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Transforming Sustainable Travel and Tourism: Q&A with Kind Traveler’s Jessica Blotter

By Jarrod Lopiccolo

April 24, 2024

sustainable tourism q and a jessica blotter Catalina Island Conservancy

In November 2019, Noble Studios had the pleasure of speaking with Jessica Blotter, CEO and Co-Founder of Kind Traveler, about her hotel booking and education platform’s vital role in promoting responsible tourism. 

We are thrilled to once again sit down with Jessica to discuss the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in the world of sustainable tourism. 

Since the first Q&A, the world has experienced significant changes, and the importance of sustainable travel has only grown. 

Who would’ve imagined a global pandemic would shutter the travel industry just a few months later?

As travelers seek meaningful experiences and ways to impact the communities they visit positively, Kind Traveler has been at the forefront of this movement, expanding its reach and making a tangible difference in destinations worldwide.

In this insightful Q&A, Jessica shares her expertise on how destination marketing/management organizations (DMOs) can foster a culture of sustainability, create measurable goals and engage travelers in meaningful ways that actually produce tangible benefits through travel and tourism marketing

From your perspective, what are the most significant trends in sustainable tourism right now, and how can travelers participate responsibly?

I believe that the tourism industry’s significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, combined with the negative impacts of overtourism and overdevelopment, has put our planet in a precarious position. As we grapple with the devastating effects of the climate crisis—including extreme weather events, wildfires, ocean temperature fluctuations, droughts, food shortages, and the loss of biodiversity—it is clear that urgent action is needed to mitigate these challenges.

Irresponsible traveler behavior further compounds these issues, with plastic pollution, harm to sensitive animal habitats, and the support of illegal wildlife trade and animal mistreatment in tourist attractions adding to the already dire situation. I find it shocking that up to 550,000 animals are being held in welfare-compromising conditions for the sake of entertainment.

If you want to understand these complex issues more deeply, I highly recommend watching the thought-provoking film “The Last Tourist” (2021), available on Hulu, Apple TV and YouTube.

With the tourism industry employing 1 in 10 individuals worldwide and contributing to 9.1% of the global GDP in 2023, I firmly believe that the sector has the potential to be a powerful force for good. 

By harnessing travel dollars responsibly and prioritizing sustainable practices, we can work together to minimize the industry’s negative impacts and enhance its positive contributions to local communities and environmental efforts.

Charlie’s Acres Farm Sanctuary - Sonoma County_2
Charlie’s Acres Farm Sanctuary, Sonoma County

In light of these critical challenges, I am convinced that a shift towards sustainable tourism is not just a trend but a necessity. We must take decisive action to address these issues head-on and ensure that travel destinations remain healthy and viable for future generations.

But within sustainable tourism, I see a few definite trends:


Agritourism is a mix of agriculture and tourism that promotes and encourages visitors to engage in farm activities, providing physical, mental, social and environmental benefits to the visitor, the local community and the environment. 

For city dwellers and those burnt out on the day-to-day stress brought on by work and family life, spending time in nature and a quiet place can bring a sense of calm and relaxation. There is often a physical component, such as planting or harvesting, which can also lend to releasing positive endorphins from the exercise involved in the agritourism activity. 

Agritourism also has additional social benefits linked to the shared experience of a group of travelers, creating the opportunity to build community and connect with others meaningfully and intentionally.

Impact Tourism & Regenerative Tourism: 

Impact tourism involves strategically contributing time, talent, and treasure to social and environmental projects in destinations. 

This includes tourism businesses, travelers, and organizations in partnerships with host communities to ensure that healthy communities are the basis for a healthy tourism sector. 

An example of impact tourism in action is Visit San Luis Obispo’s Keys for Trees program, where every guest stay contributes to tree planting efforts with EcoSLO

Regenerative tourism is when visitors travel with a mindset to leave a destination better than it was before they arrived, with experiences going beyond a traditional vacation.

One example of regenerative tourism is the McKenzie River Regenerative Trip offered by First Nature Tours. Participants engage in activities on this trip to improve the Mckenzie River in Oregon, including:

  • Cleaning up micro-plastics.
  • Planting native oak trees.
  • Restoring trails.
  • Aiding in forest regeneration and contributing to salmon rehabilitation.

