Impact Travel Alliance: A community where all tourism is sustainable

Photo by @kelleytravels

Photo by @kelleytravels

Imagine one day when you think of tourism, the first thing that comes to your mind is leaving behind a positive impact on the local community and environment when you leave. This is a world that we dream of, which is why Sea Going Green is thrilled to announce our partnership with the Impact Travel Alliance, which has built a community of passionate travelers and sustainability enthusiasts, who believe that all tourism should be sustainable!

Check out this week’s blog to hear more about the mission of the Impact Travel Alliance from founder, Kelley Louise! You can also read more about the efforts the non-profit is doing to make a difference and how you can join their chapter events, now being held in 20 cities worldwide!

Hi Kelley, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about what inspired you to start the Impact Travel Alliance?

I’m an entrepreneur in the travel industry, and everything I do revolves around a passion for storytelling, community building and working to improve our world. Impact Travel Alliance was born organically through meetups and events, and it ultimately grew into what it is today through a need within the industry need, as well as the power of social media.

If you’re in the travel industry and you’re passionate about sustainability, often you’re pigeonholed into a niche within the in industry. We believe that sustainable tourism – travel that has a positive impact on the environment, culture and economy of a destination – can and should be applied to any type of travel.

ITA represents an inclusive community of changemakers who believe sustainable travel is the future of the entire industry. At its core, ITA symbolizes an opportunity for a group of underdogs to come together and become trailblazers. We have more than 20,000 people within our community, and more than 20 local chapters worldwide – and that strength in numbers has really resonated with our community as they’ve found their tribe in the travel industry.

What is the Impact Travel Alliance? (Mission, countries represented, when it was founded...etc)

Impact Travel Alliance is a global community and 501c3 nonprofit aimed at improving the world through travel. We teach travelers how to spend their money mindfully so that they can have a positive impact on local communities and protect the environment of destinations visited.

We launched our first chapter in New York City in 2015, and our network has since grown to local communities in more than 20 cities around the world. Our global community is comprised mostly of travelers, but we also have a subset of travel professionals (and that group is able to connect through our professional network events as well as online through our premium membership). In addition, we have a Media Network, a group of content creators and creatives who are passionate about sustainable travel.

What do you have to do to be a member?

If you are a traveler, the best way to get involved is by attending our in-person events that our chapters put together. It’s inspiring when you realize that you can improve the world through something like travel, but it can also be daunting and overwhelming. Our events are designed to make it easier for travelers to have a positive impact on a destination, and they come to life through panels, workshops, screenings, immersive tours and more.

Travel professionals can also get involved by attending our professional network events, meetups that typically occur on a quarterly basis in each of our chapter cities. To connect with our global network online, you can also join our premium membership program, and you’ll receive perks like access to our online platform to connect with other members, as well as discounts to our online webinars, partner events and more.

Can you tell us about some of your past events?

Our events are designed to take a fun, progressive and innovative approach to examining how we can implement sustainability into all types of travel. They take shape in different ways, and we’ve hosted immersive experiences, screenings, fireside discussions and more.

We tend to take a big problem – like poverty, gender inequality, ocean pollution – and then try to find a way to break it down through the lens of travel and discovery. We look to the Global Goals for inspiration as to how we can have a positive impact on our world.

For example, we have an upcoming multi-chapter event on International Women’s Day (March 8) and four of our chapters will host events with programming focused on empowering women through travel.

We’ve also hosted larger-scale conferences in the past, including a global summit at the United Nations in New York City, as well as Impact Travel Immersion, a full day, bootcamp-style conference designed to help entrepreneurs in the industry push their careers forward.

What do you think sustainable travel/tourism can do for the world? (The impact on local communities, SDGs, development of infrastructure...etc.)

The possibilities behind sustainable tourism are pretty endless. Especially as sustainability starts to become more and more mainstream, we have this incredible opportunity to turn every traveler – there are more than 1 billion every year – into a changemaker.

I could go on and on with different examples of how tourism can improve our world, but for me personally, one of the causes I’m very passionate about is empowering women. There’s a really great program in Nepal that’s run by Community Homestay, and it allows travelers to connect directly with local families and stay in their homes. Travelers get this incredible, immersive experience, and because of the way the homestay network is set up, it creates a system that empowers local women.

What does sustainable tourism mean to you and how can we all be more sustainable when we travel?

In its simplest definition, sustainable tourism is simply travel that has a positive impact on the environment, culture and economy of a destination. When most people think about sustainability, their knee-jerk reaction is to connect it with voluntourism or ecotourism, but it’s really important we shift this mindset.

By understanding that sustainability can be applied to any type of travel, we unlock a tremendous amount of potential for the industry. Whether you’re on a vacation on the beach or on a business trip in the city, there are opportunities for you to have a positive impact on that destination.  

Sustainability is a journey, and it starts at home. By implementing little changes in your day-to-day life, it becomes easier to make conscious decisions while you’re abroad.

If you’re just learning about the sustainability space and are inspired to learn more, I would encourage you to pick a cause you’re passionate about, and to start there. Maybe it’s about protecting our oceans, and that means taking steps to decrease your use of single-use plastics. Or maybe you’re passionate about seeing the economy in your local community thrive, so you find the best local shops and artists that you can purchase goods. Living a sustainable lifestyle has a way of getting easier and easier the more you practice, so by picking one cause and starting there, you’ll find that conscious living will start to seep into all areas of your life.

For me, living a sustainable, conscious lifestyle is connected directly with finding the best stories, the best immersive experiences and the best opportunity to connect more deeply with the world around us. It’s exciting, it’s addicting and it’s empowering.