Innovating at the Travel + Social Good Summit

On Friday, October 24th, innovators from the travel, tech and impact worlds convened in New York City for the Travel + Social Good summit. The event, organized by Gilad Goren of Only Six Degrees and sponsored by industry heavyweights, begged the question: how do we guide our industries to adopt meaningful social good into our missions?

Impact

The travel industry is sprawling, and as Gilad pointed out, 1 in 11 people around the world is employed by travel. Since it’s so powerful, how do we make sure our actions and the messages they spread to consumers do more good than harm?

Solimar sent two staff members to check out the summit and participate in the full day of learning, innovating and solution building.

Listening

The event kicked off with a welcome from Gilad, who foreshadowed the day’s activities by explaining what travel means to him: “bridging gaps, joining new communities: that’s travel.”

The event partners then took to the stage to pose three different challenges impeding social good from thriving in the travel industry.

  1. Transparency: Sophia Mendelsohn, Head of Sustainability at JetBlue, voiced the issue of transparency. How do we hold businesses accountable to social good? “We need to measure the financial value of corporate social responsibility”.
  2. Emotion: The Nature Conservancy’s Managing Director, Geof Rochester spoke to human emotion and the disconnect tourists have when they visit destinations- especially destinations in development. “How do we preserve the human touch in a digital world?”
  3. Innovation: Finally, Sue Stephenson, Vice President of the Community Footprints program at Ritz Carlton asked the participants to consider how we might innovate to encourage travelers to give back to the destinations they visit. “How de we foster a culture of social innovation in the world’s largest industry?”

Brainstorming

After hearing from the event partners, attendees broke into 3 groups based on the challenge that most interested them (transparency/ emotion/ innovation). Each group was broken further into subgroups of 6-person tables. Each table was tasked with coming up with solutions to the problems posed by the industry partners’ presentations.

The tasks were as follows:

  1. List 5 obstacles standing in the way of defeating the challenge
  2. Come up with a solution for each obstacle
  3. Pick your favorite 3 solutions and flesh them out
  4. Pick your best-reasoned solution, make it concrete and present it to the whole group (IE the whole Innovation group, Emotion group etc).
  5. As a large group, pick your top 3 favorite ideas to present to all the event participants.

Innovating

The purpose of this was to come up with pathways to better integrate social good across the travel industry. We used our combined knowledge of travel, tech and impact to find answers.

I chose the Innovation challenge and my subgroup included individuals from the travel journalism, travel trade, travel PR, destination development and fashion worlds. Each of us approached the challenges with a different perspective, and when we combined our thoughts, an interesting thing happened.

We realized that because of the scope of the travel industry, it is difficult to hold each part equally responsible for contributing to social good. There is no ‘Mr. Travel’. There’s no face to this industry, like Elon Musk’s in Aerospace innovation (actually, that’s travel, too!) Or how Warren Buffet is the face of American business magnates. Travel has a handful of influencers spread through each segment of the industry, but in order to achieve a united goal, we need to have a united industry.

Obviously our little team of 6 was not asked to solve the issue then and there, but rather, think of ways to broach steps to doing so. We considered an industry-wide sustainability certification that airlines, hotels and destinations could apply for, having to undergo tests for transparency, eco-consciousness and social good, proving that they provide benefit to the communities they exist in. 

Some solutions were based on small steps and targeted one company (like the summit’s partners)- and were easy to implement. Others, like ours, were grander schemes that would take years to realize. Regardless, what made this summit so impactful was how each attendee carved out a few hours of their Friday to brainstorm as a group to look for solutions. Hearing the multitude of ideas to promote social good in travel was galvanizing.

Outcome

Ultimately each sub-team was successful. Even if their ideas were somewhat far-reaching, it didn’t matter. The conversations were rich and insightful, and each team was thoughtful in trying to improve the industry. As the industry heads towards a shift in thinking towards positive impact, we can also help travel consumers adopt the mindset, too. We, as an industry, have the power to make travel more authentic and positive for businesses, travelers, and the communities they join. Thank you, Travel + Social Good, and see you next year!

“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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