Plant-Based Tourism: 

Sustainability is one reason why people choose to be vegan. Eating a plant-based diet can significantly help reduce and offset the carbon emissions the meat and dairy industry generates.

As plant-based diets become more popular, the travel industry is increasingly catering to vegan travelers. Vegan-focused tour operators and travel agents are making it easier for travelers to maintain their diets abroad. 

New York City, for example, continues to lead the charge in restaurant culture, with abundant vegan options ranging from fast-casual burger joints to the fully plant-based, Michellin-starred fine dining experience at Eleven Madison Park

Plant-based tourism is impacting lodging, too, by ensuring guests enjoy a comfortable and ethical stay. These “Vegan Hotels” are setting new standards by offering innovative amenities such as vegan room service menus, 100% vegan bedding, down-free options and eco-friendly toiletries. 

I envision a future where travelers actively seek experiences that enrich their lives and contribute positively to the communities and environments they visit. A future where the tourism industry is a catalyst for positive change, promoting biodiversity, supporting local economies, and fostering cross-cultural understanding.

Since Kind Traveler’s inception, what have been some of the most impactful achievements in promoting responsible travel?

We found in our 2022 Impact Tourism Report that while over 97% of travelers believe it’s important for their travel dollars to impact the communities they visit positively, 35% don’t know how. 

That’s really been where Kind Traveler has come in.

At the heart of Kind Traveler is our mission to connect travelers with local nonprofits in the destinations they visit. Through our “Give + Get” platform, we’ve partnered with 150 destination-specific charities in 22 countries. When travelers donate $10 or more to one of these charities, they receive perks from our partner hotels. The best part? 100% of each donation goes directly to the charity.

We’re not just about facilitating donations, though. We believe in educating travelers about the impact their dollars can have. That’s why we share information about our partner charities, showing how donations support the local community. We also provide local neighborhood guides to inspire conscious travel and offer tree-planting opportunities. And we highlight how our partner hotels are advancing environmental sustainability, community impact, and individual wellness.

While decarbonizing efforts are vitally important in creating a sustainable tourism industry, mobilizing travel dollars to support local communities in addressing poverty and advancing education and equality is equally important. 

One of our proudest achievements is the destination stewardship partnership we created with Visit California. 

To incentivize responsible tourism throughout the state, Visit California provides special incentives for DMO and lodging partners to join Kind Traveler. Since officially launching in 2023, we’ve raised more than $31,000 for local nonprofits in California and garnered over 1 billion views. 

Lastly, it’s been incredible for our team to see the partnership gain recognition in major publications like Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler (Bright Ideas in Travel 2023), CNBC, Forbes, AFAR, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Dylan Jude Harrell Community Center - WA - OR
Dylan Jude Harrell Community Center

What inspired the development of the Every Stay Gives Back (ESGB) program, and how does it aim to redefine the role of travelers in supporting sustainable tourism?

When we created Kind Traveler’s Every Stay Gives Back (ESGB) community impact program, we were driven by a single, powerful idea: to empower travelers to make a real difference in the communities they visit. 

We saw the challenges facing the tourism industry – overtourism, environmental damage, social inequality – and we knew we had to do something. We couldn’t just sit back and watch. we had to act!

That’s why we developed ESGB. 

The ESGB program is a game-changer, transforming how travelers support local communities and environments. By donating a portion of every guest stay to a designated local charity and ensuring transparency and accountability through third-party validation, we’re creating a more impactful model for responsible tourism.

What makes ESGB unique is its commitment to transparency. Kind Traveler verifies and tracks monthly donations, ensuring funds are effectively channeled towards initiatives that advance the U.N. Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Our digital dashboard makes it easy for partners to communicate their positive impact to guests and stakeholders.

But ESGB goes beyond just donating money. We provide tools like wood plaques and QR codes for partners to showcase their impact and engage guests. Our ‘How to Travel Kindly‘ section offers opportunities for travelers to volunteer and connect with local communities.

By empowering travelers to be active participants in sustainable development, ESGB creates more meaningful travel experiences. We believe conscious travelers can be a catalyst for positive change, promoting social equity, environmental conservation, and cultural preservation.

So that’s our inspiration, our driving force. We know that travel can be a force for good in the world, and we’re determined to make that a reality. One stay at a time, one donation at a time, we’re changing the face of travel. And we’re just getting started.

