Travel as a Force for Good: A panel at The New Travel Conference

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel on “travel as a force for good” – the guiding principle behind the stories I’ve been telling for the last decade. I was fortunate to meet and speak with an inspiring group of social entrepreneurs and leaders of impact-driven businesses.

1. Beks Ndlovu, Founder and CEO of African Bush Camps

2. Harsha Chanrai, Founder of Saira Hospitality

3. Carmen Portela, Co-founder of Local Guest

4. Justin Wateridge, Managing Director of SteppesTravel

The panel was part of The New Travel Conference, taking place online June 22-26, 2020, addressing the future of tourism and helping the industry recover from the pandemic.

Among the solutions addressed: how corporations can do better in becoming impact-driven – by prioritizing people and communities – how hotels and travel agents can play a major role in guiding their guests towards rewarding, impactful activities in the destination, why slow travel must be embraced, what the future must include for tourism to be resilient to crises, and how the current hot debate on the lack of diverse leadership in the travel industry is also part of what constitutes “travel as a force for good.”

Watch for an interesting 30-minute conversation from five people passionate about the positive force of tourism. I’ve also listed below select quotes from my panelists.

A few poignant quotes from our discussion:

“Our partnerships with our local communities -this is the test now of how strong these partnerships are. The investment that we’ve done through our foundation over the last 16 years will really show at this point. It’s really a true partnership where we all have to do our bit to make sure that the product and these wilderness areas can survive through this period of time. Looking forward, what this is telling me is that we need to invest massively into our local communities and really create these partnerships that will sustain us because COVID-19 is not the first and it’s not the last of the tsunamis to hit us. After COVID-19 it’s going to be something else. It’s highlighted that really need to shift our gears and double our efforts, if not treble our efforts, in order to survive the future.” – Beks Ndlovu, African Bush Camps

“There’s an opportunity now to take advantage of the guest that is more thoughtful or mindful. Some of them are thinking about how can I use travel as a force for good. So I would say, offering a kind of menu to the guest – where they could look at what they could donate financially, but also how much time could they give while they’re on holiday. So if you’re on holiday for five days and you want to give a two-hour workshop to the local community. I think education without financial involvement is just as powerful if not more. – Harsha Chanrai, Saira Hospitality

“Listen. You have to really listen. When you go into a community, they know what they need. It’s a matter of you bringing the resources and working together towards a common goal. Sometimes as an industry, we think things the other way around – what travelers want instead of what the community needs. What kind of infrastructure can tourism bring to this community in order to have a better quality of life? Sometimes it’s a matter of repaving a road. That one I learned very fast from our community leaders: the power of listening.” – Carmen Portela, Local Guest

“Slow travel. We have to travel less but when we do we have to travel much longer, spend longer in place… especially with the emissions caused by flying.” – Justin Wateridge, SteppesTravel

“If you make it easy enough for the guests, they’ll use travel as a force for good. You’ve got to make it rewarding on both sides.” – Hashra Chanrai, Saira Hospitality

“It should be mandatory that when somebody comes to a travel agent or a tour operator… it should be […] ‘I’m going to select and craft an itinerary around where I think your experiences will be heightened but you’ll also have a big impact on the destination.’ These conversations should happen at the time of inquiry so that they are already sensitized by the time they get to the destination.” – Beks Ndlovu, African Bush Camps

In my opinion, exchanging thoughts and collaborating across sectors within the industry is the way to find solutions as we forge ahead. The travel journalists, the hotels, the tour providers, the public relations firms, the local leaders: every sector will have to come together if this industry is to innovate. We must unite at all levels, in all of our diversity, and exchange ideas even if it hasn’t been done that way in the past. It’s the only way for tourism to rebound post-pandemic.

What do you think about the future of travel as a force for good? Will we have more conscious travelers when tourism takes off again next year? Would you welcome more guidance on this topic? Feel free to share in the comments, and let’s keep the discussion going.


  1. A very interesting discussion. I totally agree with Justin Wateridge about the need to spend less of the time away from home actually travelling and spending time more doing things and experiencing the destination. Here in Asia, prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, most popular tourism destinations were suffering from over-tourism, principally because of the large number of outbound tour groups from mainland China. Places like Bagan in Myanmar, Luang Prabang in Laos, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which once provided peaceful respites from the modern day rat-race are now as overcrowded as Times Square in New York. That’s only happened in the last decade as tens of millions of middle-class citizens of East Asian countries have become wealthy enough to start travelling internationally, and that is strangling the region Right now those spots are enjoying some relief from the crowds of tourists filling down their streets behind a flag-waving tour group guide, snapping selfies, and then boarding a bus or plane for the journey to their next destination on their rush-rush ‘5-day 5-country 5-am starts’ itinerary. But many countries in Asia are about to open their borders again to these tour groups without having taken the opportunity of the Covid-19 time-out to rethink their inbound tourism strategies. That’s a big disappointment.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, David. I’ve always supported the slow travel movement as well – perhaps if tour operators would do their part, those big groups going to 10 places in one week would be a thing of the past. But from what you’ve shared, that IS hugely disappointing to hear; I really hope people rethink they way they travel even if companies do not.