Airbnb please come and take us down.

Those not involved in Travel (or sadly it could be a niche as small as those involved in Sustainable or Responsible Travel) may not be aware that 2017 is the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This is such a huge opportunity that a body with the significance of the UN would want to promote the opportunity the travel industry has in addressing core issues in our world as outlined in their Sustainable Development Goals (SGDS), above all others.

2017 is the Year that those of us involved in this Responsible Travel have to prove that products that are good for the world and in helping solve some of our profound global issues are actually also some of the best travel experiences one can have, bar none.

SGDS Goals — United Nations.

It was awesome to see someone like Airbnb enter our part of the travel industry with their “Trips” feature and make part of that a section of experiences likewise focusing on Social Enterprise, NGO’s and not-for-profits. That is the type of competition Responsible Travel needs to move out of its niche and into the mainstream.

I wanted to share therefore where we at Urban Adventures are at here at the end of Q1 and strongly recommend others with the same mission to also share where they are at. Feel free to drop your links in the comments section below.

Just to rewind quickly for those not aware of Urban Adventures and what we do — Urban Adventures is an experiential Day Tour business which is part of the Intrepid Group. Our core business is helping sufficiently skilled local people to start a business they own, running short tours that maximize the use of their local knowledge in helping travellers get a quick but deep appreciation for a destination and its people. Normally our partners are amazing Freelance Guides or Tour Leaders/Directors who are looking to take the next step in their career by branching out on their own. We train and provide them with everything they don’t have or know. Things like reservations system, lean methodology, connection to major distribution, SEO, SEM, marketing, social, brand and sales are all part of our system. Our goal is create profitable and sustainable local businesses which are transferable assets for our partners, as quickly as we can. We give all this without any out of pocket cost to our partners — to pay forward our experience and value to them. (Our next Training intake and Information Session for new partners is in the US in June 2017).

In 2015 our business became standalone profitable and we immediately on reaching that landmark turned our attention to how, now our core business was stable — we could launch something more specifically Responsible Travel focused. The result was our In Focus program. We wanted to do something that continued to represent what our brand was all about (Day Tour, Experience based, Best. Day. Ever.). In the end the decision was pretty easy. We decided to innovate around our core and take the program we had developed (and was working) for hospitality and service professionals like the freelance guides and modify it to work with a new audience of NGO’s, Not-For-Profits and Social Enterprise. These organisations have amazing local stories to tell. They are change-makers with access to inspiring people. These are the stories that travellers don’t usually get to experience except maybe when watching a TED video. We wanted to help open up new revenue streams and more visibility for these organisations and give travellers a 5-senses immersive experience on the ground, to experience first hand the hope that the solutions these organisations are working on. We now have 25+ experiences in this range.

Earlier this month I got an impact report from Colin Murray, of the NGO One Horizon with whom we created an experience visiting their Gramdmas and helping them set up micro piggeries and hatcheries. Colin’s note is here below:

“Financial Independence and breaking the generational poverty cycle

The small business program for GRANDMAS which we conduct in Kenya, is able to occur because of the support of UA. UA send us visitors and they are exposed to the program and the recipients (the grandmas) via the FARM TO FEAST program. As part of this program:

1. Visitors contributions are used to purchase chickens and/or pigs and the required feeds. And when they visit us, we take them to the market buy and buy the pigs/chickens before heading up to the grandmas where they see the operation of a single pod of grandmothers

2. Because of UA’s support we have been able to establish this additional pod in an area of Nairobi which is one of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities

3. The 5 grandmothers in this support pod look after an extended family of over 40 people.

4. With the support of people who have booked via UA, they have purchased 32 piglets and 100 chickens and the feed required to ensure they develop well

5. Each grandma has received 5 sows and there are 10 sows at the stage that they will give birth in a month. This means that within the next month, over 50 piglets. So each grandma will be able to sell the piglets at $35.00 each or roughly receive $350.00 for each litter or $700 for the two litters. The significance of this is huge. The average annual income of the grandmas is $500 per year. But in a month they will have $750 (bare minimum) and they still have 3 sows to come on heat and provide a litter. So within a year they will have incomes of $3,000. And on top of that, there is a breeding program that will increase the size of their piggeries. So $3,000 is once again a bare minimum.

6. On top of all that, there is demand for the pregnant sows and we will also sell them for around $650 — $700 each.

The amazing thing about all this, is that in 8 months we are on the step to eradicating generational poverty within this group. They are able to support themselves and educate their own families and their businesses will continue to grow as their piggeries get larger. And on top of all this, they won’t need us anymore. This is because they will have their own self-sustaining businesses. We always guide and help them (eg as well as setting up their first ever bank account) and they remain as part of our peer support program to new recruits. But the independence they get, reduction in stress and anxiety are just some of the offshoots of this as well.

UA has enables us to do this in 8 months and as our number of visitors grow we will increase it significantly. Previously we could only do so slowly as resources were always tight with so many competing demands. I think UA should be very proud of what you have done — just amazing. Poverty can be beaten and the fact that you guys get us, is incredible. I am less than eloquent in describing the programs and what you guys have meant to communities. But think of this. You have pulled people back from the brink and from the consuming misery of poverty. “

Obviously we were totally blown away by Colin’s email. Of course this was our goal but none of us expected it to happen so quickly. We are now able to move onto the next pod of grandmas and bookings on what is one of the best local experiences in our entire range are growing rapidly. It has quickly become our most popular experience out of Nairobi.

Here is some client feedback: “We had an extraordinary day in Nairobi with One Horizon’s Farm to Table excursion. It was fun and educational — a lovely and meaningful day that was a real highlight of our time in Kenya. It was simply one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

Ms. Brigid M., United States of America — 08 Nov 2016

Of course this is a single isolated example but we also know it is highly scaleable. Indeed our experience with Pollinate Energy is likewise the most popular experience we run out of Bangalore. The Small Projects experience with Syrian Refugees in Istanbul whilst not yet the best seller in the city (against some tough and entrenched competition) is on the rise. We look forward to being able to soon release some impact reporting from these also. Once might be a fluke, twice a coincidence but a third time suggests a pattern.

We are always interested in hear about other projects to whom we can assist in making an impact by helping them to tell their story through the mechanism of an immersive experience. We’ve found most are already doing ad hoc donor experiences and become way more efficient in this process by putting together a set itinerary on set dates. At this point when donors ask about visiting, these Orgs now simply are able to send the link to book on the dates they are available to facilitate this. If you know a great organisation we can help — just get them to hit me up here on Linked In.

I don’t post this message to seek your appreciation. I post it as a challenge for everyone in tourism to join with AirBnb in creating experiences that address SDGS goals. Please come and take us down. Outsell us, outpace us in development and let’s grow this market overall. Don’t compromise on the traveller experience to do this. There is no need. Quite the opposite in fact. Not sure how — just ask us. We can show you what you need to do to copy these results above. Let’s do this now. The goal after all is to realize what is now considered a niche to be considered mainstream and to make a real and significant impact, through tourism, in the world we all share. Tourism should make places visited a better place for the residents to also live there. That is the end goal here.

#travelenjoyrespect #IY2017

This majority of this article first appeared on Linked In.