Farm to Pantry - Sonoma County
Farm to Pantry, Sonoma County

Can you share examples of how the Every Stay Gives Back program has made a tangible difference?

Absolutely! We’ve seen some truly inspiring examples of how the Every Stay Gives Back (ESGB) program has made a tangible difference in our communities. 

We began with a six-month global pilot in 2023 with 15 boutique hotels and seven local charities in eight destinations and a vision to turn every guest stay into one that supports a local community or environmental nonprofit in the destination.

Previously, Kind Traveler’s model was based on driving positive impact and donations through the “Give + Get” booking platform. In contrast, a donation to a local nonprofit would happen only if the booking came from Kind Traveler.

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, many of our hotel partners asked how they could further optimize their efforts to support the local community with Kind Traveler. In staying true to our mission to empower travelers to positively impact the communities they visit, creating a more holistic pathway to mobilize giving back with every guest stay is a more powerful and robust way to fuel responsible and regenerative tourism.

The pilot raised over $73,000 in donations, marking a significant leap forward for responsible tourism innovation. One hundred percent of the funds raised are donated to the participating charities advancing the U.N. Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Here you can see a live impact report that celebrates and measures the positive impact created from the donations of the pilot program.

A key partner of our pilot program was Sonoma County Tourism ( Through our partnership, visitors could support agritourism initiatives in Sonoma County by staying at hotels and participating in the pilot version of the ESGB program. Every guest stay helped fund local nonprofits, with 100% of the funds donated to participating charities, regardless of the booking platform used.

The positive impacts created through the p[ilot program included:

  • 17,660 servings of Sonoma County-grown vegetables provided to families facing food injustice with Farm to Pantry
  • 1,110 science-based nature experiences provided to elementary students with Pepperwood Preserve
  • 168 days of care provided to farm animal welfare efforts with Charlie’s Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary
  • 41 miles of hiking trails maintained with Sonoma Land Trust
  • 7,500 pounds of trash removed from the Russian River with Russian Riverkeeper

Another heartwarming example comes from our partnership with Visit Greater Palm Springs ( Through the ESGB program, 16,636 meals were provided to individuals facing food insecurity through the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert’s weekly food bank.

Our partnership with Love Catalina Island ( has allowed us to provide 597 meals to wildlife rehabilitation patients at the Marine Mammal Care Center. It’s a beautiful example of how the ESGB program can support not just human communities but also the animals and ecosystems that make these destinations so special.

And then there’s Adrift Hospitality (, a collection of six boutique hotels in Coastal Oregon and Washington. Through their participation in ESGB, 12,199 hours of enrichment programs were provided to students in an after-school program with the Dylan Jude Harrell Community Center. 

These are just a few examples since the pilot and launch of the Every Stay Gives Back program, but they speak to the heart of what we’re trying to achieve. By harnessing the collective power of travelers and the tourism industry, we can create positive change that ripples out into the world in countless ways.

And it’s not just about the numbers, impressive as they are. It’s about the individual lives touched, the communities strengthened, the ecosystems protected. It’s about the smiles on children’s faces, the relief of a warm meal for someone in need, and the hope for a brighter future.

That’s what keeps us going, what inspires us to keep pushing forward with the ESGB program. 

So yes, the Every Stay Gives Back program is making a tangible difference in ways both big and small. And we’re just getting started. We can’t wait to see what more we can achieve together.

Keys for Trees EcoSLO - San Luis Obispo
“Keys for Trees” EcoSLO, San Luis Obispo

How can destinations balance the promotion of their destinations with the need to protect and preserve their natural and cultural resources?

That’s a great question and one that we at Kind Traveler is really passionate about. We believe that destinations can absolutely balance the promotion of their unique offerings with the need to protect and preserve their natural and cultural resources. 

It just takes a bit of creativity and a lot of collaboration and commitment.

One effective strategy is for DMOs to align their tourism programs with city climate action plans. A prime example is the Keys for Trees program in San Luis Obispo. This initiative dedicates one percent of annual revenue from local hotels to plant trees in partnership with the nonprofit EcoSLO, helping the city advance towards its carbon neutrality goal by 2035. 

Every guest staying in SLO contributes to this greening effort, enhancing the destination with every visit.

