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What is social impact travel?

Kiva employees, fellows, interns and lenders all have a global awareness that leads them to care about people all over the world. For some, this awareness comes from their travels. For others, they travel because of this awareness. 

Social impact travel means caring for the globe. Photo by Kukzaa

According to a United Nations report, the global travel industry makes $7 trillion each year and represents 9% of global GDP. However, only 5% of that stays in local communities. 

Social impact travel is a growing trend in the travel industry that aims to support local economies and make a positive impact in host communities. This new trend centers on discovering local cultures and respecting the cultural, economic, and ecological environment. People are increasingly seeking immersive local cultural experiences that are respectful, ethical and sustainable.

This trend has taken many different forms, depending on the preferences of the traveler. Here are a few examples: 

  • Locally-Sourced Travel emphasizes supporting local businesses to benefit the local economy rather than large multinational corporations. Travelers can opt for family-owned restaurants rather than chains, stay in AirBnB's or locally-owned hotels, and patronize local travel guides rather than international agencies.
  • Eco Travel aims for low- or zero-impact traveling. Depending on the destination, some travelers stay in eco-lodges, which are accommodations created to have the least impact on the natural environment as possible. Often they aim to educate guests on the surrounding natural environment.
  • ​​​​​​​Conservation Travel is often found in areas with rich wildlife. Conservation travelers will patronize tour companies that are involved in conservation work in order to protect the local flora and fauna.
  • Volunteer Travel combines travel with volunteering for organizations in local communities. Examples include working with kids for childcare or tutoring, contributing to construction projects, working for conservation efforts and assisting healthcare programs, among others. Despite the good intentions of volunteer travelers, the amount of true impact by short-term volunteers is debatable. To read more about the discussion around volunteer travel, click here

These are just a few types of social impact travel, but you don’t have to book your trip through a specific social impact company to participate. Social impact travel just means having an awareness of the impact made by one’s travel and consciously looking for ways to benefit the community while protecting the local culture and environment.  

Stay tuned for our next post about easy ways to have a positive social impact on your next trip or vacation!

About the author

Channing Fisher.

Channing first witnessed the ability of entrepreneurship to empower people while studying Spanish in Guatemala. Throughout college, she became interested in microfinance while working in business development in the Netherlands and studying the effects of tourism on Caribbean economies. After graduating from Principia College in 2018 with degrees in Political Science and Business, she began work for a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit and later found Kiva. She's passionate about communicating and sharing the work done at Kiva and elsewhere in the international development space.