Monday,  January 25, 2021  3:01 pm

Caring for communities: even in tough times, travel pros find ways to give back

Caring for communities: even in tough times, travel pros find ways to give back
From left, clockwise: Gregory & Kristy Luciani; Heather Hild; Dianne Marsden.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Giving back to the community is an excellent way to grow your business while helping others in need.

The decision to support a non-profit organization or charity can be a difficult one – after all, there are so many options to choose from. But it’s a decision that can unlock new and rewarding levels of success.

Being charitable does not only provide great exposure for your business, but it also tells the world that you lead with purpose, creating opportunities to open minds and make the world a better, kinder place.

It also feels really good to give back. The new relationships business owners and employees form within their communities, through giving, can be a wonderful bonus.

While money is tight these days, finding creative ways to contribute, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – whether via financial contribution, advocacy or by volunteering – can go a long way.

Giving communities a boost 

“Organizations often show their true colours when times are tough,” says Gregory Luciani, president and CEO of TravelOnly, which recently partnered with Face Forward Canada to sell face masks while donating a portion of proceeds to Food Banks Canada.

Travel advisors are in a unique position to support communities both at home and abroad.

READ MORE: TravelOnly partners with Face Forward Canada to protect Canadian travellers

Giving back is a core value shared not only amongst TravelOnly’s head office team, but also throughout its network of 650+ travel professionals.

TravelOnly's Gregory & Kristy Luciani. The host agency has partnered with Face Forward Canada to sell face masks while donating a portion of proceeds to Food Banks Canada. (Supplied)

One organization TravelOnly has routinely supported is Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC)which is dedicated to preventing child abuse and violence through education, awareness and community collaboration.

The host agency supported the non-profit at its annual TADA awards in January and was a notable contributor at this year’s Butterfly Ball (Boost's annual fundraiser in May that, despite not being to host a live event this year, raised more than $600,000).

“TravelOnly is a family-run company and our community is an extension of our family,” says Luciani. “As global citizens, we have an obligation to help those that are most vulnerable because every child deserves to be safe.”

Boost provides rapid service to children and families when child abuse is reported.

This may include assisting with police intervention or providing child protection and support (such as medical treatment) during an investigation or after charges are laid.

“We are proud to not only support the organization, but to also help educate our advisors, clients and our community on this very important issue,” says Luciani.

With offices in Toronto, Barrie and Peterborough, Boost, on average, helps some 2,000 children annually, says Karyn Kennedy, the organization’s president and CEO.  

“One of the first things children worry about when abuse is reported is that they’re going to be blamed or held responsible,” says Kennedy. “If they have support from people around them, they’re in a better position to get back to life as a child.”

Travel advisors, as global citizens, can play a pivotal role in helping children, especially when it comes to reporting child trafficking, she says.

“They’re in a position to recognize and identify when trafficking is happening, whether that is at a hotel or in the way somebody is talking to a younger person,” says Kennedy. “The travel industry at large is in a good position to educate.”

“The travel industry at large is in a good position to educate," says Karyn Kennedy, president and CEO at Boost CYAC. (Supplied)

“I have a responsibility”

Dianne Marsden tries to find teachable moments in everything she does.

A travel advisor with The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND), Marsden works with 4Oceans, a purpose-driven company that sells bracelets made from environmentally-conscious materials, as part of her efforts in raising awareness of plastic pollution in our oceans.

“As a travel advisor, I have a responsibility to not only my loved clients, but also to the communities and destinations that will receive new guests,” says TTAND's Dianne Marsden. (Supplied)

Marsden encourages her clients to pick up garbage and plastic from the beaches they visit. In return, she buys a bracelet from 4Oceans on her clients’ behalf, with each purchase going towards 4Oceans’ promise to remove 1 lb of trash from the ocean.

“As a travel advisor, I have a responsibility to not only my loved clients, but also to the communities and destinations that will receive new guests,” says Marsden.

Marsden also recently partnered with a bakery in her community and surprised frontline medical workers with cupcakes to thank them for their sacrifice during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dianne Marsden & team deliver cupcakes to medical workers at Hotel Dieu Shaver Hospital in St. Catharines, ON. (Supplied)

“When you have support behind you, it gives you strength, hope and determination to continue,” she says.

TTAND, Marsden’s host agency, recently enabled its advisors with an opportunity to honour local heroes by launching a contest that rewards essential workers with a free trip.

While travel is “the heart and soul” of the industry, advisors play a key role in “making the earth a better place,” she says.

“Travellers benefit directly from a travel agent’s professional opinion and first-hand knowledge of destinations, which we spend time educating ourselves on through experience and training,” says Marsden.

Marsden's custom-made cupcakes for frontline healthcare workers. (Supplied)

Paying it forward

Heather Hild of Kelowna, BC, built her business around two passions: humanitarian work and travel.

Prior to launching her own travel agency, Hild travelled the globe as a team member with Habitat for Humanity.

“I was inspired by the world and what I could do to make it better,” says Hild, who is also Executive Director of L.I.B. International, a charity that helps impoverished communities break the cycle of poverty through sustainable action.

In 2012, Hild founded Pay It Forward Travel, a branch of Travel Professionals International (TPI) that empowers travellers to support communities in need around the world.

Heather Hild, owner of Pay It Forward Travel & Executive Director of L.I.B. International (Supplied)

Clients of Hild, for example, are given opportunities to nominate a charity or non-profit of their choice and then, during designated months, her social media network votes on the nominees.

The organization with the most votes later receives a portion of Hild’s commissions in the form of a donation.

“It builds awareness around what travel actually means,” says Hild of her program. “As humans, we’re responsible for leaving communities in a better condition than when we visited them.”

Hild says the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed just how vulnerable some destinations are – especially ones that strongly rely on tourism to survive.

“Everyone is experiencing different levels of poverty,” she says.

Travel pros can use their influence to become an advocate for causes, she explains, all the while helping clients realize their travel dreams.

“The bottom line, for me, is seeing that impact in the community,” says Hild, who is also passionate about environmental issues and sustainable tourism. “The end goal is about being charitable while offering clients a platform that supports how they want to impact the world.”

Travel advisors are the “bridge between travel and the communities [clients] are going to,” she says, adding that agents provide opportunities that consumers may miss when booking travel on their own.   

Heather Hild on a humanitarian trip with L.I.B. International in Delhi, India. (Supplied)

Hild’s advice to travel agents looking to expand their giving network? 

“Find that piece of inspiration” she says. “What does giving back mean to you? What are your passions?”

Giving back can take shape in many forms, either locally or globally, or even within one’s own family via the bonds that form when travelling together, Hild explains.

“Volunteering also doesn’t cost any money,” she adds, noting the bottle drives – collecting empties and exchanging them for cash – that she and her family often run to raise charitable funds.  

Travel agents, too, have access to a wealth of initiatives – from environmental efforts to community-building programs – that are offered by ethically-minded suppliers, says Hild.

“Find your cause, figure out how it works with your life and community, and move forward with a passionate heart,” she says.

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