We also see destinations crafting their own Sustainable Tourism Master Plans or Climate Action Plans. For example, Visit Oceanside is working on a 10-year plan to grow tourism responsibly while supporting the local community and environment.

Another example is Sonoma County Tourism, which moved from identifying as a DMO to a DSO (destination stewardship organization) as it prioritizes actions that stem from its Destination Stewardship and Resiliency Plan.

The Oregon Coast Visitor’s Association (OCVA) is creating its version of a climate action plan and is piloting multiple programs to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of increased tourism.

In essence, promoting a destination and protecting its resources can go hand in hand. By fostering sustainable practices and engaging visitors, destinations can create a positive cycle where tourism supports the very qualities that make a place special. We at Kind Traveler are here to support those efforts, sharing our knowledge and resources to help destinations thrive sustainably.

What actionable steps can DMOs take to foster a culture of sustainable tourism among visitors and stakeholders within their destinations?

Balancing the promotion of destinations with the need to protect their natural and cultural resources is a challenge that we’re passionate about at Kind Traveler. We believe that destinations can achieve this balance through creative, collaborative, and committed approaches.

Here are a few actions and examples: 

  • Embed Sustainability in Communication: It’s crucial for DMOs to weave clear, responsible tourism messages into their website and all promotional materials. This approach should be a core part of your brand’s essence, ideally tied back to your climate action or sustainable tourism master plan.
  • Launch and Support Sustainable Initiatives: Implement programs like the Kind Traveler’s Every Stay Gives Back initiative, which enables guests to contribute to local communities with each stay at participating accommodations. Making sure these programs are simple for partners to adopt and promote is key.
  • Embrace and Advance Responsible Travel Guidelines: Commit to principles such as Leave No Trace. Collaborate with local accommodation providers and tour operators to ensure these principles are integral to the visitor experience. Providing training and ongoing workshops can reinforce these important practices.
  • Partner with Local Nonprofits for Sustainable Experiences: Work with local nonprofits to create and promote distinctive, sustainable tourism experiences. For example, in Sonoma County, visitors can explore Charlie’s Acres Animal Sanctuary, where they can partake in photography tours or enjoy a vegan picnic, all while learning about the importance of farm animal welfare and sustainability.
  • Highlight Local Successes: Regularly showcase successful examples of sustainable practices within your destination. This not only celebrates these initiatives but also inspires other businesses and stakeholders to embrace similar practices.

How can the travel industry as a whole work towards more transparent and measurable sustainability goals?

By creating roadmaps and plans to create sustainability and drive sustainable tourism, it’s possible to create goals and the partnerships needed to achieve the goals. 

Sustainability is rarely carried out in isolation; partnerships are needed to drive sustainability forward. Sustainability is not about perfection – it’s about celebrating the small wins along the way. By having a clear roadmap, it makes it easier to identify your goals and communicate the wins in engaging visitors on the sustainability journey.

Visit San Luis Obispo is an excellent example, as they have a very clear and specific goal of planting 10,000 trees by 2035 to achieve carbon neutrality. Each year, their positive impact grows, and with the new partnership with Kind Traveler, artisanal wood plaques are now at the front desk of all 42 hotels in SLO, and a QR code is linked to their impact report. This communication tool brings the visitor along the journey and creates transparency around the funds raised and trees planted so far. It also serves as a guide on how to travel to the destination kindly.

Meet Jessica Blotter

Jessica Blotter

Jessica Blotter is CEO & Co-Founder of Kind Traveler, a global speaker and journalist on responsible tourism, and serves on the Board of Directors for CREST (Center for Responsible Travel) in Washington, D.C. After witnessing extreme poverty on vacation to Belize, Blotter co-founded Kind Traveler, an internationally awarded responsible travel platform empowering travelers to positively impact the communities they visit through a network of 350+ hotel, destination and charity partners in 25+ countries to advance the U.N. Global Goals for Sustainable Development. As a pioneer in sustainable and responsible tourism since 2016, Blotter’s efforts on behalf of Kind Traveler have been cited in 600+ news articles and earned international awards from Newsweek,  Fast Company, Travel + Leisure, Lufthansa Innovation Hub, and the UNWTO. She holds a M.A. in Education from Ottawa University and a B.S. in Biology from Arizona State University. Find inspiration to #TravelKindly and make a positive impact on

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