, Canadian adventure travel company World Expeditions will be holding a series of voluntourism projects in Nepal from September 2015 through April 2016. The projects will last from four days to three weeks, and will combine rebuilding and community-assistance projects with a trek. All proceeds from the trips will go to the Sambhav Nepal Foundation, a local organization that is rebuilding villages.

In addition, local adventure-tour operator Ace the Himalaya has assembled a variety of voluntourism programs in conjunction with The Clymb, a Portland, Ore.-based seller of outdoor gear and adventure travel. Thirteen-day itineraries will be offered from September 2015 through May 2016; they will include nine days of trekking and four days of helping to rebuild the destroyed village of Gorkha, near the epicenter of the first quake.

“In Nepal, things are messy, but they are clarifying as much as they can,” Rea said. “The global industry is doing some amazing things. I’d like to think that an infusion of people, care, interest, and large amounts of money can really make a difference. It’s absolutely possible that things will be rebuilt better, with better access for everyone, but it’s going to be a step change. The upside to this tragedy is that millions and millions of people around the world care that much more about Nepal than they did before.”

Editor’s Note: Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection is a proud sponsor of Tourism Cares. Learn about our innovative travel-insurance products here.

Author: Kit Kiefer

As content engineer for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, I have one of the world's great jobs. Not only do I get to write about travel, but I get to edit the work of fantastically talented contributors from around the world. Plus I get all the maple syrup I can drink.

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